For Immediate Release, May 28, 2014
Ashland Forest Logging Violates Rules Protecting City Water Supply
MEDFORD, Ore.— A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that soil erosion caused by logging in the Ashland watershed violates U.S. Forest Service standards designed to protect the city of Ashland’s municipal water supply.
“Logging that damages soil undercuts forest resilience,” said Jay Lininger, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, along with former Ashland city councilman Eric Navickas. “This will help to remedy obvious problems that should not have been ignored.”
The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a federal magistrate’s 2012 opinion that the Ashland Forest Resiliency project violates rules limiting exposure of watershed soils with "severe" erosion hazard. The Forest Service permitted soil exposure on 30 percent of affected lands, but its management plan allows just 15 percent.
The court ruled that the agency’s action was arbitrary and capricious.
In 2010, the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest launched the project to address fire hazard on 7,600 acres in the hills south of Ashland. Since then, the agency has contracted with Columbia Helicopters, Lomakatsi Restoration Project and The Nature Conservancy to manage more than 2,300 acres with a combination of commercial logging, hand cutting of small trees and prescribed burning.
The Forest Service cut funding from the project one week after Lininger and Navickas filed the lawsuit, but quickly restored the money when U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley protested the move.
"After being confronted with harsh criticism and punitive threats from the Forest Service in response to this lawsuit, I feel vindicated," Navickas said. “We proved that serious problems exist.”
Tuesday’s court ruling will influence how and where logging is done in the future. The Forest Service had allowed tree cutting on approximately 847 acres of landslide terrain with a high risk of mass wasting, where tree removal can accelerate landslide movement. Those areas may now be off-limits.
Landslides are a primary source of sediment delivery to Reeder Reservoir, which is “water quality limited,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, due to sedimentation.
"It was clear from the beginning that this project was not designed with an emphasis on protecting water quality,” Navickas said. “Logging of landslide prone areas is never appropriate in the Ashland watershed.”
Lininger, an Ashland-based fire ecologist, was part of a volunteer group of experts organized by the city to consult with the Forest Service on the project. Federal foresters rejected a community alternative designed by the specialists, which would have avoided logging in sensitive areas to protect water quality. The group split over disagreement about the final plan that was ultimately endorsed by the city.
“Work to restore natural fire in Ashland’s forest should continue,” said Lininger. “We felt litigation was necessary to realize the purpose of the project and respect community agreements.”
Navickas and Lininger are represented by attorneys Sean Malone and Marianne Dugan.