The Bureau of Land Management has agreed to rescind a rule put in place during Donald Trump’s presidency that allowed the agency to harvest large areas of forest after a wildfire without first doing an environmental review.
The 2020 rules increased the maximum area for “category exclusions” from 250 to 3,000 acres. These exclusions allowed the agency to approve logging projects without detailed environmental review, the argument being that the projects would have minimal environmental impacts. A year ago, environmental groups sued the BLM over these rule changes.
Forest managers often approve logging projects in recently burned areas to salvage trees that could still be used as timber.
Conservation groups argued the agency did not provide enough evidence to explain why it expanded the exclusion zone. The lawsuit also argued that logging after a fire without environmental review can be harmful to wildlife, including endangered species such as the northern spotted owl. Plaintiffs included Cascadia Wildlands, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Oregon Wild, Soda Mountain Wilderness Council and Willamette Riverkeeper.
“Land logging and road building are really harmful to recently burned watersheds, which are quite sensitive,” said Susan Jane Brown, Wildlands Program Director for the Western Environmental Law Center.
Brown said that in a forest after a fire, the remaining trees and plants help prevent erosion and keep sediment from flowing into nearby waterways. She said environmental reviews show the impacts of human intervention on recently burned areas.
“So if you’re proposing to do logging after a fire, it makes sense to look closely at the environmental consequences of that action and come up with that kind of mitigation and appropriate alternatives,” he said. she stated.
Brown isn’t saying the BLM should ever log into landscapes after a fire, but she said the agency should conduct a thorough environmental review to examine possible impacts and identify ways to mitigate them.
The agency will revert to its old post-fire logging guidelines, and projects larger than 250 acres will once again require detailed environmental review.