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Big tree protections reinstated for 7+ million acres in Eastern Oregon and Washington

Looking towards the Imnaha River Corridor from Harl Butte in the Morgan Nesbit logging project

On March 29th, we received the wonderful news that Judge Ann Aiken adopted a lower court’s findings & recommendations on our Eastside Screens case. Judge Aiken ruled that the Forest Service violated three major environmental bedrock laws when they amended a key forest management rule without proper public process or properly considering the environmental impact. The rule in question, known colloquially as the “21 inch rule,” protects large trees from being cut in many cases. This ruling means protections are reinstated for trees over 21” in diameter across over 7 million acres of public forest in Eastern Oregon and Southeast Washington!

The case was brought by Greater Hells Canyon Council, the Bitterbrush Broadband of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Oregon Wild, the Juniper Group Sierra Club, and Wild Earth Guardians. Our case was supported by the Nez Perce Tribe who filed an amicus brief.

This ruling means that the Forest Service failed to:

  • Complete a full & robust public process

  • Take a hard look at the full range of environmental impacts from such a wide-ranging decision

  • Conduct the appropriate type of environmental review (an Environmental Assessment was not sufficient)

  • Properly analyze for impacts on aquatic species protected by the Endangered Species Act

The judge sided with our groups on all claims - that the agency violated the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

What this ruling means on the ground:

  • The 21” rule is back in effect. The agency must pause logging projects that rely on the illegal amendment and change their plans to meet this reinstated legal requirement.

  • The 2021 amendment is thrown out, and the agency will have to start over by preparing an Environmental Impact Statement and conducting a new public process. 

What’s next?

While we are pleased with the Judge’s ruling, it’s a shame that this needed to go to court in the first place. Bedrock environmental laws like NEPA, NFMA, and the ESA have been in place for decades. The Forest Service should be working to uphold these laws and follow its own rules. That includes completing the public process and adequately assessing the environmental impacts of policy changes.

The next iteration of the Blue Mountain Forest Plans are being written as we speak, and they’re hoping to complete them in the next three years. These new management plans will supersede this current version of the Eastside Screens. While this victory may end up being relatively short lived, it sends an important message at a critical moment.

There’s more momentum (and public support) for the protection of mature & old growth forests than we’ve seen in decades, coupled with a growing recognition from outside the region that the Blue Mountains are an important place worth sticking up for. It will take citizens from around the state to show up in a big way for old and mature trees as the plan revision process moves forward and we believe they will.

Thanks for your support and engagement in this process - the judge’s ruling specifically called attention to the vast amount of public outcry. Your comments, attendance at public meetings, and help packing the courtroom didn’t go unnoticed.


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