Today, a federal district court held that 24 timber sales cannot go forward until the federal government ensures that they will not harm salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act and that they will comply with the rules established in the President's Northwest Forest Plan. The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund on behalf of several fishing and environmental organizations.
"This ruling may finally force the federal government to stop logging salmon habitat until it lives up to its legal duty to protect threatened and endangered salmon," said Doug Heiken of plaintiff Oregon Natural Resources Council.
In a previous lawsuit brought by the same groups, the court had blocked more than 20 sales. In both cases, the court stressed that the federal government has promised to ensure that salmon habitat would be protected, but that it had failed to keep its word in approving timber sales. After the earlier decision, the agencies generated more paper but made no changes to the Umpqua River basin sales, most of which involve extensive clearcutting of old-growth forest.
In today's ruling, the court refused to allow the federal government to backtrack on its commitments. The court found that the agencies violated the Northwest Forest Plan and the Endangered Species Act by turning a blind eye to the sales' harm to salmon.
"On its own, the government is not protecting salmon. Fortunately, we have citizens who are willing to go to court to force the government to follow the law," said Patti Goldman, a Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund attorney bringing the case.
Glen Spain of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, one of the plaintiffs, remarked of the decision, "The court's decision gives sport and commercial fishermen some hope in their fight to protect their jobs and communities."
The government is using the same flawed approach to logging throughout the Pacific Northwest. The ruling could affect every timber sale in salmon habitat in western Washington, Oregon, and northern California.