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Timber Industry vs. Science

Nothing’s worse than science getting in the way of a good clearcut. On Aug. 13, timber industry, livestock and off-road groups filed a case in federal court alleging that a planning rule for federal lands unlawfully establishes “ecological sustainability” as a primary purpose of national forest management. Conservation groups say the industry suit aims to drastically limit the use of science in managing national forests.

The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) says that the purpose of the industry group’s lawsuit is to prevent the Forest Service from using “best available science” and ecosystem management tools to guide decisions affecting 193 million acres of national forests, and to prohibit the agency from maintaining viable populations of wildlife. Eugene-based WELC entered the fray on Sept. 10 when it filed a motion to fight the industry suit in federal district court in Washington, D.C., on behalf of Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Oregon Wild. 

The industry groups include the American Forest Resource Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs, among others.

The industry lawsuit says the 2012 National Forest Management Act Planning Rule “creates an unprecedented new requirement that every forest plan ‘must provide for social, economic, and ecological sustainability.’” And its objections include a section that states all forest management plans must also “maintain or restore” air quality, soils and soil productivity, including guidance to reduce soil erosion and sedimentation, water quality and water resources in the plan area.

“Of course it’s appropriate to use science and conservation biology,” Pete Frost of WELC said. 

Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild called it “truly bizarre when the timber industry must argue against science and in favor of crony capitalism in order to achieve their desired result.”

According to the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), which is not part of the current suit, the 2012 planning rule is Forest Service’s fourth attempt since 2000 at National Forest Management Act regulations. The CBD says that “all three previous attempts were challenged and defeated in court by the Center and allies, who argued successfully that the Forest Service had failed to assess the impacts of the rule changes on the environment, including endangered species.” The CBD says even the currently proposed planning rule that the industry groups object to “weakens longstanding protections for biological diversity on national forests.”