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Fate of Mendocino Forest in Judges’ Hands

Mendocino National Forest. Photo by Sxates, Flickr.

EPIC is awaiting a court decision from the Northern District Court of California on a lawsuit challenging the US Forest Service’s attempt to evade public participation and environmental review of seven timber sales totaling around 7,000 acres on the Mendocino National Forest by logging up to 200 feet on each side of hundreds of miles of “roads” (many of which are not open to motor vehicle use) in the Ranch Fire area. The complaint seeks an order to set aside authorization of these projects to avoid harming sensitive and threatened wildlife and their habitats, but would still permit the felling of imminently hazardous trees along essential public travel corridors.

The complaint seeks to prove that the timber sales were expedited by mislabeling the logging project under the guise of “road maintenance”. Logging this area would impact northern spotted owls, clean water and would increase fuel conditions. Post-fire logging compacts soils, making it more difficult for regrowth, and increases sediment runoff to nearby streams.

Instead of providing a thorough review of the impacts of the proposed logging project, the Forest Service approved the timber sales through a “categorical exclusion” for road maintenance which does not require environmental impact review or public comments. Typically categorical exclusions used for post-fire logging projects limits logging to 250 acres, but all of the seven timber sales are over 250 acres and most of the “roads” they are proposing to log are closed to vehicles.

The targeted area is made up of mixed conifer forest, oak woodlands and chaparral, which provides essential wildlife habitat, hiding cover and core habitat for old forest-dependent wildlife including the northern spotted owl. Burned forests provide snags, which if left unlogged, serves as important habitat for small mammals, birds and predators including northern spotted owls.

The court hearing was done through Zoom and included a panel of three judges, EPIC was represented by Mat Kenna of Public Interest Environmental Law and Sierra Pacific Industries, a logging corporation, intervened on behalf of the Forest Service. The judges appeared engaged and asked good questions, drawing attention to the fact that “hazard” tree removal on steep slopes below roads would not actually pose a threat to roadways, yet they are still targeted for logging, implying that public safety could be achieved in a more benign manner.


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