Katy Nesbitt
The La Grande Observer

PENDLETON — All five counts in a lawsuit filed to stop the Lostine River Corridor Safety Project were denied in federal court Monday afternoon.

Judge Patricia Sullivan of the Pendleton Division of the U.S. District Court released her findings and recommendations ruling in favor of the U.S. Forest Service’s defense. The ruling stated the USFS followed federal law in the development of the Lostine River project designed to reduce the number of standing dead trees and forest density along the narrow corridor, improves egress and safety for visitors and firefighters, and provides a safe landing spot for helicopters employed for firefighting and search and rescue.

Wallowa Mountains Office Ranger Kris Stein signed the Lostine Corridor decision on April 5, 2017. On May 31, the Greater Hells Canyon Council (formerly the Hells Canyon Preservation Council) and Oregon Wild filed suit, claiming the Forest Service’s Lostine Corridor decision memo violated the National Environmental Policy Act, National Forest Management Act, Healthy Forest Restoration Act and the arbitrary or capricious standard pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act. Wallowa County filed as an intervener in the case.

In her findings, Sullivan wrote the court should deny the plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment, grant defendant and intervener-defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment and strike the plaintiffs’ extra record evidence.

Todd Nash, Wallowa County Board of Commissioners chairman, said he was pleased with the court’s ruling.

“I’m very happy the decision ended up coming out as soon as it did and that we won on every issue,” he said.

Bruce Dunn, commissioner-elect and chairman of the county’s Natural Resource Advisory Committee, said he believed Sullivan’s decision was correct given the poor health of the Lostine Corridor’s forest.

“I’ve said it from the beginning — this isn’t an environmental issue. It’s about people’s lives,” he said.

Oregon Department of Forestry officials had a keen interest in the project on national forest land abutting private land that the state is responsible for defending against wildfire.

“I’m excited for the Forest Service to move forward on their Lostine Corridor Public Safety Project. It goes a long way protecting adjacent private land in and around the project area,” Matt Howard, ODF Wallowa Unit Forester, said.

Plaintiff Greater Hells Canyon Council Director Darilyn Parry Brown wrote in an email that she disagreed with Sullivan’s recommendation.

“The Lostine project could completely alter the wild character of the Lostine Canyon and the habitat it provides to the species who thrive there,” Parry Brown said. “This special place deserves robust environmental analysis on the project’s impacts to our native flora and fauna before logging or road building occurs.”

See complete story in Wednesday's Observer