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Judge rules against Bureau of Land Management’s Late Mungers timber sale

A sloped hill covered by trees. Some of the trees have orange markers around their trunks
Roman Battaglia
Jefferson Public Radio
An area the BLM is proposing a commercial treatment for the Late Mungers project. The orange rings around some of the trees signify those won't be cut down.

A judge has ruled that the Bureau of Land Management’s use of commercial logging in southwestern Oregon violates federal law by threatening old-growth forest habitat.

A decision made by United States Magistrate Judge Mark D. Clarke found that the BLM’s Integrated Vegetation Management for Resilient Lands Program, meant to promote forest restoration and fire resilience, runs counter to the agency’s own resource management plan. The agency’s IVM program covers an estimated 875,290 acres in southwestern Oregon.

The court ruled that the BLM’s use of commercial logging in late-successional reserves, forests dedicated to preserving animals like the northern spotted owl, violates the agency’s 20-year standard which limits activity in those forests to actions that do not delay habitat development for the northern spotted owl by 20 years or more. For example, the rule would prohibit a forest canopy to be removed if it would take over 20 years to recover for use as habitat for the northern spotted owl.

The BLM had argued the 20-year standard did not apply to late-successional reserves within their IVM program.

The judge found that the agency’s program ultimately violated the Federal Land Policy and Management Act by not adhering to the BLM’s resource management plan.

George Sexton, conservation director with Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, one of five environmental groups that sued the BLM, said the agency’s plan would have removed forest canopy important for the northern spotted owl.

“And the court said, ‘Nope, the late successional reserves mean what they say. They’re to be managed for wildlife habitat and you need to go back to the drawing board,’” said Sexton.

He said KS Wild’s issue was only with the BLM’s fuels treatment in late successional reserves.

“I want to be clear that the BLM can still do fuels reduction treatments. We did not seek an injunction against small-diameter thinning or against the use of prescribed fire,” said Sexton.

The judge also ruled that the BLM’s failure to prepare an environmental impact statement for their IVM program violated the National Environmental Policy Act. Although the court ruled in favor of the BLM in finding that the agency did not violate its recreation management plan.

A spokesperson with the BLM said the agency is looking at the decision and determining their next steps.

For now, the court’s decision halts the controversial Late Mungers timber sale in the Applegate Valley which included 830 acres of commercial thinning within late-successional reserves.

Justin Higginbottom is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. He's worked in print and radio journalism in Utah as well as abroad with stints in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. He spent a year reporting on the Myanmar civil war and has contributed to NPR, CNBC and Deutsche Welle (Germany’s public media organization).