Environmentalists Sue Forest Service Over Oregon Lynx Habitat

Two environmental groups filed a lawsuit Friday in federal court against the U.S. Forest Service, alleging it violated federal law by reducing the amount of Oregon land designated as protected lynx habitat.

In August 2000, the Forest Service reduced the amount of Oregon land it considers prime lynx habitat from about six million acres to 500,000 acres, said Doug Heiken, a wildland advocate for the Oregon Natural Resources Council.

The change meant that four timber sales were allowed to proceed in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest without modifications to protect the lynx, which is listed as a federally threatened species.

Under the old habitat data, logging companies would have been forced to limit their harvest to protect old growth forest where lynx den and where their favorite foods — snowshoe hare, squirrels and other small mammals — live.

"When they did the new analysis, suddenly the lynx habitat disappeared and they could log without a problem," Heiken said. "We're asking that they subject their mapping process to a public and open process"

Glen Sachet, a spokesman for the Forest Service, said he had not seen the lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court, and could not comment. John Denne, a spokesman for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, also declined to comment.

Heiken said the Forest Service based its reduction of designated habitat on studies in northeast Washington that show lynx prefer forests made up of sub-alpine fir. Northeastern Oregon does not have such forests, but that doesn't mean lynx don't live there, Heiken said.

"In Oregon, they're using a much wider variety of habitat," he said. "Many of the lynx sightings in Oregon are outside of that narrow type of habitat."

More than 100 lynx have been trapped in Oregon, and there have been six sightings of the reclusive cats in the Wallowa-Whitman Forest in the 1990s, he said.

"They didn't consider the expert evidence they needed to consider," Heiken said. "They basically with a stroke of a pen eliminated 90 percent of the area where lynx need to be protected."