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Judge rules in favor of U.S. Forest Service

A federal judge 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 U.S. District Court in Medford.

The ongoing, multiyear 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.

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 did not uphold the previous decision.

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, Nature Conservancy and Lomakatsi Restoration Project are partners with the Forest Service on the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project.

Last week, the City Council approved passing up to $975,000 in federal economic stimulus money to Columbia Helicopters to do thinning work on Forest Service land in the watershed as part of the project.

The council also approved a contract of up to $335,000 — also funded by federal dollars — for Columbia Helicopters to thin the Winburn Parcel, a 160-acre, city-owned island of forested land in the middle of the watershed.

(See correction, below.)

Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

Correction: The Winburn Parcel helicopter logging is being funded by federal dollars but not stimulus dollars, as was reported in a previous version. Also, AFR project partner Lomakatsi was inadvertently left out.