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Court Halts Logging on Thousands of Acres

by Kim Murphy & Kenneth R. Weiss - Los Angeles Times
Spokesman Review, June 1, 2001

As many as 170 timber sales in the Pacific Northwest may be delayed

SEATTLE -- Logging on thousands of acres in the Pacific Northwest was halted Thursday by a federal appeals court, which upheld a requirement for comprehensive new studies to protect fish from the potentially devastating impacts of timber harvests.

The ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is one of the strongest blows dealt by the Endangered Species Act on logging in recent years, and is expected to significantly delay at least two dozen timber sales in central Oregon -- and potentially as many as 170 logging plans on federal lands in Oregon, Washington and Northern California.

"This represents a significant part of our current sale program," said Rex Holloway, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service in Portland.

Forest Service officials said the ruling will block plans for logging at least 25 million to 30 million board feet in Oregon, and potentially more than 150,000 acres of federal timber land in parts of three states.

Conservation groups called the ruling a significant step toward protecting endangered salmon and trout in the wild rivers of the Northwest from the silt-choked streams and elevated water temperatures that are some of logging's deadliest effects.

"For them to survive, they need clean, pristine, freshwater environments, and the national forests offer some of the best habitat," said Patti Goldman, who argued the case for the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund in Seattle.

But Mark Rutzick, an attorney for the Northwest Forest Association, a logging industry group, said there are already exhaustive federal procedures for protecting salmon and other affected fish.

The affected timber sales all lie within the scope of the Northwest Forest Plan brokered by the Clinton administration in 1994 to settle conflict over the spotted owl, an elusive species whose old growth forest habitat was threatened by the federal government's aggressive timber sales program during the 1980s.

Since then, sharply dwindling numbers of salmon and other river-dependent fish have sounded a much more widespread environmental alarm. Several species of salmon and trout are now in what the National Marine Fisheries Service calls "a serious, long-term state of decline," and damaged habitat along the region's wild rivers is considered one of the chief contributors to their march toward extinction.

With several fish species listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, no timber sale on federal land along the Northwest coast has proceeded without approval from the National Marine Fisheries Service in recent years.

But a coalition of fishing and environmental groups brought the current lawsuit to challenge the way the federal fisheries service was conducting those reviews, asserting, among other things, that the reviews needed to look at the impact of each individual timber sale, rather than reviewing logging effects in entire watersheds.

A federal judge in Seattle agreed, finding in October in favor of the conservation groups in a case involving 23 federal timber sales in the Umpqua River Basin near Roseburg, Ore. The judge expanded that finding in December to include up to 170 timber sales in Washington, Oregon and Northern California.

The appeals court decision Thursday technically applies only to the Umpqua River Basin timber sales near Roseburg, Ore., but federal officials said it would likely set the standard for all future logging sales under the Northwest Forest Plan.

Potentially affected would be sales on the Klamath and Six Rivers national forests in California and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in central Washington.

Kim Murphy & Kenneth R. Weiss - Los Angeles Times
Court Halts Logging on Thousands of Acres
Spokesman Review, June 1, 2001

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