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Timber Industry Sues BLM to Increase Logging in Western Oregon

July 13, 2011

Earlier this month, the American Forest Resource Council (“AFRC”), the Carpenters Industrial Council, the Douglas Timber Operators (“DTO”) and six family-owned forest products manufacturers based in Southern Oregon sued the Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, to compel the Bureau of Land Management to offer more timber for sale from the 2.1 million acres of Oregon and California (“O&C”) Railroad Grant Lands.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of another lawsuit filed by the DTO and other industry groups, DTO v. Salazar, Civ. No. 09-1704 (D. D.C.), which was resolved earlier this year.  The District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the BLM’s withdrawal of the controversial Western Oregon Plan Revision (“WOPR”) in July of 2009 violated the Administrative Procedures Act.  The BLM had previously decided to withdraw the WOPR after environmental groups sued, alleging, inter alia, that the BLM did not comply with the Endangered Species Act.  The decision in DTO v. Salazar had the practical effect of reinstating the WOPR, which calls for harvesting 502 million board feet (mbf) of timber annually from the O&C lands of Southwestern Oregon and Northern California.  Now, in the complaint filed June 27, 2011, AFRC v. Salazar, industry groups are seeking to compel the BLM to meet the 502 mbf mandate.

Among the kinds of lawsuits that can be brought against federal agencies, lawsuits seeking to compel a federal agency to take a specific action—here, to harvest timber—are among the most difficult to win.  It will be interesting to see if the timber industry groups can build on the momentum from the favorable decision in DTO v. Salazar.  They are likely to face a significant hurdle right out of the gate.  One of the original environmental groups that sued over the WOPR in 2008—and intervened in the DTO v. Salazar case—Pacific Rivers Council, immediately filed suit in Oregon Federal District Court challenging the WOPR, again, after it was reinstated by the District Court for the District of Columbia.  With the two cases now pending, one in Oregon Federal District Court and one in the District of Columbia, there is likely to be a fight over whether one court should hear both disputes (i.e., consolidate the cases), and which court it should be.  Ultimately, if either court found the WOPR to be illegal, the timber industry likely would not be able to force the BLM to implement it.

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