Mendocino National Forest Backtracks on Logging Project Amidst Scrutiny

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Tuesday, March 17th, 2020

Kimberly Baker inspecting marked tree in timber sale.

1,284 Acres Spared from Logging Under Revised Plan

In response to criticism by the public, the Mendocino National Forest has drastically scaled back proposed logging in the “Green Flat Restoration Project.” Originally planned for 1,534 acres, the Forest Service has scaled the project back to 250 acres. The agency was criticized for its apparent attempt to characterize logging activities as other more benign actions, such as “reforestation.”

The Green Flat Project was proposed in response to the 2018 Ranch Fire. The project quickly elicited controversy because it appeared that the Mendocino National Forest was attempting to characterize commercial logging under other names to more easily facilitate environmental review of the project. Nearly all federal projects are subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which demands that projects be evaluated to consider potentially significant environmental impacts as well as alternatives and mitigation measures to reduce impacts. A small subset of actions—so-called “categorical exclusions”—are exempt from this longer environmental review process. The Forest Service has defined what types of activities can be pursued under a categorical exclusion. These include post-fire logging of 250 acres or less and “reforestation.”

In January, the Mendocino National Forest announced the proposed project. In a letter soliciting public comment, the Mendocino National Forest first proposed 250 acres of post-fire logging, 1,066 acres of “fuels reduction” associated with reforestation, and 218 acres of commercial logging coined as “forest health treatments.” Both fuels reduction and forest health treatments were effectively logging. In its comments on the project, EPIC outlined that this renaming of activities to fit under a categorical exclusion was illegal.

On March 11, the Mendocino National Forest withdrew the proposed project, announcing it would only pursue a smaller 250 acre commercial logging project. Further, the Mendocino indicated that it would reduce the number of living trees logged by taking trees that were estimated to have a 70%+ chance of dying in the future.

“Post-fire forests are ecologically sensitive and respond poorly to intensive logging–that’s why only smaller projects are allowed to utilize a categorical exclusion. Simply renaming logging something else to bypass the rules was clearly illegal and the Forest Service was caught, said Tom Wheeler, Executive Director of EPIC.

“It is clear to see the agencies disregard for science and ecology by prioritizing the extraction of large trees while it leaves the smaller vegetatation to fuel the next fire,” said Kimberly Baker, Public Lands Advocate for EPIC.

In response to the Ranch Fire, the Mendocino National Forest has aggressively tried to increase logging in the fire footprint. EPIC is in court to stop another series of misapplied categorical exclusions.