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Judge Upholds Old-Growth And Imperiled Species’ Protection
Western Environmental Law Center
January 10, 2006



Bush administration plan to eliminate protection for rare plants and wildlife thwarted

(Seattle, WA) – Late yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman issued a final decision declaring illegal the Bush administration’s decision to eliminate safeguards that protected old-growth forests and associated plants and wildlife.

Under the principle of “look before you leap,” the “Survey and Manage” standards of the Northwest Forest Plan required federal agencies to survey an old-growth area for rare plants and wildlife before allowing logging or other destructive activities and, if found, modify their plans to reduce the risk of extinction.

The decision means the protections must be reinstated on the public lands governed by the Northwest Forest Plan. About a quarter of those lands are in northern california's Six Rivers, Klamath, Shasta-Trinity, Mendocino, and Modoc national forests.

“Once again, the courts have insisted that the Forest Service use science rather than politics and favoritism to protect our forest ecosystems,” said Pete Frost of the Western Environmental Law Center. “We hope this ends the government’s attempts to roll back the protections the Northwest Forest Plan affords some of our last remaining old-growth forests.”

The Bush administration attempted to eliminate the Survey and Manage standard along with other safeguards as part of a settlement agreement with the logging industry over a lawsuit logging interests filed in 2001. Before a judge could rule on the merits of the case, the Bush administration agreed to the demands of the logging industry.

“The Bush administration's back-room deal with the timber industry was thrown out. Now the Forest Service and BLM have to take the common sense approach by ‘looking before logging,” said Scott Greacen of EPIC, one of the plaintiff groups. "This ruling helps preserve an important system of checks and balances that helps protect our old-growth forests for wildlife, clean water, and future generations," Greacen said.

Kimberly Baker of the Klamath Forest Alliance hailed the ruling. "This is a huge victory for people who value wildlife and old-growth forests. It’s time for the Bush administration to recognize that Americans value our natural heritage and want to see it permanently protected.”

The rare and uncommon species protected by the survey standard live primarily in old growth forests. Of the 144 timber sales planned by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) implicated in the ruling, one-half would have logged old growth forests.

Judge Pechman’s ruling today vacates the Administration’s decision to eliminate the survey and manage standard, reinstates the standard, and requires that all timber sales on federal forests in western Washington, western Oregon, and northwestern California comply with the standard.

“If the Bush Administration wants to avoid doing pre-logging surveys for wildlife, they should stop cutting old-growth forests,” states Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Protecting all old-growth is a move supported by a broad majority of the public.

There are hundreds of species that are essential to clean air, clean water, and the health of old-growth forests. The Survey and Manage program, developed by some of the best scientific thinkers in the region, is a global model of conservation because it recognizes this important connection.”

The plaintiffs on the case include: Conservation Northwest (formerly Northwest Ecosystem Alliance), Environmental Protection Information Center, Klamath Sskiyou Wildlands Center, Oregon Natural Resources Council, American Lands Alliance, Siskiyou Regional Education Project, Klamath Forest Alliance, Umpqua Watersheds, Center for Biological Diversity, Northcoast Environmental Center and Gifford Pinchot Task Force. They are represented by the Western Environmental Law Center and Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center.

The Western Environmental Law Center is a non-profit public interest environmental law firm that works to protect and restore Western wildlands and advocates for a healthy environment on behalf of communities throughout the West.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and as defined under the provisions of "fair use", any copyrighted material herein is distributed without profit or payment for non-profit research and for educational use by our membership.


Judge Stops Timber Sales
Ruling Reinstates Species Protections
By Robert McClure, Seattle Post
January 10, 2006

A federal judge in Seattle has halted more than 140 Northwest timber sales -- about half of them slated for increasingly rare mature or old-growth forests.

Over the next two years, the order Monday by U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman could stop the cutting of up to 289 million board feet of timber. That represents more than half the annual cut coming out of the region's national forests, according to a lawyer for environmentalists.

Pechman had previously rejected the Bush administration's policy that made it no longer necessary to look for rare plants and animals before letting loose the chain saws.

"What the court did was restore an important system of checks and balances that protects the few remaining old-growth forests," said Dave Werntz, conservation and science director of Bellingham-based Conservation Northwest, the lead plaintiff in the case.

"It reinstates old-growth forest protections that require the government to avoid sites where rare plants and animals live," he said.

The timber industry contends that the surveys for about 300 rare plants and animals were never required by law or authorized by regulation. The industry is now considering reinstating a lawsuit that aimed to have the requirement declared illegal, said Chris West of the American Forest Resources Council.

"We're not surprised, but we're disappointed (that the judge) went as far as she did, because she didn't distinguish between the projects that have nothing to do with old growth" and those that do, West said. "She did a meat-ax approach."

Linda Goodman, the U.S. Forest Service official in charge of the Northwest, said through a spokeswoman that she was disappointed, but would have no further comment until Monday's ruling is reviewed further.

