Groups Sue Over State's Logging Law,by Lynda V. Mapes
Environmental groups and commercial fishermen say the state's new logging law is a salmon killer, and they have filed suits in U.S. District Court seeking stronger rules to protect wild salmon and steelhead in the Northwest and California.
At issue is an innovative approach to salmon protection by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The agency has offered exemptions from federal rules implementing the Endangered Species Act if local and state governments adopt their own, federally approved salmon protections.
Environmentalists say granting exemptions instead of adopting strong federal rules invites developers and industry to cut deals with the same governments that have let salmon runs decline.
"The agencies are playing catch and release with the loggers and developers," said Mitch Friedman of the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, one of the environmental groups that brought the suits.
Brian Gorman, a National Marine Fisheries Service spokesman, called the suits "expected," given the agency's approach. Allowing state and local flexibility in implementing the Endangered Species Act ultimately will be better for fish as well as people, Gorman said.
The first exemption granted was for the state's new logging law, adopted by the Legislature last year. Environmentalists allege in one suit that the law allows too much logging on steep slopes, doesn't consider the cumulative effect of logging over many parcels of land, lets timber companies veto changes in the law to make it more strict and allows too much cutting close to streams.
"It is not based on sound science," Joan Crooks of the Washington Environmental Council, another plaintiff in the suit.
The suit also attacks an exemption for all types of urban and industrial development as too vague.
The same plaintiffs also sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), alleging the state's law, called the "forest and fish agreement," violates the Clean Water Act.
Phil Millam, special assistant to the regional administrator of the EPA, said that suit would "go nowhere fast."
"We are very frustrated by this lawsuit," said Millam.
The EPA backs the logging law, saying it will provide much more protection for salmon than previous logging practices.
"We are very disappointed that members of the environmental community who had the option of working with us have chosen instead to call out the lawyers," said Cassie Phillips, president of the Washington Forest Protection Association, a timber-industry group.
The suits were filed by the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund on behalf of the Washington Environmental Council, the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, the Pacific Rivers Council, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations and the Institute for Fisheries Reources.
The defendant in the first suit is the National Marine Fisheries Service. The defendant in the second suit is the Environmental Protection Agency.
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