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US District Court Judge Greenlights Controversial Forest Restoration Project in Northeast Washington

Emily Schwing
Northwest News Network

A US District Court Judge in Spokane Thursday gave the green light to a controversial forest restoration project on Washington’s Colville National Forest.

In 2016, Montana-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed a lawsuit against the US Forest Service. They said the agency violated three federal laws by allowing Collville-based Vaagen Brothers Timber Company to take on a restoration project from start to finish, or, as it’s called, “A to Z.”  

The project required a lengthy, federal environmental analysis. Vaagen Brothers hired a third-party company to help.

Many environmental groups hailed the effort as a collaboration and a way for an agency, bogged down by red tape and limited by meager funds to improve forest health. The Alliance called it “a conflict of interest” and argued that Vaagen Brothers was privatizing management of public lands.

In a summary judgment, a US District Court Judge found no conflict of interest. She also found the third-party contractor maintained the integrity and objectivity of the federally mandated environmental review.

In an email, a spokesperson for Cathy McMorris Rodgers said the collaborative effort of environmental groups and Vaagen Brothers "has shown that collaboration between timber producers, forest users, conservationists, and tribes are the key to success and today, the District Court agreed.” 

Russ Vaagen CEO of Vaagen Timbers said  was pleased with teh decision. In a text message Vaagen said "We are hopeful that this encourages more people to engage and support collaboration as an effective means to help manage and restore our federal forests."

*This story has been updated to include quotes from Russ Vaagen and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers