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SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A federal judge says a project to thin 2,000 acres (800 hectares) of timberland in northeastern Oregon’s Wallowa-Whitman National Forest can move forward.

The Capital Press reports officials with the U.S. Forest Service have said the project aims to reduce wildfire and insect problems along roughly 11 miles (20 kilometers) of the Lostine River.

The Greater Hells Canyon Council and Oregon Wild organizations sued over the plans last year, contending that the project was improperly excluded from environmental studies under the National Environmental Policy Act. A U.S. magistrate judge dismissed those claims.

In a ruling handed down earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Michael Simon agreed with the lower court, dismissing the lawsuit.

In the ruling, Simon wrote that wildlife and botanical reports associated with the thinning project met the requirements of the agency’s management plans for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. Those reports found that effects to local plants and animals would likely be short-term or would not have a lasting negative impact on the species, and in some cases, the plans included mitigation measures.

“The fact that there could be some habitat disturbance does not necessarily mean that a species’ viability would be threatened,” the judge wrote.

The judge also said the project complies with the Wild and Scenic River Act because the Forest Service properly determined the thinning project’s long-term effects would benefit the Lostine River’s “outstandingly remarkable values.”

Darilyn Parry Brown, the executive director of the Greater Hells Canyon Council, said the organization has not yet decided on any next steps in the case.

“We believe that our case is strong and are committed to protecting precious places like the Wild and Scenic Lostine River Canyon,” Parry Brown said.


Information from: Capital Press,