Federal judge upholds forest thinning, timber harvest project

— A federal judge Wednesday upheld the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to thin trees and harvest timber in Eastern Oregon's Umatilla National Forest.

“The Forest Service properly analyzed the environmental impacts of the proposed project and ensured compliance with the numerous environmental laws that govern activities of many land-management agencies,” said Michael C. Ormsby, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington in Spokane.

According to U.S. District Court records, the Forest Service proposed the thinning and harvest to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires in a 3,900-acre area south of Pendleton, Ore., and east of U.S. Highway 395.

“Across the Pacific Northwest, there is broad public support for actively managing forests to be more resilient to the uncertainties of climate change and the effects of insect outbreaks, disease and destructive wildfires that follow decades of fire suppression in fire-dependent forests,” said a post on Umatilla National Forest’s website. “However, the current rate of restoration is not keeping pace with forest growth.”

The decision to manage timber resources in the South George area of the Pomeroy Ranger District of the Umatilla National Forest was challenged in court by The Lands Council, Hells Canyon Preservation Council and the League of Wilderness Defenders.

The American Forest Resource Council and Asotin County intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of the Umatilla National Forest.

“Judicial review of agency decisions is an important process in our form of government,” Ormsby said of the challenge.

Federal Judge Fred Van Sickle upheld the Forest Service’s planned action.

The case was defended by Rudy J. Verschoor, an Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington and Julie Thrower, an attorney with the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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