Court to Feds: Do More to Save Fish
In a landmark decision, a federal district court late last night said the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is not doing enough to protect endangered fish, and ordered government agencies to stop dozens of timber sales until they have ensured salmon and trout will not go extinct.
The ruling is expected to result in increased protection for salmon and trout on public lands throughout the West. (Full text of ruling is available at Forest Water Alliance)
The ruling, by Judge Barbara J. Rothstein, in Seattle, came in a case brought by fishing and conservation groups seeking greater protection for the endangered Umpqua River cutthroat trout.
Patti Goldman, an attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund who represented the plaintiffs, said today's ruling gives conservation groups a powerful legal lever in their struggle to protect salmon and trout. In her precedent-setting ruling today, Goldman said, Judge Rothstein essentially raised standards for fish protection throughout the West.
"Judge Rothstein ruled federal agencies need to take a much harder look at individual timber sales, to make sure salmon and trout are protected -- rather than simply relying on general goals of a general, regional plan," Goldman said. "We have been saying all along that fish are being killed day by day and creek by creek; and that land-use decisions need to be made on a credible basis. Today's decision will force the government to do its biological homework."
Goldman said the ruling is likely to affect scores of additional timber sales pending on federal lands across the West. (See map of affected areas at Forest Water Alliance)
"The ruling sounds a warning that imperiled fish cannot withstand more of the same clearcutting and road-building that degraded aquatic habitat and caused the current fish crisis," Goldman said. "The government has relied on vague objectives and has not stopped harmful clearcuts, no matter what the consequences for the fish."
Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (the largest organization of commercial fishermen on the West Coast) said today's ruling demonstrates that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is working to protect the Northwest's disappearing salmon runs.
"Judge Rothstein's ruling shows that a strong ESA is critical for protecting resource-based jobs throughout the region," Grader said. "The ESA is driving efforts by federal, state, and private entities to protect and recover these economically valuable species. Rather than gut the ESA, as some in Congress would do, we should use the ESA to ensure that salmon survive and thrive in the Northwest."
In her ruling, the judge found that the federal government failed to prove the Umpqua cutthroat trout can survive the extensive logging and road-building that is authorized under President Clinton's Northwest Forest Plan. Under the ruling, the federal government must conduct a scientific assessment of fish needs and ensure that logging and road-building that will jeopardize fish survival do not occur.
The judge ruled it was illegal for the federal government to proceed with timber sales "without analyzing whether the site-specific projects are in fact complying with the ACS (federal Aquatic Conservation Strategy), the mechanism designed to protect aquatic species."
The Northwest Forest Plan's provisions on fish management apply on federal lands in the western portions of Washington, Oregon, and California, where numerous fish species have already been listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and more listings are expected. Comparable, or even weaker standards apply throughout the West.
FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION, INCLUDING MAPS SHOWING THE AREAS AFFECTED BY TODAY'S COURT DECISION, PLEASE VISIT THE FOLLOWING SITE ON THE WORLD WIDE WEB: www.forestwater.org