FEMA vows to revoke funding for Oregon logging road following lawsuit
(CN) — In a quick turnaround after a lawsuit filed Monday, the Center for Biological Diversity announced Tuesday the Federal Emergency Management Agency is pulling its funding for plans to rebuild a logging road in Oregon’s Tillamook State Forest.
FEMA’s decision came a day after the center and Cascadia Wildlands sued the agency along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife in Oregon federal court for authorizing the reconstruction of Cook Creek Road — a logging road the conservationists say would harm threatened coho salmon and marbled murrelet species in the Tillamook State Forest.
According to the groups’ lawsuit, the logging road closed in December 2015 after heavy rain washed out a 500-foot section into the adjacent Cook Creek, altering its flow pattern. The creek, a tributary of the Nehalem River, is a critical spawning and rearing habitat for the threatened Oregon Coast coho salmon.
The groups claim the government’s grant to reconstruct the road starting this fall would involve moving the washed-out segment about 130 feet upslope from its former location, constructing 1,900 feet of new road and adding two turnouts along steep, erosion-prone slopes.
They say all this would cause yet more sediment to fall into Cook Creek while juvenile salmon are rearing and while adult salmon are migrating and preparing to spawn. They also claim the project will affect marbled murrelets — another threatened species — as they nest, fledge and feed their young in the creek.
Moreover, the groups say rebuilding the road will allow the state’s Department of Forestry to continue with two timber sales slated for 2024, which would involve clearcutting around 700 acres of precious habitat.
The center’s senior freshwater attorney Meg Townsend called FEMA’s withdrawal of federal disaster funds for the road a major victory, stating that the “disastrous logging road” should have never been built in the first place.
“I’m delighted FEMA is taking its duty to protect threatened coho salmon and marbled murrelets seriously,” Townsend said in a statement. “Now we need the Oregon Department of Forestry to reconsider logging in Cook Creek and instead leave it for fish and fishing.”
In another statement Tuesday, Cascadia Wildlands’ legal director Nick Cady said the organization is “relieved the government is going to reevaluate subsidizing Oregon’s attempts to log mature and old-growth forests.”
“Using disaster relief funds to facilitate logging that increases fire risks for Oregonians is ridiculous,” Cady said.
But even while the organizations celebrated FEMA’s vow to withdraw funding in its letter Monday night, Townsend said the groups have no plans to withdraw their lawsuit yet.
“Although the letter says FEMA will do the right thing, the letter isn’t legally enforceable,” Townsend said in an email. “We won’t be dismissing the lawsuit without firm commitments from FEMA. Eventually we could agree to stay or even dismiss the case if the agency commits to taking action that’s enforceable.”
A representative of FEMA declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.