In February, Judge Mendez in the Eastern District of California ruled in favor of a lawsuit against the Smokey timber sale in the Mendocino National Forest. The lawsuit was filed by the environmental group Conservation Congress three and a half years ago. Because the area was never logged, this is a big victory for the northern spotted owls and other animals that call this beautiful forest home.
The Smokey timber sale area is significant in that the vast majority of the project is in a Late-Successional Reserve and designated critical habitat for the northern spotted owl. The Forest Service proposed logging a whopping 6,400 acres—one of the largest timber sales ever developed on the Mendocino National Forest. The judge stated the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) because of an inadequate range of alternatives, inconsistent Limited Operating Periods (time periods where logging can’t occur to protect the owl), failure to address past monitoring practices (no surveys for owls), and failure to take the requisite “hard look” at the project.
The lawsuit also forced the Forest Service to re-consult with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service multiple times, resulting in the establishment of two new Activity Centers for the spotted owl. One of those Activity Centers had a pair of owls that successfully fledged one chick in 2016. The Forest Service had inaccurately designated less stringent guidelines. It also misrepresented the critical habitat, claiming it was marginal habitat that needed logging to “improve” it when in reality the area has many large old growth tress providing excellent owl habitat. Spotted owl biologists have described the sale area as “perfect owl habitat” and state “nothing needs to be logged here.” Below are a few photos from the Smokey project. The Smokey litigation victory joins other Conservation Congress legal victories on the Mendocino National Forest including the Tatham timber sale and the Mill Fire Salvage timber sale.