Court Un-Orders Court Order on BLM Logging

In 2013, the US Bureau of Land Management was ordered—by law!—to sell more timber in southern Oregon. Last week, the US Court of appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned that ruling, as well as another, which was part of the same initial court order, that canceled the use of a scientific system to estimate the harm being done to northern spotted owls, a threatened species, by said court-enforced logging.

All this roundabout jibber jabber is brought to you by the good ol’ US judicial system—no room for improvement here!

The O&C Act of 1937

Under a 1937 law known as the O&C Act (for the Oregon & California Railroad), lumber mills and others in the timber industry were attempting to sue the Bureau of Land Management over minimum logging requirements. However, the appeals court determined that the plaintiffs had no grounds to sue, as they failed to show evidence that they had suffered harm from lack of timber.

Another potential issue of the O&C Act, whether the law directs the BLM to run its timberlands in Western Oregon primarily for timber production, was not addressed.

Thanks to the court’s intervention, spotted owl and salmon habitats will remain protected under federal laws enacted nearly two decades ago.

“The appellate court today threw out an unprecedented, unworkable, and backward decision that could have forced the Bureau of Land Management to violate its duties to manage these lands for water, air, wildlife, and people, not just clear cuts,” a statement from Earthjustice lawyer Kristen Boyles read, in part. Boyles represented environmental groups intervening on the side of federal agency.

can't you hear me loggin

Whither the Timber?

Those in the timber industry are, unsurprisingly, less than thrilled about this development. Vice President of the American Forest Resource Council and grammatically-incorrect description of a wildfire Ann Forest Burns said she expects the timber industry’s legal group to go back to district court to re-file the lawsuit, along with more ample proof that area mills had been harmed by lack of logs.

In a 2013 case, US District Court Judge Richard J. Leon ruled that the BLM has, since 2004, failed to offer acceptable amounts of timber mandated in its 1995 resource management plans for the Medford and Roseburg districts. Since Leon’s ruling, one area mill, Rough & Ready Lumber, out of O’Brien, Oregon, did shut down due to lack of logs; the mill has reopened.

The lands in question (so-called “O&C lands”) were once deeded to the O&C Railroad by the federal government. Intended to pay for the construction of a rail line, the lands reverted to government control after the railroad went belly-up, and are now managed by the BLM. Half of any revenues generated on and/or from O&C lands goes to the counties in which they’re located, unique among federal timberlands.

Photo credit: born1945 / Foter / CC BY