The 2012 withdrawal of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest's widely reviled Travel Management Plan (TMP) pleased many ATV riders who enjoy the forest's network of open roads, but it turns out that in one sense the decision might not have been good for loggers and Boise Cascade's sawmills.
In a curious reversal, environmental groups that criticized the TMP in 2012 because it didn't ban motor vehicles from enough roads, now are wielding that abandoned plan as a cudgel against Snow Basin, the largest logging project on the Wallowa-Whitman in almost a quarter century.
The plaintiffs in a 2012 lawsuit challenging the Snow Basin project in eastern Baker County are the Hells Canyon Preservation Council and the League of Wilderness Defenders/Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project.
They argue that because the Wallowa-Whitman withdrew the TMP, the mileage of roads in the Snow Basin area open to motor vehicles poses a threat to elk that the forest has failed to adequately address.
A district court judge last July denied the plaintiffs' request for an injunction that would force the Wallowa-Whitman to suspend work on Snow Basin.That could have affected Boise Cascade, which has bought two timber sales that are part of the project.
But earlier this month a three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned part of that ruling.
The panel ordered district judge Marco A. Hernandez to issue a preliminary injunction. It's not clear whether the injunction will stop all work on Snow Basin, including logging, or whether, as the Appeals Court judges wrote, "a more narrowly tailored preliminary injunction can be crafted."
Either way, the injunction will be in place until the Wallowa-Whitman writes a supplemental environmental impact statement (EIS). That will likely take a minimum of several months.
The key part of the ruling, though, is the section quoted above regarding a "narrowly tailored preliminary injunction."
We see no reason why logging should be restricted while the Wallowa-Whitman is revising the Snow Basin to take into account the delay in enacting a Travel Management Plan and its restrictions on vehicles.
Although the Snow Basin EIS does discuss how logging, prescribed burning and other aspects of the project could affect elk, the central issue in the lawsuit is how the current network of roads open to motor vehicles affects the animals.
We understand the Appeals Court's contention that the EIS is misleading because its description of effects on elk presumes the Wallowa-Whitman would by now have approved a Travel Management Plan banning motor vehicles from some roads in the Snow Basin area (the EIS is not specific, however, on which roads).
But we don't believe that the effects of logging on elk will be substantially different regardless of which roads are closed, or when. Logging should continue as planned, and the Wallowa-Whitman should update the EIS to include the lack of a Travel Management Plan.