Commercial fishermen and conservation groups today asked a federal court to make a final ruling that the National Marine Fisheries Service acted illegally when it approved federal timber sales that harm imperiled salmon populations. A federal judge made a preliminary ruling in December 2000 that the sales violated the Northwest Forest Plan’s Aquatic Conservation Strategy, whose purpose is to maintain and restore properly functioning aquatic habitat for salmon.
The fishing and conservation groups also asked the court to release approximately two dozen federal timber sales in Washington, Oregon and California that comply with the salmon protection rules in the Northwest Forest Plan.
“We are doing two things today,” said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “First, we are asking the court to permanently enjoin timber sales that do not comply with salmon protection rules in the Northwest Forest Plan. Second we are allowing sales that do comply with salmon protection rules to move forward.”
“The Northwest Forest Plan requires that conditions for endangered fish must improve on federal lands, or at least not get worse,” said attorney Patti Goldman of Earthjustice. “Sales that harm salmon habitat should be stopped, while sales that comply with salmon protection rules should be allowed to move forward.”
Instead of avoiding bad timber sales, the Bush administration is seeking to gut salmon protection rules.
Federal officials are allowed to authorize logging on national forest and Bureau of Land Management lands under the Northwest Forest Plan after determining such logging won’t harm federally protected salmon and other aquatic species.
Rather than do the work required to design sales that won’t harm salmon, the Bush administration is proposing rule changes that would gut the Aquatic Conservation Strategy and essentially make salmon protection discretionary rather than mandatory.
However, the release of several dozen sales that comply with the salmon protection rules shows that careful logging can happen under the current Northwest Forest Plan rules.
“The Northwest Forest Plan is designed to protect salmon while allowing some careful logging,” said Goldman. “With this action, we are taking the initiative to protect salmon from harmful sales. But we are also making it clear that logging can occur and the Northwest Forest Plan can work as intended.”
“We cannot wait any longer for the government to get off the dime and do its job, so we are moving forward by asking the court to permanently enjoin timber sales that harm salmon while simultaneously releasing projects that do not harm salmon and showing how the Northwest Forest Plan can work,” said Doug Heiken of the Oregon Natural Resources Council. “We hope the government sees this as a breakthrough and makes them realize that they do not need to gut the Aquatic Conservation Strategy of the Northwest Forest Plan.”
“Without the Aquatic Conservation Strategy, the road construction and industrial logging proposed by the government would have pushed endangered salmon closer to extinction,” said Dave Werntz with the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance. “There are timber sales and watershed restoration projects that meet the salmon protection rules, and conservationists and the federal agencies can find common ground on timber sales that follow the Forest Plan and the law.”
The plaintiffs in Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations v. National Marine Fisheries Service are the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Oregon Natural Resources Council, and Umpqua Watersheds Inc. They are represented by attorneys at Earthjustice.