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Lawsuit challenges state’s post-wildfire logging in Santiam State Forest

Seven conservation groups sued Oregon’s Department of Forestry Wednesday in the first instance of legal action against the state over post-wildfire clear-cut logging.

According to the lawsuit, the Santiam State Forest east of Salem has been extensively logged by ODF and the agency is looking to log an additional 3,500 acres in the area without opening it up for review. The areas slated for logging are Monument Peak horse camp, Sevenmile Creek and the Niagara areas.

The Santiam State Forest has been closed to the public since last year’s Labor Day wildfires.

Nick Cady with Cascadia Wildlands says the suit aims to force the agency to stop logging on the Santiam until after a thorough analysis of the area to determine what should and should not be logged.

“Some of these areas burned at low or moderate severity where there’s little to no canopy damage or tree removal,” said Cady, whose organization is one of the plaintiffs. “Then there is no reason at all they should be logging areas that are supposed to evolve to mature and complex forests and shelter and treasured recreation spots.”

This lawsuit comes as post-wildfire logging has been conducted in the area amid complaints that the public has received little to no notice of planned logging. Post-wildfire logging rules are generally more lenient and have fewer restrictions which allow for more logging in areas where wildfires burned to safely remove dead and damaged trees. In most cases there is little to no notice of the logging.

Cady said the amount of clearcutting the agency is doing is highly irresponsible.

“If the department was operating from a fire safety standpoint and not concerned about making money from logging, the last thing it would be doing is kind of replacing a quarter of the Santiam State Forest with young, dense plantations that burn at higher severity and greater frequency,” Cady said.

The lawsuit also claims the logging could also have ecological impacts for post-fire forest recovery and for watersheds. The suit says logging can release more greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, worsening the climate crisis.

“Salvage logging the Santiam State Forest will do great damage to spotted owls, struggling salmon populations, water quality and forest recovery,” Center for Biological Diversity’s Endangered Species Director Noah Greenwald said in a press release statement. “The Oregon Department of Forestry is stuck in the 1950s and out of step with science and the values of most Oregonians.”

Greenwald said the lawsuit was the first to challenge the state of Oregon over logging on state lands in response to the 2021 wildfires. Litigation over post-fire logging on federal lands is already underway.

The lawsuit was filed by Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity, Oregon Wild, Willamette Riverkeeper, the Audubon Society of Corvallis, the Audubon Society of Salem, Benton Forest Coalition and John Jackson.

A spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Forestry says the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Monica Samayoa