Lawsuit from Karuk Tribe, conservation groups officially stops Orleans timber harvest

The Karuk Tribe continues to be upset over the Six Rivers National Forest's handling of an Orleans timber harvest after a federal judge ordered the forest service to develop a remedial plan for the project.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup issued a ruling this week, denying most of the complaints against the service -- brought in a lawsuit from the tribe and several conservation groups -- while also acknowledging that the service violated the National Historic Preservation Act by “failing to adequately implement preventative mitigation measures.”

The claim -- filled in May 2010 by the Karuk Tribe, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Environmental Protection Information Center and Klamath Forest Alliance -- alleged that despite three years of discussions and dispute mediation over the fuels plan, Six Rivers breached a wide range of guidelines regarding sacred sites and wildlife when the project actually went into effect.

The tribe's natural resources director, Leaf Hillman, who is also a Karuk ceremonial leader in Orleans, admonished Six Rivers Supervisor Tyrone Kelley in a press release sent out Thursday.

”Supervisor Kelley has no respect for this community or native cultures as is evidenced by their actions on the ground,” Hillman said in the release. “With this court order we are hopeful that we can move forward to provide fire protection for our communities without sacrificing our sacred sites.”

According to the ruling, the service has until Aug. 1 to submit a plan, and the plaintiffs will have two weeks after it's submitted to comment. The next court date is scheduled for Sept. 1.

Kelley said he is hoping to meet with tribes this month to discuss solutions.

”We're looking forward to working with the tribes,” he said Friday. “I have great respect for their heritage and resources, so I was a little surprised by (Hillman's comment), but sometimes we see things differently.”

The Orleans Community Fuels Reduction program was launched in 2006 with the intent of helping to protect the little town of Orleans from wildfires on the adjacent forest land. The planned 2,698-acre project was meant to remove fire-prone forest material, reduce the density of some forest stands to promote wildlife diversity and enhance the Panamniik World Renewal Ceremonial District, which is eligible for national historic designation.

When logging began, the tribe claimed the details regarding protection of sacred sites were being ignored by contractors. Activists even blocked a logging road in December, and Kelley went to Orleans to address the issues and called a temporary stop to the operation while the issues are worked out.

The plaintiffs sued over a portion of the plan, alleging violations of the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act and the Healthy Forests Restoration Act. According to the ruling, Alsup concludes that many of the violations are unsubstantiated, but he did agree that there may not have been adequate communication during the implementation process.

”Without determining whether sloppiness, poor decision-making or improper motivations might explain the communication failure, this order finds that the set of communication methods adopted by defendants was not adequate to inform (the contractor) Timber Products that certain preventative mitigation measures were imperative,” Alsup wrote.