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Appeals Court Upholds Northwest Logging Decision

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in May 2001 handed down an anxiously awaited decision upholding vital fish protections contained in the Northwest Forest Plan, which has been in effect since 1994. That plan includes the "aquatic conservation strategy" aimed at protecting fish and other denizens of rivers, lakes, and streams. Attorney Patti Goldman filed this challenge on behalf of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Umpqua Watersheds, Oregon Natural Resources Council and several other organizations.

On April 2, 1993, Bill Clinton convened the Northwest Forest Summit in Portland, Oregon, to take testimony from people concerned about jobs and the Northwest's economy in a day-long hearing. At the close of the session, the president ordered the government to come up with a plan that would do it all: protect jobs, protect wildlife, supply lumber. With the resulting plan, the Forest Service did its best to comply with its mandate, and as a result satisfied no one. Earthjustice challenged the plan in court, but the judge ruled that the plan, if carried out faithfully, was just barely legal.

The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management immediately began a search for ways they could evade the letter of the plan in order to log the forest -- the prized old-growth forest in particular -- as quickly as possible, in this case by fudging the science and fish protections. This resulted in three separate suits, both decided in favor of conservation groups that brought the challenges, by Judge Barbara Rothstein. In the first, the judge found the federal agencies had failed entirely to ensure the logging would avoid harming imperiled fish species. The federal agencies responded to the judge's order by artful evasion by conducting assessments that ignored the harmful impacts of the logging on salmon. The second went to the court of appeals, which resoundingly supported Judge Rothstein. One particularly telling passage from the opinion reads as follows:

"The National Marine Fisheries Service predicts that more trees will grow within the watershed during the ensuing decade than are cut in the proposed project and, therefore, concluded that the 'short-term' and 'localized' effects of the logging will be naturally mitigated by regrowth. This optimism may be justified for the purpose of counting trees, but for the purpose of counting anadromous fish, it is wholly unrealistic."

With Mark Rey, a former timber industry lobbyist, in charge of the Forest Service, we are certain to have to battle rollbacks of the Northwest Forest Plan to protect most of the old-growth forest in the Northwest.