With the Bush administration ignoring the counsel of the government's own scientists, conservation and fishing groups are relying on the federal courts to stop this renewed assault on the Northwest's remaining salmon streams and old growth forests. Today Earthjustice filed suit on behalf commercial fishing and conservation organizations to protect the region's watersheds by reinstating scientifically supported logging rules.
"The administration is defying science and the law to do the bidding of the timber industry, " stated Patti Goldman of Earthjustice. "It's bad science; it's bad law; and it's bad policy."
The rules are known as the Aquatic Conservation Strategy, an important component of the region's Northwest Forest Plan. Their aim was to protect salmon and clean water by requiring that the government fully address the effects of individual logging operations on the health of rivers and streams.
In March, the Bush administration rewrote the rules, but in doing so ignored an extensive body of science supporting the former protections. In fact, when key scientists who were instrumental in the development of the ACS expressed opposition to the changes, the administration ignored their views.
"The team of scientists that designed the plan clearly intended that the agencies must find that before logging could occur the land manager must show how each project was consistent with the Aquatic Conservation Strategy. This rule change goes in the wrong direction," stated Dr. Robert Ziemer, one of the architects of the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan. Ziemer warns that under the Bush plan serious erosion and degradation of aquatic habitat might go undetected until the damage to streams is already done.
This is just the latest example of scientists expressing concerns about the Bush administration weakening rules that protect salmon and forests in the Northwest.
· In a policy reversal recently leaked to the press, the administration favors counting hatchery fish for the purposes of the Endangered Species Act to determine whether salmon stocks are imperiled. "This is a direct political decision, made by political people to go against the science," said Dr. Ransom A. Myers, a fisheries biologist who was on a government panel to guide salmon policy. The panel's recommendations were rejected for a policy more favorable to industry groups fighting land restrictions, Dr. Myers and other panel members have said.
· This month, the Fish and Wildlife Service delayed the results of its status review for the marbled murrelet, an old-growth-reliant seabird, after an independent group of scientists found that its populations are in serious decline. Because this is not the answer that the timber industry wanted, it is now publicly questioning both the science and the integrity of the scientists. Although the service had seemed ready to issue its status review determination by an April deadline, the announcement was delayed without explanation at the last minute.
"These new rules will do serious damage to the region's last, best salmon habitat," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "Now the administration will no longer have to actually assess or prevent damage done to salmon-bearing streams by excessive or poorly planned logging – or even really care. This new 'don't ask, don't know' rule just institutionalizes scientific ignorance as an official government policy. This is all about greed and payoff to the timber industry, not about biology."
"The Aquatic Conservation Strategy protects most of the best salmon habitat that remains in the Northwest, and repealing it only makes the salmon's problems worse," stated David Bayles of Pacific Rivers Council. "This administration talks about salmon recovery, then proposes to destroy their habitat. Looks like hypocrisy to me."
The Bush administration is making these changes in response to an intense lobbying campaign by the timber industry. The administration not only agreed to weaken the ACS, it also has proceeded to dismantle other elements of the Northwest Forest Plan in exactly the way urged by the industry, primarily using backroom lawsuit settlements. The administration has already eliminated a program to protect old-growth-dependent species and is revisiting protections for the northern spotted owl and murrelet, both of which make their home in ancient forests.
"The politicians in Washington, D.C., are reversing progress and going back to the days of the Northwest timber wars," observed Doug Heiken of the Oregon Natural Resources Council. "There is broad public support for helping our forests, streams, and communities by investing in restoration of damaged public lands, but the Bush administration is moving away from the public consensus by trying to increase old-growth logging and harming salmon streams."
Perhaps more disturbing, the administration has also appointed Mark Rutzick as a senior governmental adviser with responsibility for protecting Pacific salmon. Rutzick is the former timber industry attorney who wrote the plan to dismantle forest protections now being implemented by the administration. In 2001, while still an industry lawyer, Rutzick also wrote a memorandum praising the use of hatchery fish to restore salmon runs; the government's new approach closely follows Rutzick's prescription.
In the lawsuit filed today, Earthjustice represents Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Pacific Rivers Council, The Wilderness Society, Umpqua Watersheds, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Siskiyou Regional Educational Project, Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, and Klamath Forest Alliance.
For additional information, visit http://www.pacrivers.org/ACS.cfm.