Having just lost their water supplies to endangered sucker fish, residents of the Klamath River basin and much of the Pacific Northwest took another hit May 31 as a federal appeals court shut down logging in much of California, Oregon, and Washington.
The ban will prohibit timber harvesting on more than 150,000 acres of federal timberland while the federal government studies logging’s effect on cutthroat trout and coho salmon.
The Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund and other anti-logging groups argued that the National Marine Fisheries Service must analyze the effects of each individual timber sale on its immediate environment. The NMFS had been analyzing the effects of cumulative timber sales in the context of the entire watershed region.
Federal officials maintained that focusing on the larger watershed region ensured protection of the endangered species while still allowing multiple use of the public lands. The Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals disagreed.
The court’s decision puts on indefinite hold up to 170 timber sales throughout the Pacific Northwest while the NMFS evaluates each individual sale. The proposed sales fell within the terms of the Clinton administration’s 1994 Northwest Forest Plan, which settled a dispute regarding the spotted owl.
“The decision upsets a settled interagency process for evaluating timber sales, without telling [the agencies] what to replace it with,” stated Mark Rutzick, an attorney for the Northwest Forestry Association. According to Rutzick, exhaustive federal procedures already protected the trout and salmon in question.
Anti-logging lobby challenges private landowners
At the same time that the appeals court was considering the federal government’s use of public lands, the Pacific Rivers Council and other anti-logging interests filed notice of their intent to sue the State of Oregon to block logging on private lands.
Similar to the public-lands case decided by the Ninth Circuit, the new suit claim private property use is harming coho salmon. Specifically, the complaint alleges that Oregon unlawfully condones private citizens harvesting timber in areas that are too close to streams.
“We are not looking for a shutdown of the timber business, but what we do need to stop are the specific practices that are known to be harmful to fish,” said David Bayles of the Pacific Rivers Council.
“We proactively enforce existing rules,” countered Ted Lorensen, forest practices director of the Oregon Department of Forestry. Lorensen expressed confidence that private logging was not in any way endangering the salmon.