For Immediate Release

Court Rules BLM Clearcuts on the Edge of Springfield Will Increase Fire Hazard and Harm Recreation

Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, 314-482-3746; nick@cascwild.org

Doug Heiken, Oregon Wild, 541-344-0675; dh@oregonwild.org

September 19, 2019

Conservation groups and neighbors defeat BLM’s Thurston Hills timber sale

Eugene, Or. — On Wednesday, Judge Michael McShane ruled in a lawsuit filed by Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild, determining that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated federal laws when it approved clearcutting 100 acres of public land next to the city of Springfield. The court said that BLM’s environmental review failed to consider the fact that logging would increase fire hazard for nearby residents and failed to harmonize logging and recreation by buffering trails as required by BLM’s own rules. 

The Court held the BLM failed to explain or analyze “the degree or severity of fire hazard to the community and neighboring landowners” and “attempted to marginalize the effects of regeneration logging” on public safety and fire hazard. The Court went on to explain that the logging would for 5 years immediately following harvest “increase stand-level [fire] hazard from low to moderate/high” “with higher predicted flame length, fire duration, and intensity and decreased ability to control a fire.” “Over the next 10 to 40 years, stands would transition through stages associated with high stand-level fire hazard rating and go from a slash fuel to a brush fuel type, which are more volatile and susceptible to high fire-caused mortality rates. These potential fires would have high flame lengths, rates of spread, and intensity and would be difficult to initially attack and control.”

Local residents had repeatedly raised wildfire safety concerns to the BLM, and the BLM had assured these neighbors that the issue would be addressed. The Court concluded that not only was this issue not addressed, but that BLM removed from public review its 18-page fuels specialist (fire) report and “deprived the public of its only opportunity to comment.” 

Many of these neighbors spoke out when the timber sale was finalized: “I am concerned that the Bureau of Land Management chose to ignore the increased risk of wildfire that would result from their clearcut proposal, and am worried that the Thurston Hills timber sale will not only be a local eyesore, but will also threaten the safety of my home and community,” said Sue Hartman, a local resident who lives off of 69th Street in Springfield, close to the proposed logging. 

The area to be logged is located directly adjacent to Willamalane’s recently opened 665-acre Thurston Hills Natural Area. BLM’s recently adopted resource management plan (RMP) for western Oregon and in collaboration with Willamalane, specifically designated this small area for recreation in order to complement the Thurston Hills Natural Area’s recreation opportunities, specifically high-quality mountain biking and hiking. 

“Through this legal challenge, it became clear that the BLM was getting clear commands to ramp up the cut from higher up,” said Nick Cady, legal director of Cascadia Wildlands. “The ruling is a big win for community safety and recreation in our backyard forests.”

BLM now must reconsider its logging plans, and if they decide to proceed, the public agency must buffer and protect the trails and conduct a more in-depth analysis of fire hazard caused by logging. This case highlights the fact that mature trees with thick bark and high canopies are more resistant and resilient to fire compared to the dense, flammable under-growth that develops after clearcutting. Dozens of nearby homes could be threatened if a fire starts, and BLM admits that its proposed logging will substantially increase wildfire hazard for the Springfield community for 40-50 years after logging. 

“We hope this decision dispels BLM’s notion that logging trumps everything else even in a designated recreation area,” says Doug Heiken with Oregon Wild. “BLM needs to listen to the public and come up with a plan to provide high-quality recreation and one that protects the community from fire.” 

In June 2018, Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) wrote the BLM regarding this timber sale and told them, “If the BLM proceeds with this project, it will inflict lasting damage to its reputation and will garner ill will from the community for decades. The agency will lose any trust or goodwill that has been built over the years by previous district managers.”  

Plaintiffs were represented by attorney Jennifer Schwartz and Nick Cady, legal director with Cascadia Wildlands. 

A copy of the Court’s Order and Opinion can be found here.