A Big Win for Big Trees

Imanha by Rob Klavins

Nearly four years ago to the day, as America faced unprecedented challenges, the Forest Service began a rushed and rigged process to undermine the only protections for Eastern Oregon’s largest and oldest trees. Just hours before President Biden’s inauguration, a Trump political appointee signed a decision gutting protections known as “the Screens.”

Oregon Wild, conservation allies, tribes, and scientists all joined the fight and challenged the removal of these protections in court. 

Late last Friday, those protections were fully reinstated!

This is a shared victory. In making her ruling, the judge noted the thousands of you who weighed in through comments, as well as our members and supporters who came from across the state to pack the courthouse.

Safeguards of Wildlife, Water, and Climate

Eastern Oregon’s diverse forests are often overlooked, but science is telling us they play a globally important role in the urgent fight against climate change and the biodiversity crisis. One of the safeguards of those important values are known as the Screens. 

The Screens prohibit trees over 21” in diameter at breast height (dbh) from being logged in the National Forests of Eastern Oregon and Washington that were not included in the Northwest Forest Plan. They are the most meaningful – and arguably only – protections for big and old trees in those places. 

These protections were initially put into place by herculean efforts from environmental champions, including our own Tim Lillebo. After three decades, we know they have effectively protected wildlife habitat, sequestered carbon, and conserved other important values.

Court Cites Public Concern, Restores the Screens

Represented by CRAG Law Center, joined by half a dozen conservation allies, and supported by the Nez Perce Tribe, we took the agency to court for its illegal actions to undermine public process and strip away the protections of the Screens. It was a relief when, last August, a magistrate agreed the agency had violated several of the country’s bedrock environmental laws. He recommended the Screens be reinstated.

However, in a quirk of the justice system, those recommendations had to be formally approved and adopted by another judge. We had to wait until March to know if those recommendations would stick. And they did!

Friday’s ruling affirms a Magistrate Judge’s decision last summer, saying the agency violated numerous bedrock environmental laws, and fully reinstates the Screens.

Threats on the Horizon

Still, we know the fight continues. 

Forest Service leadership continues to push for more discretion to do the bidding of their industry collaborators. They may still appeal this case, wasting more time and money. 

Even as the Biden Administration works to develop national rules to protect mature and old-growth trees, agency leadership continues to push in the opposite direction. 

Specifically, for over six years, regional leadership has been working with an exclusive group dominated by industry allies to change forest plans in Eastern Oregon.

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