Violation of Laws Found in Trump-era Rule Allowing Logging of Old-Growth Forests, Judge States

by Michael Nguyen
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Forest Logging Rule Violation

A recent ruling by a federal judge has unveiled that a rule change implemented during the Trump era, which permitted the logging of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest, runs afoul of multiple legal statutes.

On Thursday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Hallman declared that the U.S. Forest Service had transgressed the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act, and the Endangered Species Act by amending a protective regulation that had been in effect since 1994.

This legal verdict came as a response to a lawsuit lodged by various environmental organizations against the regulatory alteration.

Judge Hallman suggested that the Forest Service’s assessment of environmental impact and its determination of insignificance should be invalidated. Furthermore, he proposed that the agency be compelled to create a comprehensive environmental impact statement pertaining to the rule change.

In his written statement, Hallman noted, “The potential uncertainties surrounding the consequences of this undertaking, particularly considering its extensive scope and context, give rise to significant queries regarding whether this project will indeed wield a substantial influence on the environment.”

The U.S. Forest Service has not immediately replied to an emailed request for comment. The agency has a period of two weeks to contest the judge’s findings and recommendations.

The alteration introduced by the Trump administration rescinded the prohibition on harvesting trees with a diameter of 21 inches (53 centimeters) or greater. Instead, the focus shifted to preserving a blend of trees, with an emphasis on safeguarding trees at least 150 years old and prioritizing species resilient to fires.

The geographical expanse influenced by this rule covers no less than 7 million acres (2.8 million hectares), approximately equivalent to the land area of the state of Maryland. This territory encompasses six national forests located in eastern Oregon and southeast Washington state.

The Trump administration justified the change, which became effective in 2021, by asserting that it would enhance the forests’ capacity to endure and recuperate swiftly from disturbances like wildfires.

Shane Jeffries, supervisor of Ochoco National Forest, stated during the implementation, “Our aim is to shape landscapes that possess greater resistance and quicker recovery from challenges such as wildfires, droughts, and other disruptions. We have no intention of extracting every grand fir and white fir from the forests.”

However, the lawsuit argued that the government’s environmental evaluation inadequately addressed the scientific uncertainties surrounding the efficacy of thinning, especially when it comes to larger trees, as a means to diminish fire risks. The litigants contended that the thinning and logging of large trees might, in fact, heighten the severity of fires.

The lawsuit, submitted in federal court in Pendleton, Oregon, also contended that robust evidence exists demonstrating the pivotal role large trees play in preserving biodiversity and mitigating climate change. The suit further pointed out that eastern Oregon lacks these trees following “over a century of extensive logging.”

Among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit were organizations such as the Greater Hells Canyon Council, Oregon Wild, Central Oregon LandWatch, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, WildEarth Guardians, and the Sierra Club, with the backing of the Nez Perce Tribe.

Rob Klavins, a representative of Oregon Wild stationed in Wallowa County, expressed in a press release that he anticipates the Forest Service will heed this judicial ruling. He also urged the Biden administration to cease supporting the Trump-era rule change.

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden issued an executive order instructing federal land managers to pinpoint threats to mature trees, such as wildfire and climate change, and to develop policies for their protection.

As the Forest Service embarks on a fresh approach, Klavins anticipates inclusive public participation in formulating a sustainable resolution.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Forest Logging Rule Violation

What is the basis of the legal ruling regarding the Trump-era rule change on old-growth forest logging?

A federal judge, Andrew Hallman, found that the Trump-era rule change allowing logging of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest violated key laws including the National Environmental Policy Act, National Forest Management Act, and Endangered Species Act.

What prompted the legal challenge against the forest logging rule change?

Multiple environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the change, asserting that it did not adequately address scientific uncertainty around the effectiveness of thinning, particularly of large trees, in reducing fire risk.

What were the key recommendations made by Judge Hallman?

Judge Hallman recommended invalidating the U.S. Forest Service’s environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact. He further suggested that the agency should prepare a comprehensive environmental impact statement related to the rule change.

What area and forests were impacted by the Trump-era rule change?

The rule change impacted an area of at least 7 million acres across six national forests in eastern Oregon and southeast Washington state, comparable to the size of Maryland.

How did the Trump administration justify the rule change?

The Trump administration argued that the change would enhance forest resilience to disturbances like wildfires, aiming to create landscapes that recover more swiftly from challenges such as fires and droughts.

What is the response to the legal ruling from environmental organizations?

Environmental groups hope that the Forest Service will adhere to the judge’s decision and are calling on the Biden administration to discontinue support for the Trump-era rule change.

How did President Joe Biden address similar concerns?

President Biden issued an executive order directing federal land managers to identify threats to older trees, such as wildfires and climate change, and develop protective policies.

What is the significance of large trees in this context?

The lawsuit highlighted that large trees play a crucial role in maintaining biodiversity and mitigating climate change, suggesting that eastern Oregon lacks these trees after decades of extensive logging.

What potential environmental impact does the project raise?

Judge Hallman mentioned that due to the uncertain effects of the project and its extensive scope, there are substantial questions about whether it will significantly impact the environment.

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