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Coalition Sues for Old-Growth Protections in Willamette National Forest

June 17, 2024
Ryan Talbott, WildEarth Guardians, (503) 329-9162, rtalbott@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Oregon, Public Lands  
#Climate Forests, #ForceForNature, #PressStatement, #ProtectWhatYouLove, #Rewilding, #WildlandsForWildlife
Today, WildEarth Guardians and Oregon Wild filed a lawsuit to protect mature and old-growth trees in the Willamette National Forest. Last December, the U.S. Forest Service approved the Youngs Rock Rigdon project, which includes over 1,000 acres of intensive logging in mature and old-growth forests up to 200 years old, as well as clearcutting hundreds of acres of younger forest. 

The conservation groups claim that while there are some positive restoration activities proposed, the inclusion of mature and old-growth forest logging is misguided given the significant loss of carbon storage and impacts to threatened and endangered species such as the northern spotted owl.

According to the lawsuit, the “large, old trees that typify mature and old-growth stands in the Willamette National Forest remove large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and are capable of storing such carbon for hundreds of years.” For these reasons, the groups say, “allowing large mature and old-growth trees to continue to grow offers a durable natural climate solution in the face of ongoing greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.”  

As the groups further explain, the logging project is inconsistent with current Forest Service priorities for old-growth forests. In 2022, President Biden issued an executive order on the need to protect and restore old-growth forests throughout the National Forest System. Last year, the Forest Service announced that it will amend all management plans for national forests to incorporate standards for restoring and maintaining old-growth forests, which the agency called “nature-based climate solutions.”

“These mature and old-growth forests are better left standing so they can continue doing what they do best – sequestering carbon while providing critical habitat for wildlife,” said Ryan Talbott, Pacific Northwest Conservation Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “The Forest Service needed to account for the climate benefits of large, old trees to better understand how much stored carbon is lost when these forests are logged. It did not do that here.”

The groups also fault the Forest Service for continuing to propose extensive logging in northern spotted owl habitat when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has warned that the owl is on an accelerated path towards extinction in the next few decades. The proposed logging ignores those warnings and would remove over 2,300 acres of suitable habitat, including 1,000 acres of protected critical habitat for northern spotted owls.

“Two years ago, President Biden issued an Executive Order on climate change directing the Forest Service to prioritize the protection and restoration of mature and old-growth forests,” said Steve Pedery, Conservation Director for Oregon Wild. “It is simply inexcusable that today the agency is still trying to cut down those exact forests in the Youngs Rock Rigdon logging project.”

Plaintiffs are represented by John Persell of Oregon Wild and Erin Hogan-Freemole of WildEarth Guardians.