Salmon at Risk with Adviser Rutzick, Critics Sayby Les Blumenthal, Scripps-McClatchy Western Service
The News Tribune, April 7, 2003
WASHINGTON -- For more than a decade, Mark Rutzick has been the lead attorney for the timber industry in lawsuit after lawsuit seeking to reopen Pacific Northwest forests to logging.
Now, the Portland attorney has been named as the Bush administration's point man for legal issues and tactics involving endangered salmon.
As a senior adviser to the general counsel of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Rutzick's "portfolio of responsibilities" includes the 27 species of West Coast salmon protected under the Endangered Species Act.
"I was invited to become part of the administration to work on Western natural resource issues," Rutzick, who assumed his duties in Washington, D.C., in early February, said in an interview.
But environmentalists said Rutzick's appointment was another sign that administration policy on forests and fish is being written by timber industry insiders. They also point to the appointment of former timber industry lobbyist Mark Rey to oversee the U.S. Forest Service as undersecretary for natural resources at the Department of Agriculture.
"The foxes aren't just guarding the hen house, they are in it," said Bill Arthur, who heads the Sierra Club's regional office in Seattle.
Rutzick has frequently represented the American Forest Resource Council, a Portland-based timber industry group that has filed a steady stream of lawsuits challenging federal forest policy. Rutzick's résumé includes involvement with a 1992 lawsuit challenging a plan to protect the northern spotted owl, a 1993 lawsuit challenging the listing of the marbled murrelet as an endangered species, and a 1994 lawsuit challenging the implementation of the Clinton administration's controversial Northwest Forest Plan.
Jim Lyons, who preceded Rey at the Department of Agriculture post and now teaches at the Yale School of Forestry, frequently butted heads with Rutzick.
"He's a very able lawyer, tenacious and conservative," Lyons said. "He is anti-endangered species."
More recently, environmentalists say, Rutzick has been involved in "secret negotiations" with the Bush administration over proposed changes in key parts of the Northwest Forest Plan. The talks concern such areas as aquatic conservation standards, which affect salmon habitat, and a provision requiring federal land managers to "survey and manage" for other endangered species.
"Some of these discussions have taken part under the guise of settlement discussions of pending industry-related litigation," Earthjustice, which represents environmental groups, said in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed in federal court in Seattle.
Last week, Earthjustice asked the court to order the Justice Department to release documents detailing the meetings. The lawsuit is similar to one filed by the National Resource Defense Council seeking information about who Vice President Dick Cheney and his energy task force met with in developing the administration's national energy plan.
"These 'settlement' discussions have taken place in secret with representatives of only one perspective: the timber industry and its allies, who want to increase the amount of timber cut on the Western ancient forests," Earthjustice said in its lawsuit.
Patti Goldman, an Earthjustice attorney, said Rutzick, representing the industry, was intimately involved in the discussions with the administration.
"He was the one leading the discussions," she said. "He was right at the heart of things."
Rutzick declined comment on the Earthjustice lawsuit or his role in any discussions with the administration over timber policy prior to taking his new job.
NOAA Fisheries, formerly the National Marine Fisheries Service, is in charge of developing plans to protect salmon and several dozen other endangered aquatic species.
"I'm a legal adviser. And my job is to provide legal advice to policy-makers charged with implementing the Endangered Species Act," said Rutzick, who as a Justice Department lawyer in the early 1980s defended the Bonneville Power Administration in lawsuits involving the failed nuclear program of the then-Washington Public Power Supply System.
Rutzick said environmentalists have long insisted there was a lot of flexibility in the endangered species law in order to protect species and allow for the economic survival of local communities affected by the protections.
"I hope to use the knowledge and expertise in this agency to implement that view," he said.
Rutzick also said he could provide a Western view when it came to natural resources.
"The Western perspective is profoundly different that that of those who don't have a grounding in the West," he said. "People in the private sector want to work with the government to protect endangered species. They don't want to write them off."
Rutzick has his defenders.
Chris West, who heads the American Forest Resource Council, said Rutzick is a well-recognized environmental lawyer who has frequently dealt with federal endangered species laws.
"Who better to help the federal government through some tough issues than someone who has been involved in them for 12 or 15 years?" West said. "The Clinton, Bush and future administrations have to follow the law. And having someone who understands these issues is a benefit to the public."
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