SALEM, Oré. – Six environmental groups sued Biden administration officials on Tuesday, saying a Trump-era rule change that allowed logging of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest violated federal laws and was politically motivated .
“Large, old trees are of disproportionate ecological and social importance. They perform essential ecosystem functions such as storing carbon, providing wildlife habitat and maintaining water quality,” the groups said in their lawsuit.
The Trump administration changed a protection in place since 1994 that prohibited the harvesting of trees 21 inches (53 centimeters) or more in diameter and instead emphasized maintaining a combination of trees, with priority trees at least 150 years old for protection and favoring fire-resistant species.
The area covered by the rule is at least 7 million acres, roughly the size of the state of Maryland, across six national forests in eastern Oregon and the state’s southeast. from Washington, east of the Cascade Mountains.
In announcing the decision to modify the old-growth forest protection, which took effect Jan. 15, 2021, the Trump administration said it would make forests “more resilient and resilient to disturbances like wildfires.”
Ochoco National Forest supervisor Shane Jeffries said the 21-inch rule makes it difficult to remove fire-prone species without a lengthy regulatory process.
“We seek to create landscapes that resist and recover more quickly from wildfires, drought and other disturbances,” Jeffries told Oregon Public Broadcasting at the time. “We are not looking to eliminate all tall fir and silver fir trees from the forests.”
But the lawsuit said the government’s environmental assessment did not sufficiently address the scientific uncertainty surrounding the effectiveness of thinning, particularly the thinning of large trees, for reducing fire risk. The groups said thinning and felling large trees “may actually increase the severity of fires”.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Pendleton, Oregon, said there is overwhelming evidence that tall trees play a critical role in maintaining biodiversity and mitigating climate change and that there is a lack of these trees in eastern Oregon after “more than a century of high-level logging.
The US Forest Service said it does not comment on ongoing or pending lawsuits.
The complaint alleges that the government’s decision violated the National Environmental Protection Law and the National Forest Management Law.
The plaintiffs are the Greater Hells Canyon Council, Oregon Wild, Central Oregon LandWatch, the Sierra Club, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and WildEarth Guardians.
The groups also informed the defendants of their intention to sue for alleged violations of Endangered Species Act protections for fish and wildlife that depend on older forests. They said the amended policy “opens up the possibility of large tree removals across the landscape, including in riparian areas designated as Riparian Habitat Conservation Areas.”
They said the amendment would impact threatened or endangered fish species such as bull trout, rainbow trout, three types of suckers and chinook and sockeye salmon .
This release corrects that the lawsuit was filed in Pendleton, Oregon, not Medford, Oregon, and that the Natural Resources Defense Council is not a plaintiff