The surveys in contention were first agreed on as part of the Northwest Forest Plan of 1994, which was negotiated by the Clinton administration in hopes of ending arguments over logging old-growth forests, where threatened creatures such as spotted owls live.

As part of the deal, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management were to send scientific survey teams into the forest before agreeing to sell rights to cut timber there. Species covered include salamanders, slugs, snails, mushrooms and mosses. If found, they must be buffered from the timber cutting.

The Clinton administration agreed to that condition to satisfy then-U.S. District Judge William Dwyer, but later realized that the process of looking for these creatures is laborious and expensive. It would cost about $2.7 million a year to reinstate them, federal lawyers argued before Pechman.

But Pechman ruled Monday that "the costs and burden imposed on defendants and (timber companies) do not outweigh the potential environmental harm" of allowing the timber cutting to go on.

"I think it's a small investment to make to preserve old- growth forests and the species that live in them," said Pete Frost of the Western Environmental Law Center, the Eugene, Ore., law firm arguing the case for environmentalists.

West, of the timber group, said his allies still are analyzing the effect of the decision. It affects everything from small projects cleaning up timber that could endanger people in campgrounds up to standard timber sales affecting hundreds of acres each.

He pointed out, though, that although the Northwest Forest Plan promised about 1 billion board feet of timber a year from parts of federal forests considered expandable in the plan, challenges by environmentalists and other factors have limited the annual take to just a fraction of that.

And many of the timber sales the judge blocked are intended to thin out forests that have grown unnaturally thick because of a federal policy of suppressing fires, West said. Those overstocked stands can go up in massive, destructive wildfires.

"The reality of the (federal) program is that most of these are thinning sales, and her decision impacts those just like it would old-growth sales," West said. "Are we going to be protecting our watershed, forests and communities? Now we have more hoops to go through."

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and as defined under the provisions of "fair use", any copyrighted material herein is distributed without profit or payment for non-profit research and for educational use by our membership.


Ruling Guards Old Growth
By Paul Fattig, Medford Mail Tribune
January 11, 2006

A federal judge has reinstated rules designed to protect endangered plant and animal species amid old-growth trees.

Timber specialists are scrambling to determine the impact on local federal timber sales following Monday's federal court ruling reinstating survey and management requirements of old-growth species in the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan.

The ruling by US District Court Judge Marsha J. Pechman in Seattle covers 144 timber sales totaling some 289 million board feet in Western Oregon and Washington and the northwestern corner of California.

About half of those sales include old-growth logging. The federal government estimated during the case that its projected economic loss from stopping the timber sales was about $2.7 million.

It is unknown how many of those timber sales are on the US Bureau of Land Management's Medford District or the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

"A cursory look shows that a number of timber sales are compliant," said Karen Gillespie, spokeswoman for the BLM district. "We know we'll be able to move forward on some. But we haven't had time to do a final analysis."

The Forest Service is also assessing the impact of the ruling, said Julie Cox, spokeswoman for that agency's Region 6 office in Portland.

Red tree voles and Siskiyou salamanders were among the more than 400 plant and animal old-growth species that scientists originally felt could be at risk if logging took place in their habitat. However, the Bush administration dropped those survey and management requirements early in 2004 as part of a legal settlement with the timber industry, prompting a lawsuit by environmental groups.

Pechman sided with the plaintiffs last August, although she didn't announce her final decision until Monday.

"The agencies now have to look before they log," said George Sexton, conservation director for the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, one of the 10 plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

In Western Oregon, more than 80 percent of old-growth forests that existed a century ago have been cut, he said.

Old-growth trees are important for a variety of reasons, including preserving biological diversity, clean water and recreational opportunities, he said.

"When you have such a diminished amount of old growth, it puts all three of those values at risk," Sexton said.

"This is a huge victory for people who value wildlife and the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest," added Rolf Skar, campaign director of the Illinois Valley-based Siskiyou Regional Education Project.

"It's time for the Bush administration to recognize that Northwesterners value our natural heritage and want to see it permanently protected," he added.

Other local groups involved in the case include Umpqua Watersheds and the Klamath Forest Alliance. They are represented by the Western Environmental Law Center and Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center.

While the ruling will affect old-growth timber sales, it won't affect second-growth thinning projects, Sexton said, noting that logging the latter isn't controversial.

He observed that a 1999 study determined there were 770,000 acres of replanted trees of five to 12 inches in diameter in Jackson and Josephine counties. Those small trees contain more than 5.7 billion board feet of timber.

"They need to address the oceans of clearcuts and fiber plantations they've already created," Sexton said, noting those sites would produce stable, permanent jobs while avoiding future legal battles.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and as defined under the provisions of "fair use", any copyrighted material herein is distributed without profit or payment for non-profit research and for educational use by our membership.