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Swanson continues fight for increased BLM harvest

A federal appeals court ruling against Glendale-based timber company Swanson Group is just a temporary setback, predicts company President Steve Swanson.

Swanson is in the midst of two lawsuits against the Bureau of Land Management.

Both lawsuits claim the BLM has violated the O&C Act of 1937 by harvesting less timber than the law mandates.

The O&C Act directs the BLM to maintain sustainable yields on lands once owned by the Oregon & California Railroads. The federal government now owns those lands. The BLM drastically reduced timber harvests on O&C lands after the spotted owl was declared an endangered species 25 years ago.

Timber industry leaders say they've been hurt by the decreased harvests, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia challenged that allegation Friday. The court's ruling can be summed up in two words: Prove it.

Swanson and other plaintiffs plan to do just that, but they are putting their money right now on a second lawsuit they've filed against the BLM. It's been informally dubbed "Swanson Two." Oral arguments in the second suit will likely be scheduled before the year is out.

Back in 2013, Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, ruled in Swanson's favor on the first lawsuit. Leon ordered the BLM to sell more timber, but the agency appealed. The Court of Appeals' ruling Friday overturned Leon's decision on a technicality and remanded the case back to district court. The appeals court said the timber companies failed to prove they had standing to sue, because they had not proved their interests were harmed by the BLM's timber management.

Swanson said it seems strange to him that injury would be in doubt.

"In this region if we don't fix the federal timber supply issue, there's not enough wood to go around, so somebody's (mill) has to go away," he said.

The difference between what the BLM has been harvesting and what, according to Swanson's point of view, it should be harvesting is enough to keep a mill going and continue to employ several hundred workers.

Swanson has high hopes for the second lawsuit. While the first targeted the BLM's Roseburg and Medford districts, the second names the BLM's other four Oregon districts as defendants. Swanson said he believes the arguments that weren't made forcefully enough the first time will be made better in the second suit.

Swanson said he's not sure yet whether the company will return to district court armed with better arguments on the first lawsuit.

A spokesman for the BLM's Roseburg district said the agency is still analyzing the appeals court's ruling.

"With it coming out Friday, we don't know how it will affect our timber sale program at this point," said Cheyne Rossbach, public affairs specialist for the Roseburg district.

The BLM is adopting a wait-and-see posture on the second lawsuit as well.

"At this point I can't speculate as far as what our actions would be after that. We can only go off what we currently have in place," Rossbach said. "Once a ruling comes out, we would determine at that point what our course of action would be."

Bob Ragon, executive director of Douglas Timber Operators, another party to the Swanson lawsuit, pledged to continue the fight.

"We'll go after it, and I think we'll prevail in the long run," Ragon said.

Swanson Lumber is in the midst of two lawsuits against the Bureau of Land Management. Swanson says it should be harvesting is enough to keep a mill going and continue to employ several hundred workers. AP PHOTO.