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Fish Suits will Target Forestry Agency

by Michael Milstein, Oregonian staff
The Oregonian, May 24, 2001

A coalition of conservation groups wants to protect salmon habitat through state regulation of logging on private land

Five conservation groups said Wednesday they will sue the Oregon Department of Forestry for allowing private-land logging practices that they say belong in the Dark Ages, including cutting on landslide-prone slopes and along streams crucial to threatened coho salmon.

The action targeting logging in the north Coast Range goes beyond the lawsuits that were brought to protect the northern spotted owl more than a decade ago: It focuses on lower-profile private rather than public forests and zeros in on state logging standards rather than the more prominent rules that apply to federal land.

Oregon's Forest Practices Act governs logging on state and private land throughout the state. The five conservation groups said Wednesday that it permits roads and logging that erode steep slopes and harm coho salmon in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.

"Let's get real -- if we're going to have salmon runs come back, forest practices need to change," said Doug Barber of the Pacific Rivers Council. "These are public resources that a public agency is not protecting, and that's wrong."

The Pacific Rivers Council, Audubon Society of Portland, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Coast Range Association and Native Fish Society notified the state they would sue if it does not suspend logging projects that harm salmon and revise its rules to prohibit them.

The Endangered Species Act requires the groups to serve such a notice 60 days before filing a lawsuit.

It's the first Oregon action seeking enforcement of federal rules issued in January that make it illegal to harm protected salmon. It also signals that leading conservationists have lost confidence that Gov. John Kitzhaber's community-based Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds will restore salmon runs.

"We're disappointed," said Peter Green, the governor's forestry adviser. "We don't think litigation is going to get salmon the habitat they need. What's this going to do to the cooperative efforts we have started?"

The groups' action does not aim to halt all logging on private or state land, but it calls for broader buffer zones along streams and for protection of steep slopes that, stripped of trees, can collapse in heavy rains.

Chris Frissell, Pacific Rivers Council senior scientist, said such sensitive areas amount to about 15 percent of the north Coast Range, a focus of the action because it's important to coastal coho.

"Oregon is still living in the Dark Ages when it comes to forest practices," said Patti Goldman of Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which is representing the five groups. "This would not stop logging, but it would stop certain practices harmful to fish."

In 1999, the Oregon Department of Forestry convened a group to recommend revisions to the Forest Practices Act to protect and restore salmon in line with the Oregon Plan. The group sent its recommendations to the state Board of Forestry last year.

The state has not yet adopted them, though, and many wildlife advocates say they don't do enough for salmon.

But it's not the state's job to enforce federal Endangered Species Act protections for salmon or other species, said Ted Lorensen, forest practices program director for the Forestry Department. That's up to the federal agencies, he said.

"We're not authorized or funded to do that, although we do provide a high level of protection for species," Lorensen said.

Although the state allows logging on some steep slopes, he said, it does so only under restrictions designed to avoid erosion and to safeguard wildlife.

Oregon is well ahead of California and Washington in developing forest practices that balance land use with environmental protection, he said. "All three states are doing things they believe is right for them."

Michael Milstein
Fish Suits will Target Forestry Agency
The Oregonian, May 24, 2001

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