Magistrate Judge rejects key claims against Bureau of Land Management’s Thurston Hills Project

U.S. Magistrate Judge Mustafa Kasubhai today issued a preliminary ruling on the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Pedal Power timber sale near Springfield, determining the BLM adequately analyzed and disclosed how the trail development, timber harvest, and reforestation efforts would affect the level of fire hazard and risk to the local community. The Magistrate Judge’s decision will be referred to U.S. District Judge Michael McShane for a final ruling.

The Pedal Power timber sale is a component of the Thurston Hills Forestry and Trails Project creating 8.5 miles of new hiking and mountain biking trails on BLM lands.

Anti-forestry groups have sought to stop the project since it was originally proposed in 2018. Throughout the legal process American Forest Resource Council (AFRC) has intervened on behalf of Seneca Sawmill to defend the BLM in court.  Seneca holds the contract to harvest timber from the sale, which will be processed by local workers at the company’s mill in Eugene.

BLM land managers, biologists and outdoors recreation planners conducted years of analysis and collaborated with community partners to develop the project that spans 394 acres. In addition to providing new trails and wildlife habitat, the project includes a riparian area around streams, old growth, and a buffer area near neighboring property.

Project opponents have called the timber sale a “clearcut” that increases fire risk, yet the project selectively harvests trees on less than a third of the project area.  Further, the BLM anticipates no change in fire risk and the project complements ongoing efforts to reduce risks in partnership with Willamalane and the Middlefork Watershed Council.  After harvest, new trees will be planted at 200 trees per acre to minimize ground fuels in the future.

“We’re pleased that Judge Kasubhai’s preliminary ruling rejected key claims against this project and look forward to the next step in this process,” said Sara Ghafouri, AFRC staff attorney. “AFRC will continue to support and defend the Pedal Power timber so the Thurston Hills Forestry and Trails Project can be completed for Springfield and all visitors to this recreation area.”

“Once timber is harvested and the project is completed, residents will have access to new hiking and biking trails connected to Willamalane’s Thurston Hills Natural Area Trail System. In addition to supporting local jobs, the public will benefit from new habitat and more biodiversity for wildlife and additional non-tax revenue for public lands and public services.”