Judge rules in favor of BLM timber sale plan

A federal court judge on Tuesday denied a request by environmental groups for a preliminary injunction to halt a U.S. Bureau of Land Management timber sale in the Jenny Creek drainage.

U.S. District Court Judge Owen Panner in Medford ruled in favor of the BLM, which wants to harvest some 3.2 million board feet of timber from the Cottonwood timber sale in the Jenny Creek watershed between Highway 66 and Howard Prairie Lake. The sale covers 1,008 acres.

"Plaintiffs have not shown that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their claims that BLM violated NEPA or FLPMA," Panner concluded, referring to the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Land and Policy Management Act. "Plaintiffs have not carried their burden to show the public interest favors injunctive relief."

The plaintiffs included the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, Oregon Wild, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Cascadia Wildlands Project.

The decision was welcome news for the BLM's Medford District, said district spokesman Jim Whittington.

"We're very pleased with the ruling," he said. "We thought we had a good timber sale and had worked very hard in ensuring we met all the legal requirements.

"This ruling upholds our efforts," he added. "It will make it possible to get some work done in the forest that is beneficial to both the forest and the local economy."

But George Sexton, conservation director for KS Wild in Ashland, cautioned that the sale is not out of the woods just yet. The plaintiffs are considering their options, including an appeal, he said.

"Anytime the BLM is focused on old-growth logging, we will try to turn that," he said. "It's likely we will do everything we can to stop it."

A law-school graduate, Sexton noted the tests for a preliminary injunction are high, requiring a judge by law to give deference to the agency.

"But the facts are that the BLM plans to log old-growth trees in (northern) spotted owl and fisher habitat," he said, adding that he is also concerned about the fishery in the Jenny Creek watershed. (Correction: The species Sexton mentioned have been corrected in this quote.)

"We feel that public opinion, the law and science are on our side," he said.

The conservation groups had asked the court to block the timber sale until the BLM carries out more thorough environmental analyses of the units and complies with NEPA and the FLPMA.

The BLM had completed a NEPA analysis for the sale, determining that no significant environmental impact would arise from the proposed logging.

The Cottonwood sale was purchased by the Murphy Company of Eugene for $173,674. However, it has not yet been awarded because of the lawsuit.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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