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Groups sue in defense of bull trout.

Byline: SCOTT MABEN The Register-Guard

Four conservation groups are suing the federal government to stop old growth logging in the Willamette National Forest that they say will harm the bull trout, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The groups contend that construction of logging roads and the harvest of 200-year-old trees in the Middle Fork Ranger District would cause erosion that fouls streams to the detriment of bull trout in the upper reaches of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River.

Cascade Resources Advocacy Group, a public interest law firm, filed the suit Friday in U.S. District Court in Portland on behalf of Cascadia Wildlands Project, the Oregon Natural Resources Council, the Center for Biological Diversity and Willamette Riverkeeper.

The bull trout - a freshwater fish that is a char, a member of the salmon family - has disappeared from much of its historic range. In Western Oregon, the fish is found in portions of the Upper McKenzie River and in the Middle Fork, where biologists have been working earnestly for five years to reintroduce the species.

Four U.S. Forest Service timber sales totaling more than 20 million board feet threaten to undermine efforts to reinstate a healthy population of bull trout in the upper Willamette, said James Johnston, executive director of the Eugene-based Cascadia Wildlands Project.

"We are trying to get them to design sales that do not harm bull trout," Johnston said. "We worked really hard to resolve this with the Forest Service informally and through the administrative appeals process, and we haven't gotten anywhere with them. So we're bringing a lawsuit and will let the courts decide."

The suit seeks to halt the Happy Bird, Tumbler, Staley and Upper Liz sales in the vicinity of Staley and Tumblebug creeks, both tributaries of the Middle Fork. The area is about 20 miles southeast of Oakridge.

New or rebuilt logging roads for the timber harvests pose the greatest threat, Johnston said. "The Forest Service knows there is a direct correlation between road density and survivability of bull trout populations," he said.

Biologists have confirmed that road construction can jeopardize bull trout habitat by sending sediment into streams. And when logging occurs too close to streams, the loss of shade raises water temperatures. Bull trout thrive in cold, clear water.

Neither state nor federal biologists, however, objected to the four timber sales the groups are challenging on the Middle Fork Ranger District. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife declined to even comment on the environmental assessments the Forest Service prepared for the projects.

"We're not saying this is a plus or a minus on the timber sales," said Jeff Ziller, the state's district fish biologist in Eugene. "We just could not make a good connection between the bull trout and potential bull trout damage at this time."

Logging at the Tumbler sale has nearly been completed by Rosboro Lumber Co. of Springfield; one 15-acre thinning unit remains to be cut. The Forest Service dropped a fifth sale in the same area after the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service decided the project would adversely affect bull trout habitat.

The Fish & Wildlife Service recently issued a biological opinion concluding that the three remaining sales - Staley, Upper Liz and Happy Bird - "are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the bull trout."

Among the reasons cited by the agency were that the logging units are more than five miles from known bull trout habitat and that the elevation is high enough that rain probably wouldn't fall on snow - a phenomenon that contributes to sediment buildup in streams, said Judy Jacobs, a fish and wildlife biologist for the agency.

Also, new spur roads for the Upper Liz and Happy Bird sales will be temporary and must be removed within a year after logging ends.
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Title Annotation:Environment: The litigation aims to halt four timber sales.; Environment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 11, 2002
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