A federal district court today ruled that the U.S. government violated the law by approving Northwest Forest Plan timber sales that could harm endangered salmon species. As a result, the court has enjoined approximately 170 federal timber sales in Washington, Oregon, and northern California.
“This ruling gives Northwest salmon a reprieve from federal logging practices that are harming fish habitat,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney for the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. “The
Federal government must make sure that logging heeds the mandates in the Northwest Forest Plan to protect salmon habitat.”
In the case, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) v. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Judge Barbara Rothstein, a federal judge in Seattle, ruled that in approving the timber sales, the federal government failed to comply with Northwest Forest Plan mandates to ensure logging will not destroy salmon habitat. Judge Rothstein concluded that “There is a discrete and immediate harm posed to listed species by logging and timber activities . . . that fail to properly assess the potential environmental harm associated with such forestry action.”
The court injunction halts approximately 178 timber sales in the following National Forests and BLM Districts:
Oregon – Umpqua NF, Siuslaw NF, Mt. Hood NF, Siskiyou NF, Rogue NF; Coos Bay BLM; Salem BLM; Eugene BLM; Roseburg BLM; Medford BLM.
California – Klamath NF, Shasta-Trinity NF, Six Rivers NF.
Washington – Gifford-Pinchot NF.
Unfortunately for the salmon, some of the timber sales have been partially or fully logged before the injunction was issued.
Two previous rulings against the government.
Today’s ruling follows two previous similar rulings by the same court. In the previous cases, the court had looked at a smaller number of federal timber sales on the Umpqua Basin in Oregon and found the same pattern of violations by the government. The current case builds on those rulings and applies to many more forests throughout the Northwest.
“Before today, two previous court decisions found that the federal government was violating its own forest plan rules and harming salmon,” said Doug Heiken of the Oregon Natural Resources Council, a plaintiff in the case. “Instead of listening to those rulings and modifying their timber sales to protect salmon, the government has forged ahead with more illegal timber sales.”
“The government had not one but two chances to shape up their act, modify their sales and protect salmon,” said Francis Eatherington of Umpqua Watersheds, another plaintiff group. “Instead they just went right ahead with the same old fish-killing ways.”
Cancellation of sales unlikely. Solutions possible.
While the federal timber sales are currently enjoined, cancellation of the sales is unlikely. In most cases sales will simply need to be modified according to recommendations already made by federal fish biologists in the timber sale planning process. Modifications may include changing the logging prescription from clear-cuts to thinning or selective cutting, and limiting logging and roadbuilding that takes place in the riparian reserves.
“We are seeking a solution that allows for some careful federal timber management, but in a way that protects endangered runs of salmon,” said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.
“If the Northwest Forest Plan is properly followed, we can have timber management while protecting salmon,” said Spain. “However, right now federal managers are ignoring salmon protection at the expense of commercial fishermen up and down the west coast.”