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Salmon at Risk with Bush Adviser, Critics say

by Associated Press
Capital Press, September 26, 2003

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- For more than 15 years, Mark Rutzick was a leading attorney for the timber industry in lawsuits seeking to reopen Pacific Northwest forests to logging.

Now, he is a key player in the Bush administration's program for endangered salmon.

Rutzick, whose quiet manner belies the animosity generated by his appointment, said he sees no contradiction between his long-time role as a timber industry ad­vocate and his current post with the National Oceanic and Atmos­pheric Administration.

He argued for sharp increases in logging and against some pro­tections for salmon and other species, Rutzick said - but that was because his clients wanted that outcome,

Now, as a senior adviser to Noah’s general counsel, Rutzick's client is the federal government. A key focus of his job is to look out for the 27 species of West Coast salmon protected under the En­dangered Species Act by NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"I have an opportunity to help two Cabinet-level departments work together cooperatively to de­velop policies that do the job of pro­tecting species and hopefully do it better," said Rutzick, a former res­ident of Portland.

But environmentalists call Rutzick's appointment this past Feb­ruary another sign that federal policies on natural resources are being written by industry.

"New face, same old story. The Bush administration's quiet quest to convert environmental agencies into safe havens for corporate lob­byists continues unabated," said Niel Lawrence, director of forest programs for the Natural Resources Defense Council

Lawrence and other critics add Rutzick's name to a list that includes Mark Rey, a former timber lobbyist who now oversees the Forest Ser­vice as undersecretary of agricul­ture; James Connaughton, a former power industry lobbyist who now chairs the White House Council on Environmental Quality; and J. Steven Griles, the deputy interior-secretary, who is a former lobbyist for the coal, oil and gas industries.

Richard Smith, an attorney for Washington Trout, an advocacy group based outside Seattle, said it has become routine for President Bush to tap representatives of re­source industries to regulate their former colleagues.

Still, Smith said, "It's an out­rage that the legal strategies of the federal agency charged with sav­ing listed salmon will now be di­rected by a lawyer whose career has been dedicated to frustrating environmental protections for the benefit of corporate profits,

Rutzick, 55, called such rhetoric overheated.

"You sort of have to laugh it off a bit," he said. "My record in the private sector is that I've never questioned the goals of the En­dangered Species Act" or tried to obstruct its application.

"There's a broad social consen­sus in favor of protection of en­dangered species," Rutzick added. The battle is over how to do it most effectively and at the lowest cost."

In an interview at his Commerce Department office - with a par­tially obstructed view of the White House - Rutzick said he sees plen­ty of room for improvement in en­dangered species policy, even af­ter nearly three years of a GOP ad­ministration,

"We want to maximize protec­tion of endangered species, with­out necessarily interfering with the activities that also need to go ahead - i.e., power from dams, agriculture for farms and forest products from the forest," he said.

Chris West, vice president of the American Forest Resource Council, a Portland-based tim­ber industry group that frequent­ly hired Rutzick, called him an ide­al choice for the fisheries agency. While he is no longer in the courtroom, most of his job is driven by litigation - past, current or threatened, Rutzick said. In May, a federal judge in Portland ruled that a federal salmon recovery plan in the Columbia River Basin vio­lates the Endangered Species Act.

U.S. District Judge James Red­den ordered NOAA Fisheries to rewrite the plan within a year - a task that has kept Rutzick and other officials occupied for months. Rutzick declined to give details about the revised plan, but said, "This will be a scientifically credible product."

One thing the plan will not do is recommend breaching four dams along the lower Snake River, as en­vironmentalists have long sought.

Rutzick called debate over dam breaching "an academic discus­sion" that ignores the fact salmon runs are at 20-year highs in much of the basin. "Its clear from the be­havior of the fish that dam breach­ing isn't going to happen," he said.

Rutzick, who was in private practice from 1986 until this year, is used to politically charged de­bates. As attorney for the forest re­source council, he was at the cen­ter of a landmark lawsuit chal­lenging a plan to protect the north­ern spotted owl. The litigation set off the timber wars of the early 1990s - a battle Rutzick said is far from over.

Rutzick also filed suits chal­lenging the endangered status of the marbled murrelet and the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan, a Clinton-era policy intended as a compro­mise between logging and envi­ronmental interests.

More recently, environmental­ists say he was involved in secret negotiations with the Bush-administration to the Northwest Forest Plan. The alleged talks, which took place be­fore Rutzick joined the adminis­tration this year, concerned such areas as aquatic conservation stan­dards, which affect salmon habi­tat, and a provision requiring land managers to conduct detailed sur­veys for other endangered species.

Many of those changes are now part of administration policy. Rutz­ick declined comment on the al­legations, but noted that his job is to provide legal advice to policy makers charged with enforcing the Endangered Species Act. Kristen Boyles, an attorney for the envi­ronmental group Earthjustice, said Rutzick has spent his career ad­vocating legal interpretations that benefit the timber industry.

"He's done that job well. So it makes me very concerned that he is advising the federal agency that is supposed to comply with those same laws he has spent a lot of time and effort trying to undermine," she said.

Associated Press
Salmon at Risk with Bush Adviser, Critics say
Capital Press, September 26, 2003

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