U.S. Water News Online
SAN FRANCISCO -- In a blow to the logging industry, a
federal appeals panel blocked the harvest of thousands of acres of
old-growth forest in southwestern Oregon, ruling the federal
government did not adequately address the plight of protected salmon.
The sweeping decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
also may halt the proposed logging of hundreds of thousands of acres
throughout California, Oregon, and Washington state -- all idled
pending the panel's ruling.
``This is a victory for salmon,'' said Patti Goldman, of the
Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which sued the government on behalf
of a host of environmental and fishing groups.
In the Oregon case, the three-judge appellate panel said the
National Marine Fisheries Service failed to adequately consider the
harm logging would have on endangered salmon runs on 20 of 23 Umpqua
National Forest and Bureau of Land Management parcels in the Umpqua
River Basin around Roseburg, Ore.
The basin, comprising those lands draining into the Umpqua River,
is home to Umpqua cutthroat trout and threatened runs of Oregon Coast
coho salmon that are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The suit contended endangered Oregon salmon runs, which have been
dwindling and have forced thousands of fisherman out of work, would
be harmed by proposed logging from Douglas Timber Operators, a
consortium of logging companies.
While fishing concerns heralded the ruling, logging interests said
the decision may doom harvesting federal lands throughout the West.
Mark Rutzick, Douglas Timber Operators' attorney in Portland, said
the court's ruling may have created standards ``that are impossible
to meet.'' The timber companies, he said, may ask the appeals panel
to reconsider its decision or ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review
Even so, the federal government said it intends to have the
acreage in question logged, but first must figure out how to satisfy
``We can't move ahead with these timber sales yet,'' said Rex
Holloway, a National Forest Service spokesman in Seattle.
Bob Dick, of the American Forest Resource Council in Olympia,
Wash., which represents a variety of logging companies in the West,
said the ``environmental community will be satisfied with nothing
less than zero harvesting.''
He noted that 40 percent of the nation's wood supplies are
imported from countries with minimal or no environmental standards.
``Some people think we are cutting down trees for the perverse act
of cutting down trees,'' he said. ``We're not meeting demand in this
Douglas Timber Operators' case stems from 1999, when U.S. District
Judge Barbara Rothstein of Seattle ordered the timber sales halted
until the government could show that fish would not be harmed and the
sales complied with the Clinton administration's 1994 Northwest
Forest Plan and the Endangered Species Act.
The Oregon case has wide-ranging implications for hundreds of
thousands of acres the federal government has slated for logging in
California, Washington state, and other parts of Oregon.
The same federal judge who blocked the Umpqua River Basin logging
also blocked logging on 170 parcels the government designated
throughout the West. Judge Rothstein stopped logging in those states
in December on the same grounds as she did for the Umpqua River Basin
sites around Roseburg.
Under federal law, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land
Management were required to get a ``biological opinion'' from the
fisheries service before proceeding with any logging plans in the
Umpqua River basin, where fish runs have dipped into single digits in
The appeals court, in agreeing with Rothstein, said the opinions
did not address short-term effects on salmon, which run from the
ocean to rivers to spawn, and the cumulative effects of all the
proposed logging combined.
The panel said the government's studies did not meet guidelines
set out in Clinton's forest plan. That plan, in response to the
federal listing of the northern spotted owl, is aimed at balancing
the demand for timber from public lands with the need to protect
habitat for dwindling populations of fish and wildlife.
The plan covered 24.5 million acres of federal forest lands
throughout the range of the spotted owl and reduced logging in
Northwest forests by about 80 percent from levels of the 1980s.
The fisheries service issued biological opinions that logging in
Oregon's Umpqua River Basin, which resides within the northern
spotted owl's range, was not likely to jeopardize the cutthroat trout
and the Oregon Coast coho salmon.
The appeals panel found that the government provided no scientific
evidence to support its conclusion that new growth in logged areas
would adequately offset the degradation caused by the logging
projects to ensure the continued existence of the fish in question.
The court said that the government failed to consider short-term
impacts and instead relied on the premise that the area would be
restored in a decade. The government's studies said the logging
ultimately would not affect anadromous fish, which migrate from the
ocean to rivers to spawn.
``This generous time frame ignores the life cycle and migration
cycle of anadromous fish,'' the court said. ``In 10 years, a badly
degraded habitat will likely result in the total extinction of the
subspecies that formerly returned to a particular creek for
Glen Spain, Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast
Federation of Fishermen's Association Inc., a plaintiff in the suit,
said the decision could help restore salmon stocks and eventually
bring work to thousands who have lost their jobs.
``They were just assuming the fish would survive. You can't do
that,'' Spain said.
Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries
Service in Seattle, said he had just received the ruling and could
not comment extensively.
``Obviously, we will do what the court tells us to do,'' Gorman
said. ``It did seem to think we should have taken short-term effects
on salmon habitat into greater consideration.''
The case is Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association
Inc. v. National Marine Fisheries Service, 99-36027.
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