An aerial image made by drone shows cutting alongside Road 2209 in the Willamette National Forest on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021.

An aerial image made by drone shows cutting alongside Road 2209 in the Willamette National Forest on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021.

Courtesy of Green Oregon

The U.S. Forest Service has abandoned a plan to log along more than 400 miles of roads in burnt areas of the Willamette National Forest.

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In a written statement issued Wednesday, Willamette National Forest supervisor Dave Warnack said mounting legal costs influenced his decision to withdraw the plan.

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“Our work to safely restore public access to areas burned in the 2020 Labor Day fires continues to be top priority,” Warnack said. “Upon withdrawal of this decision, my staff will conduct another review of the purpose and need of this project and will consider a new approach to addressing this important issue.”

The federal agency crafted the plan following the Beachie Creek, Lionshead and Holiday Farm fires of 2020, saying roadside trees killed or injured in the fires posed a safety risk to recreators and motorists.

The plan drew a legal challenge from environmental groups Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild and Willamette Riverkeeper, who argued the plan was a thinly veiled attempt at commercial salvage logging of some 20,000 acres of public lands, and that carrying it out would degrade water quality and wildlife habitat.

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane in November ordered an immediate stop to the roadside logging just days before cutting was set to begin, indicating the environmental groups were likely to win their case.

McShane wrote in his order that the Forest Service could cut trees at imminent risk of falling onto roads, but noted that most of the trees slated for felling didn’t fit that description.

Areas within the Willamette National Forest that burned in recent wildfires, such as the Mount Jefferson Wilderness, Opal Creek and Breitenbush, will remain closed to the public until further notice while the Forest Service develops a new plan.

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