Court: Salmon Plans Inadequateby Jonathan Brinckman
The Oregonian, June 1, 2001
U.S. Court of Appeals ruling has the effect of placing about 2,000 acres
in south-central Oregon off-limits to timber sales
A federal appeals court in San Francisco Thursday dealt a blow to the Northwest logging industry by calling federal programs to protect endangered salmon inadequate and by blocking timber sales across roughly 2,000 acres of federal land in south-central Oregon.
The court repudiated a system of environmental review developed by the National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency in charge of endangered salmon. Satisfying the court by conducting more detailed assessments of how logging would affect waterways could mean a tenfold or more increase in the time needed to review areas slated for logging, a fishery service spokesman said.
Timber industry representatives said the appeals court ruling would shut down logging in areas with endangered salmon.
"Obviously we're disappointed," said Daniel Johnson of Douglas Timber Operators, a Roseburg-based organization that represents about 100 logging companies in Douglas, Lane and Coos counties. "The impact of this decision will be that gridlock will continue."
The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals largely upheld a 1999 ruling by U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein of Seattle that halted 23 timber sales in the Umpqua Basin, near Roseburg.
The appeals court Thursday allowed three of those sales to continue, saying the trio was not situated near sensitive waterways. But it blocked the remaining 20, supporting an argument by conservationists that the federal fisheries service must more carefully review timber sales to ensure that they will not damage salmon habitat.
Rivers that drain the Umpqua Basin carry coho salmon listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The ruling also means that 170 other timber sales in Oregon, Washington and northern California will remain blocked until more extensive environmental reviews are completed. Those sales were halted by Rothstein last October, who then linked their future to the outcome of the appeal of her 1999 ruling.
Conservationists were delighted by Thursday's ruling. They said the appeals court ruling would allow environmentally sound timber sales to go forward while halting sales that hurt streams used by endangered salmon.
"In many cases, sales will simply need to be modified according to recommendations already made by federal fish biologists," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, the lead plaintiff in the suit. "If we want fishable runs of salmon in the Northwest, if we want fishing jobs for coastal communities, we have to protect salmon habitat."
In the appeals court's 13-page ruling, Circuit Judge Alfred T. Goodwin wrote that degenerating salmon habitat "will likely result in the total extinction of the subspecies that formerly returned to that part of the creek for spawning."
"Under the practice adopted by (the National Marine Fisheries Service), only degradations that persist more than a decade and are measurable at the watershed scale will be considered to degrade aquatic habitat," Goodwin wrote. "This generous time frame ignores the life cycle and migration cycle of anadromous fish."
The ruling focuses on a review system adopted by the fisheries service to comply with the Clinton Administration's Northwest Forest Plan. That plan, adopted in 1994 after court rulings halted the logging of old-growth forests, established rules to protect endangered species, including salmon and northern spotted owls, across 24.4 million acres of federal land in western Oregon, western Washington, and northern California.
Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the fisheries service, said Thursday that reviewing timber sales could now take 10 to 40 times longer. He said his agency, responsible for reviewing timber sales that affect endangered salmon, thought it had developed a process that would protect fish while allowing efficient review.
"We didn't want to bog down timber sales in an endless loop of red tape," Gorman said. "We're disappointed that our view wasn't shared by the court."
Rex Holloway, a spokesman for the Pacific Northwest Region of the U.S. Forest Service, said it was too early to assess the impact of the court rulings.
"We're going to have to reassess our past practices and bring them in line with these recent rulings," Holloway said. "That will take a little bit of time to figure out."
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