Federal court ruling delays timber sale

The BLM says it needs more time to study the June 26 U.S. District Court decision in a lawsuit brought by the timber industry

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has postponed a timber sale in the Applegate River drainage while it pores over the ramifications of last month's federal court decision in a lawsuit brought by the timber industry.

The agency has decided to delay the 2.3-million-board-feet Williams Thin timber sale originally scheduled to be sold at auction today to give it more time to assess the June 26 decision by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon in Washington, D.C., according to Jim Whittington, spokesman for the BLM's Medford District.

"This is a postponement, not a cancellation," he stressed. "We are still figuring out all the implications of the decision and assessing where we are going to go from here."

The agency is focusing on the portion of the judge's ruling that prohibited the federal agency from continuing to use a northern spotted owl "estimation methodology," which employs a computer model to determine how many owls are in a given area, he explained. The court prohibited its use until it complies with the public notice and comment requirements in the federal Administrative Procedures Act.

The Williams Thin sale, near the community of Williams, was one of three sales the agency postponed because of the decision, including the 2.2-million-board-feet Uncle Albert sale in the Roseburg District and the Round Up sale in its Eugene District, which included some 5.2 million board feet of timber, he said.

The decision to postpone selling the timber has raised the ire of the Portland-based American Forest Resource Council, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit charging the agency with not meeting the timber-harvest requirements under the federal 1937 O&C Act.

"The decision by the BLM to refuse to sell these timber sales is basically a slap in the face of the judge," said Scott Horngren, AFRC's staff attorney.

"He had found the BLM was violating the law," he added. "The BLM is basically trying to avoid selling timber as the law requires them to do. So here we go again. It is very frustrating to us."

The plaintiffs have filed an emergency motion, asking the court to require the agency to offer the sales, he said.

"The BLM is headed in the wrong direction, frankly," Horngren said. "We hope he will rule soon on the emergency motion."

But George Sexton, conservation director for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, a conservation watchdog group in Ashland, believes the AFRC is being disingenuous. He believes it wants a "train wreck" on the O&C lands in an effort to return to old-growth logging.

"It's sad and ironic that the very same timber-industry interests who believe that public-lands logging should be above the law have filed a procedural lawsuit in an East Coast federal court that has shut down community-based thinning around Williams," Sexton said. "That doesn't seem very neighborly to me given the recent scare the Pacifica Fire gave us."

He was referring to a 500-acre fire that swept through a portion of the Williams Valley late last week.

"I guess AFRC's lawyers would prefer no timber sales than to allow small-diameter restoration logging on BLM lands," he said.

In addition to ruling on the methodology issue, Leon ruled the BLM did not comply with the O&C Act's timber-harvest requirements. He ordered the agency to offer timber sales on its Medford and Roseburg districts that reflect its existing resource management plans.

In the Medford District, the ruling would increase the timber-sale program to its target of 57 million board feet, compared to the 19 million board feet sold in the 2013 fiscal year.

On the Roseburg District, the ruling would increase the harvest from 29 million board feet for the 2013 fiscal year to the district target level of 45 million board feet.

Leon said the agency had failed since 2004 to offer the timber-harvest target contained in the districts' 1995 resource management plans.

Joining AFRC as plaintiffs in the case filed in 2010 were Swanson Group Mfg. LLC, Rough and Ready Lumber Co. in the Illinois Valley, Washington Contract Loggers Association and Douglas Timber Operators. The Rough and Ready mill closed its operation last spring, with the owners citing a lack of federal log availability.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.


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