Opponents of the Jazz timber sale in Mt. Hood National Forest are taking their case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in an effort to stop logging on around 2,000 acres of forestland.
They're also warning that logging on that location will increases landslide risks -- an argument that could resonate with the public after the slide in Washington that killed 41 people and left two missing.
The environmental group Bark announced the timber sale appeal at a rally in front of the Mt. Hood National Forest headquarters in Sandy, Oregon Wednesday.
"We've been fighting Jazz for almost four years," said staff attorney Brenna Bell. "Let us hope that the judges who review this case this time have a better grasp of the law and the facts than the judge who rules on this last time."
About 75 people demonstrated against the logging operation -– some dressed as a salmon, bears, or trees. To illustrate their concerns about damage to the forest from logging, organizers staged a mock building of a logging road and resulting deposition of mud into salmon-bearing streams. Then, Bark executive director stuck a poster-sized letter between the locked doors of the headquarters building. The letter asks the national forest's supervisor Lisa Northrop, to reduce the size of the Jazz timber sale.
"Today we're here because we want to make local change," Brown told the group. "We're here to demand that the stewards of Mt. Hood National Forest don't follow these arbitrary logging targets from Washington D.C. to pollute our drinking water, muddy our salmon streams and destroy our back yard."
Last month, a judge denied Bark's claims that the U.S. Forest Service plans for the timber sale violated federal law.
Bark argued that the planned logging would create too much landslide risk, and road-building for the operation would release damaging sediment onto habitat for protected salmon and steelhead in the nearby Collawash River. Ten of the proposed logging units are within half a mile of the Collawash River on land that has been designated a high to medium risk for earthflows.
“The Forest Service’s proposal will result in the equivalent of 38 pickup loads of mud going into the river," said Bark program director Russ Plaeger. "How can they say this project won’t harm salmon?”
Bark also claimed the Forest Service would do more damage to habitat and water water quality by rebuilding logging roads that have already been decommissioned or have been naturally restored by the forest. Bell made a video of one of these areas, where large cedar trees and a swamp have apparently reclaimed a tract the agency still designates as a logging road.
"The Forest Service materially misrepresented the ecological conditions in the forest, and vastly understated the extent of impact from the road building and tractor logging in the Jazz Timber Sale," Bell said. "That is illegal."
But U.S. District Court Judge Marco Hernandez said he didn't see a legal problem with the project as proposed.
"They had more than 15 different points they tried to argue were illegal, and the judge agreed with us on every point," said Forest Service spokeswoman Laura Pramuk.
Pramuk says the timber sale doesn't allow logging in areas with high landslide risk.
"We have had our geologists evaluate every one of the units in the proposed project for levels of risk," she said. "Any area he said was at risk was avoided."
Mike Chaveas, U.S. Forest Service ranger for the Clackamas River Ranger District, said some of the logging roads that are being rebuilt for the Jazz timber sale were never properly decommissioned to restore forest habitat. It will be less expensive and less damaging to rebuild them to access logging sites than it would be to build new roads, he said.
"They're still not in great shape hydrologically," he said. "We're going to be reopening them and reusing them. We're going to decommission them in a more comprehensive way than they were initially."
Bark has asked the Forest Service to reduce the Jazz timber sale by removing the logging units that would require rebuilding logging roads that have already been decommissioned. But Chaveas says the timber sale wouldn't be cost effective if the agency did that.
"If we only do the units where we don't have to use decommissioned roads it won't be worth it," Chaveas said.
The Forest Service says the Jazz timber sale has two primary purposes. One is to thin out dense stands of trees that were replanted after logging decades ago and create more diversity in the forest. The other is to support logging jobs.
"We are providing that economic benefit to the community but then by opening up these old plantations and thinning the trees out of there there's a high likelihood that the forest will start looking like a natural forest," said Chaveas.
Canadian timber company Interfor purchased the Jazz timber sale and is set to begin helicopter logging.