A judge has found that the Forest Service properly determined logging won't affect wolves in a Southern Oregon national park.
The U.S. Forest Service doesn’t have to study the impact of logging on wolves before proceeding with a thinning project in Oregon’s Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, a federal judge ruled.
The agency plans to treat about 3,200 acres as part of the Bybee project, which is aimed at reducing the risk of wildfire in overstocked forest stands.
Oregon Wild, an environmental group, filed a legal complaint claiming the Forest Service should have supplemented its environmental assessment of the project due to the presence of wolves in the area.
A male radio-collared wolf originally from Northeast Oregon, known as OR-7, sired two pups with a mate in the area last year. Gray wolves are protected as an endangered species in that part of the state.
The Forest Service conducted a “new information review” to see if logging would affect the wolves, but concluded it would not since their den was at least 15 miles away from the project site.
U.S. District Judge Owen Panner found that the agency took a sufficiently “hard look” at the issue, given the wolves’ distance and the lack of designated critical wolf habitat in the area.
Panner reached a similar conclusion in regard to the northern spotted owl, a threatened species, because the Bybee project doesn’t remove any of critical habitat or “take” any birds.
The Forest Service also postponed thinning some areas to preserve high value wildlife habitat, he said.
Oregon Wild claimed that the agency should have undertaken a more comprehensive “environmental impact statement” of the project because it contains potential federally designated areas and due to its proximity to the Crater Lake National Park.
The judge rejected these arguments because the project only has a small amount of acreage eligible for wilderness designation, the strictest form of federal land protection.
Panner said the Forest Service addressed concerns about Crater Lake National Park by scaling back the project near the park’s border, and he agreed that thinning will help protect the area from fire.