Wanted: Dead or Mostly Dead


“The common understanding of the term ‘live’ is, quite simply, ‘not dead.’”

It may sound like something out of a Monty Python movie, but the above is actually a portion of the plaintiff’s argument in a U.S. Court of Appeals case decided last month in the Ninth Circuit. Environmentalists had issued a challenge to salvage logging on the Umatilla National Forest in eastern Oregon following a 2005 fire. The appeals case hinged on two points, one concerning so-called uninventoried roadless areas and the other — believe it or not — having to do with the definitions of "live" and “dead.”

The plaintiffs — including The Lands Council and Oregon Wild — argued that there’s really not much of a grey area between alive and not so alive, but the Forest Service claimed “live” is a technical term that doesn’t include dying trees. The court ruled in the agency’s favor, with the result that the Forest Service can make the call that a tree is likely to die and thus legally log it as salvage. (The ruling only applies to the specific salvage project that followed the 2005 fire in the Umatilla.)

But on the other matter — uninventoried roadless areas — environmentalists won the day. The court ruled that the agency failed to take the “hard look” required under the National Environmental Policy Act when it chose to conduct salvage logging on several of these areas following the Umatilla fire. (Inventoried roadless areas are Forest Service lands without roads or development that the government identified in one of two reviews conducted in the 1970s. Uninventoried roadless areas are similar pieces of land that were missed in those reviews.)

In Oregon alone, three million of the five million acres of roadless areas are uninventoried (and all swathes of land 1,000 acres or greater). Prior to the decision, the Forest Service’s activities on these lands were often not subject to public review. Now, says Ralph Bloemers, attorney for the plaintiffs, uninventoried areas in the Ninth Circuit will be subject to the same public review process as the inventoried.

“It’s not a prohibition on going into these areas,” Bloemer says, “but it shines the light of day on the Forest Service’s operations.”

For related stories, see Unsalvageable, Study questions value of post-fire logging and Of salvage logging and salvation.

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