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Goose Goes to Court

The controversial Goose Project might have its day in court. Local environmental groups Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands are suing to stop the timber sale, charging that the Forest Service failed to properly analyze the impact of 2,100 acres of logging to areas around waterways and endangered species habitat. The dispute centers on a 17,421-acre project area around McKenzie Bridge. The Western Environmental Law Center filed suit on behalf of the conservation groups.

McKenzie District Ranger Terry Baker says the project balances multiple agency mandates — including sustainability, wildfire reduction and commercial timber production — by treating the forest as a whole. Baker and Willamette National Forest Supervisor Meg Mitchell say that multiple federal agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, signed off on the plan, which, the foresters say, has appropriate stream buffers and will affect individual northern spotted owls without reducing the overall population. 

“If all we do is go cut in plantations that we’ve clearcut before, that doesn’t equal landscape-level treatment,” Baker says, adding that the project will thin natural tree stands with an average tree age of 60 years, opening up the canopy to prevent high-intensity crown fires while lessening the potential for root rot and bug infestations. 

The plaintiffs argue that many targeted stands of trees are perfectly healthy and should be left alone. Cascadia Wildlands Campaign Director Josh Laughlin says the plan uses “questionable science” to mask aggressive logging of maturing, diverse 120-year-old stands as forest health treatments and that forestry in the world-famous McKenzie watershed should be restricted to restoration. 

“While there are some restorative components to the Goose project that we support,” says Laughlin, “the Forest Service chose to pair them with aggressive logging in endangered species habitat, and within a potential wilderness area.” He questions why the agency didn’t choose a different logging alternative in the area that would have focused on restoration work without the clearcuts and without logging in a roadless area. 

Laughlin says the roadless portion of the forest has the potential to be a federally designated Wilderness Area. The current sale calls for “punching a road” into the forest, he says.

Public interest forester Roy Keene calls the Goose a flat-out timber grab. He says the trees — which will be sold by the ton instead of graded and sold based on quality — will bring taxpayers about a third of their true market value, while the logging will increase wildfire danger.

“They cherry picked it,” Keene says. “Miraculously, all of the unit boundaries are drawn around the best timber.”