An Idaho federal judge ruled Tuesday, April 1, 2003, against timber giant Plum Creek and dismissed a lawsuit filed by the timber company against conservationists who questioned a massive three-state logging plan. The federal government had signed off on the plan, formally called a habitat conservation plan, allowing Plum Creek to log in ways damaging to bull trout, salmon, and other aquatic species. The conservationists had raised objections to the plan and offered to work with federal agencies and Plum Creek to improve it but instead found themselves being sued in federal court.
The Plum Creek lawsuit, filed last August before Idaho federal District Judge Edward J. Lodge, asked the court to find the logging plan valid and to force the conservationists to pay the timber giant's attorneys' fees for bringing the suit.
Ruling on the conservationists' motion to dismiss, Judge Lodge threw out Plum Creek's lawsuit, noting that Plum Creek could not invoke the power of a federal court to insulate its actions. The decision states that federal law explicitly allows citizens to participate in the implementation and enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, a right Plum Creek sought to deny. Judge Lodge wrote "...allowing Plum Creek to proceed with this action seems to run contrary to Congress' intent in enacting the ESA citizen suit provisions...."
"Plum Creek tried to pull a fast one and intimidate citizens who are just trying to bring a little balance to a massive logging plan stretching over three states," said Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles. "Plum Creek's strategy backfired."
The HCP covers 1.6 million acres of Plum Creek land in Montana, Idaho, and Washington and promises to address the needs of bull trout, salmon, and steelhead -- all protected under the Endangered Species Act. In exchange, the timber giant received permits that allow the company to destroy critical habitat in the normal course of logging. The plan lasts for 30 years.
Earthjustice represented Trout Unlimited, Pacific Rivers Council, and Montana Council of Trout Unlimited in defending against the lawsuit.