Three Lawsuits Contest Forest Service Deforestation Projects

Three lawsuits filed on Wednesday in the District of Oregon addressed tree reduction projects in west coast forests. They claimed that the forest service breached federal laws by allowing the deforestation, and that fires in 2020 accomplished what the fires were initially meant to do. 

In one lawsuit, Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild, and Willamette Riverkeeper alleged that the U.S. Forest Service and the Willamette National Forest Supervisor, David Warnack, breached the Administrative Procedure Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the National Forest Management Act.  Allegedly, these laws were breached through the approval of the Willamette 2020 Fires Roadside Danger Tree Reduction Project. 

Through the project, “danger” trees were authorized to be cut down over 4040 miles of roads with low traffic.  The plaintiffs claimed that the trees did not pose an immediate risk, but the Decision Memorandum for the project claimed there was “an urgency to act” without an explanation for why it would overlook doing a more careful analysis. Additionally, the project did not include any environmental assessment, but instead was approved through a Categorical Exclusion. 

Another lawsuit filed by two of the same plaintiffs, Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild, against the U.S. Forest Service alleged that it changed plans for the Green Mountain Project without inviting public comment or doing an environmental analysis.  This action purportedly breached the Administrative Procedure Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Endangered Species Act. 

The Green Mountain Project was designed to mimic the effects of a forest fire and restore nature through thinning so that there would be more snags and downed wood, similar to what nature would have done without logging efforts and fire mitigation efforts. The lawsuit also addressed the Lang Dam project which would do commercial thinning and mimic a fire.  However, fires burned through the areas of each of these projects in 2020, creating the natural effect the projects were attempting to achieve, leading the Forest Service to alter its plans. 

In the filing the plaintiffs claimed that changes were made to the project without environmental analysis or public process, purportedly the plaintiffs “happened to discover that the logging was occurring.”  Additionally, they noted that the defendant failed to make a determination for their FOIA request. They asked the court to enjoin the defendants from continued activities. 

The final lawsuit was filed by the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics against the same defendants, the U.S. Forest Service and David Warnack. It sought injunctive relief due to the same tree reduction project the other plaintiffs were contesting in the Willamette National Forest roadsides. It explained that logging in the area is banned by the forest plan except under specific conditions and sought an injunction.  

The plaintiffs in the first lawsuits are represented by Cascadia Wildlands and Crag Law Center and the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics are represented by the Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt P.C. and Bechtold Law Firm PLLC