Forest thinning work in Ashland watershed meets erosion laws, judge rules

U.S. District Court Judge Owen Panner has ruled against former Ashland City Councilor Eric Navickas' claim that a forest thinning project in the Ashland Watershed is violating environmental laws governing soil erosion.

Navickas and former Ashland resident Jay Lininger had challenged the U.S. Forest Service's Ashland Forest Resiliency Project in court.

The on-going, multi-year plan aims to thin 7,500 acres in the Ashland Watershed in the mountains above town.

In a Friday ruling, District Judge Owen Panner said the Forest Service is complying with laws because it has agreed not to thin in areas that have a special designation as “restricted riparian” land. (See correction, below)

On land labeled “restricted watershed,” the Forest Service plans to do helicopter logging, which will cause minimal impact to the soil, according to new testimony in the case from Don Boucher, the Forest Service's project manager.

Any exposed soil will be promptly covered with slash from thinning operations, Boucher said.

Panner said those adjustments to avoid “restricted riparian” land and cover exposed soil in “restricted watershed” areas are allowed.

In 2012, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Clarke had ruled against Navickas and Lininger on other claims regarding the project, but had upheld their claim that the project could expose too much soil, which could lead to erosion.

On Monday, Navickas said he was disappointed that Panner in his new ruling did not uphold the previous decision by Clarke.

Navickas said he doesn't think that scattering branches from thinning operations on exposed soil protects the soil as much as leaving standing trees intact.

"The Ashland Watershed is for water production. It's not timber resource land," he said.

Navickas said he and Lininger plan to appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The city of Ashland and The Nature Conservancy are partners with the Forest Service on the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project.

— Vickie Aldous

Read more in Tuesday's paper.

Correction: Designation labels were inadvertently switched in previous version and have been corrected throughout.


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