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Environmentalists Challenge Easing of Salmon Protections

by Erik Robinson, Staff Writer
The Columbian, May 28, 2004

Environmental groups are challenging the Bush administration's decision to ease salmon-protection guidelines before allowing logging to take place in national forests of Western Washington, Oregon and Northern California.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, represents the latest move in a long-running debate over timber harvesting on the so-called spotted owl forests of the Pacific Northwest.

The Bush administration earlier this year amended the landmark Northwest Forest Plan of 1994 to "clarify" a key aspect of the plan's environmental constraints to logging.

The lawsuit claims the government violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Administrative Procedures Act in amending the forest plan's standard and guidelines.

At issue is the interpretation of the Aquatic Conservation Strategy, hailed by conservation groups as a landmark initiative to protect salmon habitat on federal land.

In a 1998 lawsuit, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and other conservation groups cited the ACS when it argued a series of timber sales would harm the habitat of the endangered Umpqua cutthroat trout.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein agreed, rebuking the National Marine Fisheries Service for allowing timber sales that created short-term harm to the cutthroat's habitat.

The fisheries service, which enforces the Endangered Species Act, assumed the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management would follow the objectives of the Aquatic Conservation Strategy when it decided the sales wouldn't wipe out the Umpqua cutthroat.

Rothstein ruled that if NMFS intended to rely on the strategy, the government had to apply it to every timber sale, trail project or culvert replacement where stream habitat is likely to be harmed.

With the listing of other salmon species as threatened or endangered, Rothstein's ruling eventually tied up timber sales across the Northwest.

The Bush administration argued the strategy was never intended to be interpreted so broadly, so the administration amended it.

Now, the forest plan states that the ACS is intended to be interpreted only at a broad watershed scale effectively disregarding effects deemed to be "short term" in nature and affecting only a small stream.

"We still do a cumulative effects analysis on any project we do," said Rex Holloway, a Forest Service spokesman in Portland.

"The administration is defying the science and the law to do the bidding of the timber industry," countered Patti Goldman, attorney for Earthjustice, which brought the suit on behalf of 10 Northwest environmental groups. "It's bad science; it's bad law; and it's bad policy."

Erik Robinson, Staff Writer
Environmentalists Challenge Easing of Salmon Protections
The Columbian, May 28, 2004

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