Klamath Forest Alliance Sues USFS Over Post-Fire Tree Felling

Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA), a non-profit corporation based in California, is suing the United States Forest Service and other officials over a decision memorandum they passed which authorized “the felling of ‘danger’ trees affected by the 2020 Slater Fire along approximately 146 miles of identified travel corridors.” Scott J. Blower (Wild District Ranger), and Merv George Jr. (Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest Supervisor) are also named alongside the United State Forest Service.

The decision memorandum, or DM, states that at-risk trees will be felled. It also details the area will be rehabilitated and restored through, “site-specific seeding and planting,” of various trees and plants in highly affected areas. KFA has taken issue with the fact that the Forest Service failed to publish the DM with an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or an Environmental Assessment (EA), which the plaintiffs say they are obligated to under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.

Instead of issuing either an EIS or an EA, the Forest Service allegedly published Categorical Exclusions, or CE’s. One of the published CE’s stated the Forest Service’s approval of roadside tree felling, including where there might be a need for “repair and maintenance” of the roads. This provision would allow trees that are within 200 feet of the roadway or pose a potential “hazard risk” in the next 5 years to be felled. This encompasses a significant number of trees, most of which, if felled, would service the existing commercial timber sale contracts.

These provisions have been interpreted by KFA as the Forest Service planning and authorizing “a major logging project targeting tens of thousands of trees posing no immediate hazard risk.” They argued that the Forest Service “has failed to articulate a rational explanation as to why such a major ‘salvage’ logging project constitutes ‘road repair and maintenance.’” In filing a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, KFA asserts that the “defendants acted arbitrarily, capriciously, and contrary to the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act, and the Endangered Species Act.”

KFA is seeking for the court to “vacate the decision memorandum and remand to the Forest Service for preparation of an EIS or EA for a full and fair analysis of the Project’s impacts.”Klamath Forest Alliance will be represented by Crag Law Center.