Feds Throw in Towel on Effort to Strip Key Salmon Protections
Today the Bush administration dropped a years-long effort to strip salmon protections from watersheds in Pacific Northwest national forests. The administration moved to weaken the salmon protections to repay a promise made to the timber industry which contributed more than one million dollars to the Republican campaign committee after meeting with George W. Bush in May 2000. But persistent defense of salmon, and the watersheds they rely on to reproduce, led by Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman, paid off with today's announcement.
"This is a story about how our federal government went to work to payback the timber industry at the expense of west coast salmon stocks and communities that rely on them," said Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman. "In the end the government wasted millions of dollars in staff and attorney time all for nothing. We were able to keep the salmon protections in place because the government couldn't get any reputable scientist to go along with their scheme."
In April a federal court ruled the administration acted illegally by suppressing scientific dissent when it illegally modified environmental safeguards, known as the Aquatic Conservation Strategy, developed in 1994 as part of the Northwest Forest Plan.
Leading scientists developed the ACS to protect salmon and clean water by regulating logging in steep watersheds that caused massive amounts of dirt to wash off into creeks and streams, burying gravel beds needed for salmon spawning.
When the Bush administration changed the rules, it checked in with the scientists who originally developed the safeguards. Many of the scientists told the Bush administration point blank that lifting the protections would cause environmental damage. The Bush administration chose to ignore this scientific input and instead claimed that the changes had scientific support. In the April ruling, the court used stern language, ruling that not only were the critical statements not disclosed, "they were misrepresented." The court found that the Bush administration's "statement as to the intent of the drafters of the Northwest Forest Plan is contrary to the opinions that were actually expressed by the FEMAT [Forest Ecosystem Management Assessment Team] scientists in response to the questionnaire."
The court further ruled that the, "scientists, who designed the ACS, expressed dissenting opinions and disagreement concerning potential negative cumulative effects of the ACS amendment. The FEMAT scientists are respected scientists and their views relevant. Furthermore, they were not alone in expressing dissent. FWS [US Fish and Wildlife Service] scientists submitted comments that the proposed language would 'remove or weaken several key conservation provisions for aquatic species at the plan level' and eliminate the 'assurance that projects developed and implemented under the ACS guidance will contribute to restoring and/or maintaining the ecological health of aquatic ecosystems.' The FWS scientists further stated that 'this outcome is of great concern to us.'"
The Aquatic Conservation Strategy came under attack when the timber industry urged the Bush administration to triple the cut from our national forests by eliminating ACS safeguards and other environmental protections for Northwest forests.
Earthjustice represented the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Oregon Wild, Pacific Rivers Council, The Wilderness Society, Umpqua Watersheds, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Siskiyou Regional Educational Project, Conservation Northwest, Klamath Forest Alliance, and National Center for Conservation Science and Policy.