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UW joins with other Conservation Groups to question Danger Tree removal on the Umpqua National Forest

Published November 22nd, 2021 in Conservation, Fires and Fire History, News, Restoration, UW Blogs

Last month Umpqua Watersheds filed a complaint against the US Forest Service challenging their decision to indiscriminately remove trees along 65 miles of public roads comprising nearly 2600 acres of the Umpqua National Forest.

On Aug 18, 2021, the Forest Service issued a final decision on its proposed Archie Creek Fire Roadside Danger Tree Project proposal.  Implementation of the project was to commence without delay, with no opportunity for public input, and without environmental review or analysis.  The Forest Service concluded that the Project was necessary because the trees were “dangerous” and deemed this decision as encompassed under what is called the “categorical exclusion” of road maintenance.

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Umpqua Watersheds is greatly concerned that the Forest Service was able to circumvent federal statutorily mandated procedures and make such a decision without adhering to the environmental review process.  While Umpqua Watersheds understands some of the trees along these roads devastated by the Archie Creek fire may create a danger or hazard, the Forest Service’s blanket use of a categorical exclusion did not consider the impact of their proposed action on the environment, the watershed, and wildlife.  Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the US Forest Service is required to do exactly that.

Umpqua Watersheds simply doesn’t want this “side-stepping” of environmental review to become the normal practice and procedure of administrative agencies.  Not only is it unlawful, but it could lead to some very bad decisions by the agencies in the future- particularly given current climate conditions in which forest fire events will continue and will likely become exacerbated by climate change.

Deciding to litigate such issues is not one to be taken lightly, and Umpqua Watersheds did not enter this suit hastily.  Our earnest desire is, and has always been, to preserve and conserve the wildlife, forests, and resources of our precious watershed for our own use and that of future generations.  And to do this effectively, we strive to partner with our community.  But we also must work with our local, state, and federal governments- who are, in their own right attempting to satisfy multiple interests.

Unfortunately, competing interests make it difficult to come to negotiate and to reason properly.

The Forest Service had agreed to postpone the implementation of the project. Basically, the motion asks the court to postpone deadlines that we would otherwise be bound by in continuing our litigation.  It buys us time to listen to the other side and to open the table to a potential settlement.  And in my opinion, settling could be a bigger win for us as it serves to potentially foster better working relations while still demanding that they fulfill their statutory obligations

Pursuant to the agreement, plaintiffs Umpqua Watersheds, Oregon Wild, and Cascadia Wildlands have agreed to postpone litigation and the pursuit of a temporary injunction on government action in return for withdrawing the complaint concerning specific areas of the project that are already under contract as well as any other implementing action until March of 2022.  This period will afford the parties time to come together to see if they can reach an agreement outside of court regarding their stances on the Archie Creek Danger Tree Project.

If we are to realize any progress in environmental conservation, we must be willing to bend.  I may not like it because the industry has been afforded preference by our governments historically.  It’s hard to not feel that the scales are tilted in the direction of the industry for “economic” gain: the laws are written that way.

Nonetheless, the most ardent goal in all of this is to ensure that agencies are doing their job and performing statutorily mandated environmental reviews.  As such, if settlement talks are not progressive, Umpqua Watershed’s legal arguments stand, and we can move forward in our litigation efforts.

We need them to do their job so we can do ours.  Proper conservation in the age of climate change requires all groups and agencies working together.  That is what we are looking for, and in fact- demanding.

Angela D. Jensen, Esq. , Conservation and Legal Director of Umpqua Watersheds.

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