Federal judge favors large tree protections for Eastern Oregon

By Joni Auden Land (OPB)
Sept. 1, 2023 10:20 p.m.

A federal magistrate judge recommended on Thursday that the U.S. Forest Service stop cutting larger, mature-growth trees East of the Cascades.

The recommendations are a potential victory for six conservation groups that filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service last year, a response to a change made in the final days of the Trump Administration to allow the removal of trees larger than 21 inches in diameter.

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A U.S. District Court judge will get final approval, and the Forest Service could potentially appeal the decision.

Oregon Wild public lands campaigner Jamie Dawson measures a ponderosa pine marked for cutting west of Bend, Ore., Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Oregon Wild has urged the U.S. Forest Service to spare large, old trees sold to a timber operator.

Oregon Wild public lands campaigner Jamie Dawson measures a ponderosa pine marked for cutting west of Bend, Ore., Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Oregon Wild has urged the U.S. Forest Service to spare large, old trees sold to a timber operator.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

In 2020, the Forest Service changed a plan protecting Eastside Screens — a plan for managing about 8 million acres of land in Eastern Oregon and Southeast Washington — which had prohibited the removal of trees larger than 21 inches in diameter.

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The Forest Service has said it needed to cut certain larger trees in order to prevent the spreading of wildfires. But in a written release issued on Thursday, plaintiffs called the agency’s amendment “a politically motivated action.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Hallman said in his recommendations that, under federal law, the Forest Service should provide an environmental impact statement and end the amendment entirely.

He also said the Trump-era amendment to the Eastside Screens plan could impact endangered species.

“The highly uncertain effects of this project, when considered in light of its massive scope and setting, raise substantial questions about whether this project will have a significant effect,” Hallman wrote.

Chris Krupp, a public lands attorney for WildEarth Guardians, one of the plaintiffs, said old-growth trees and forests are vital in preventing the worsening effects of climate change.

“What the science is showing is that the biggest trees in our forests hold a disproportionate amount of the carbon and removing those trees then releases that carbon into the atmosphere,” Krupp said.

Recent research suggests trees larger than 21 inches in diameter comprise 3% of trees in eastside forests, but hold 42% of the carbon in those forests.

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