Judge rules against Thurston Hills timber sale for failure to protect trails
SPRINGFIELD, OR – For the second time in three years, a logging proposal slated to clearcut over 100 acres of forest from the Thurston Hills designated recreation area on the edge of Springfield has been deemed illegal by a federal judge. The Court’s Findings and Recommendations come after years of campaigning by affected landowners and wildlands and recreation enthusiasts working alongside attorneys litigating on behalf of Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild. Landowners living adjacent to Thurston Hills and citizens of Springfield and Eugene have opposed the project since its inception, due to the increased risk of wildfire and the diminished recreational value that clear-cut logging would bring to the area.
Ronna Frank, a community member living on 79th street near the project said:
“It’s been such a relief to hear that the forest I think of as my backyard won’t be destroyed by Seneca Jones Timber Company and the Bureau of Land Management. It never made sense to me why they would want to log such a small but beloved area of forest that’s so close to town when there’s so much other land in the state that isn’t so healthy and so loved. What is even more infuriating is that the public agency readily acknowledges the increased fire risk to our neighborhood associated with the clearcuts they proposed. I am so relieved this reckless project has been shot down again.”
The legal battle over Thurston Hills has centered around the heightened fire risk associated with industrial logging and tree plantation forestry, and the BLM’s failure to protect the area’s recreation values. Seneca Jones and the BLM were attempting to log directly over planned mountain bike and hiking trails that will connect with the existing mountain bike trails on Willamalane’s Thurston Hills Natural Area and the broader Rivers to Ridges recreation vision for the cities of Eugene and Springfield. The Court held for the second time that BLM and Seneca failed to preserve the trails from harvest as originally ordered by a federal judge in 2019.
Ian Petersen, owner of Map Your Adventure and a local mountain biking enthusiast said:
“I am so ready for the BLM to stop trying to clearcut Thurston Hills and just build these much-anticipated trails. This area is destined to become a world-class mountain biking location but not if the BLM clearcuts it. Hopefully the agency will now proceed with expanding the trail system and remove the clearcutting component.”
In 2019, the original timber sale proposal was also defeated in court on the grounds that the BLM failed to properly disclose information on the fire risks associated with the sale. When the sale was revived late last year, the only substantive difference was that the BLM chose to acknowledge the fire risk, without changing the proposal to mitigate the hazard. In light of the recent Holiday Farm Fire which displaced many families upriver from Springfield, this careless regard for our community is disgraceful.
Nick Cady, the Cascadia Wildlands Legal Director, said:
“The science is clear that older forests are more fire resistant than areas that get clearcut and replanted with dense, resinous saplings. That is why it was unfathomable that the BLM was proposing to clearcut the Thurston Hills. The public agency should be in the business of making our public forests more fire resilient, not increasing fire risk to our communities with reckless logging plans.”
Documents released by the BLM’s own scientists show that the logging proposal would drastically increase fire hazard risk for many years:
The fuels specialist reported that the change from a “mature” to an “early successional” stand structural stage would change the associated stand-level hazard from low to moderate/high. AR 2292. The stands would go from a timber model to a slash fuel model with higher predicted flame length, fire duration, and intensity and decreased ability to control a fire, with the greatest risk of a fire start during the first 5 years following harvest. Id.; see also AR 4178–95, 1040–53. 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. AR 2293. These potential fires would have high flame lengths, rates of spread, and intensity and would be difficult to initially attack and control. Id. Overall fire hazard would increase for 5 to 20 years following planting, then drop from high to moderate after the next treatment. Id.
Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild said:
“It’s time for BLM to give these public forests the protection they deserve — for recreation, community livability, water quality, community fire resilience, climate stability, and habitat.”