Court Finds Fire Salvage Timber Harvest Does Not Create Irreparable Harm

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A federal court recently denied a plaintiff’s request to suspend a fire salvage and restoration project that would remove fire-killed and fire-injured trees.  The court’s ruling was notable because of the findings the court made that the harm from the removal of mature timber, which usually results in issuance of an injunction, was not sufficient in this matter to support an injunction.  The salvage project involved the removal of trees on approximately 1,400 acres of the Modoc National Forest.

The court rejected the plaintiff’s assertion that it would be harmed by not being able to view the project area recover from the fire without disturbance.  The court held that an individual’s inability to observe forest land during its recovery from wildfire does not constitute an irreparable harm.  The court also held that the logging of large, mature trees was not an irreparable harm because the trees were not healthy and the possibility of harm was not sufficiently likely.  The court also reiterated that there is no presumption of irreparable injury due to a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act and assuming any such injury would improperly relieve a plaintiff of its burden of establishing the probability of harm.  The decision is under appeal.

The court also stated that the project was in the public interest because it would remove hazardous roadside trees that are at risk of falling on forest workers, firefighters and visitors to the forest.  The court also found that “anthropogenic fire suppression and climate change have resulted in more frequent, intense and severe fires” and the project would reduce the fuel load for such fires.  As held by the court, the public has an interest in “mitigating the intensity and severity of future fires, increasing ecosystem resilience.”

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