Nathan Johnson, Director of Public Lands, July 18, 2023
Ohio has only one national forest, and it’s worth fighting for. Thanks to your support, the OEC continues
to use our legal expertise to protect the Wayne National Forest in Southeast Ohio.
In 2018, we learned the “Sunny Oaks” timber project sought to clearcut thousands of acres of the Wayne.
Over the next three years, we submitted public comments in defense of the forest with your help. A
month after the U.S. Forest Service opened the project for bidding in August 2021, the OEC filed our
lawsuit, Ohio Environmental Council v. United States Forest Service, in federal district court.
In early March 2023, I argued in U.S. District Court that the U.S. Forest Service cannot fulfill the Sunny Oaks timber project because it did not use sound science when proposing to clearcut thousands of acres of the Wayne National Forest. From underground fungal networks to awe-inspiring white oaks, the arguments in our case emphasize the importance of holistic forest management.
In a partial win for Ohio’s only national forest, the Court ruled in our favor. This is a tremendous and hard-fought victory. But, it’s not quite time to rest or celebrate.
On March 30, 2023, the Court granted our motion for summary judgment. Specifically, the Court said the project’s environmental review was flawed — its impacts were highly uncertain. That’s a fatal deficiency under the National Environmental Policy Act.
However, the Court didn’t halt the project. Therefore, our work in court isn’t over. The OEC is arguing that the Court should void the U.S. Forest Service’s environmental review and clearcut approval since it found the project unlawful. In doing so, the agency and the public would have the best opportunity to objectively evaluate the environmental impacts at stake.
In addition to clearcutting, U.S. Forest Service authorized other timbering tactics that risk the Wayne National Forest’s ecosystems. It also authorized between 2,000 to 4,000 acres of prescribed burning per year, annual bulldozing of 23 miles of fire line in the project area, and an unspecified amount of herbicide applications. Clearly, leaving the Sunny Oaks Project in place risks more environmental harm than voiding it.
Though litigation continues, the Court’s ruling is an important and hard-fought legal victory — for the protection of the environment, for the OEC, and for our thousands of members and supporters.
As always, we’ll keep you updated on this case and our ongoing fight to protect Ohio’s forests.