Logging old-growth forests in Oregon and Washington under Trump-era rules violates several other laws, according to a federal judge.
On Thursday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Hallman ruled that the U.S. Forest Service violated many other laws when it amended protections for old growth forests. The protections, which were parts of the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act, and the Endangered Species Act, have been in place since 1994.
The specific protection changed originally banned the harvesting of any trees greater than 21 inches in diameter in mature forests, and emphasized maintaining a mix of trees. It protected mostly trees older than 150 years, and trees known for fire-tolerance. The changes brought by the Trump Administration focused on removing older trees, supposedly to make forests “more resistant and resilient to disturbances like wildfire.”
The amendment went into effect in 2021, but was immediately challenged by a lawsuit from environmental groups and forestry services. According to the groups, not only does the amendment violate older laws which it does not supersede, but it’s rooted in bad science. The groups say that thinning and logging old-growth forests of their larger trees can actually increase fire severity.
Hallmen ruled that the Forest Service had also done a poor job of researching the full environmental impact of the amendment in allowing it to pass, and that their finding of no significant impact should be vacated.
“The highly uncertain effects of this project, when considered in light of its massive scope and setting, raise substantial questions about whether this project will have a significant effect on the environment,” Hallman wrote.
The Forest Service didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment. The agency has two weeks to object to the judge’s findings and recommendations.
Logging old-growth forests is harvesting something that cannot be replaced, in the current environment. In this era of rising temperatures and extreme weather events, we should no longer consider them a renewable resource.