Fearing another sweetheart deal between the Bush Administration and the timber industry, nine environmental groups today asked a federal district court in Oregon for permission to intervene in two lawsuits that threaten northern spotted owls and marbled murrelets in the Pacific Northwest. The lawsuits, brought by a timber industry coalition, challenge the protected status of the owls and murrelets and the designation of their critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service listed northern spotted owls as a threatened species in 1988 and marbled murrelets in 1992.
"Our region has moved beyond the logging battles of the 1980’s, but the timber industry continues to live in the past," said Bob Freimark, Director of the Pacific Northwest office of The Wilderness Society. "Instead of moving forward with environmentally responsible forest management, the timber industry wants to return to cutting ancient forests."
The Bush Administration has made it clear that weakening forest protections for owls, murrelets, and other Northwest species is a priority. Earlier this month, a government memo called for less stream protection, more logging, and weakening of species’ survey and monitoring rules in areas protected by the Northwest Forest Plan. The Northwest Forest Plan was adopted to protect owls, murrelets, salmon, and other forest species.
"This is part of a broader attack on the Northwest Forest Plan," said Susan Jane Brown, Executive Director of the Gifford Pinchot Task Force. "Next, we’ll be hearing timber industry proposals to clearcut more mature and old-growth forests, regardless of the impacts to owls, murrelets, salmon, clean water, and hiking trails."
In recent cases where industry coalitions have brought challenges to environmental protections, the federal government has either failed to defend the lawsuits or settled on terms that benefit special interests and harm the environment. The government eliminated habitat protections for many salmon species in a settlement earlier this year, and it has done the same for imperiled red-legged frogs in California. Coupled with the government’s failure to defend against legal attacks on coho salmon and protections for roadless forests, citizen groups have been forced to play the role usually reserved for the Department of Justice.
"It’s been a pattern of sue-and-settle between the Bush Administration and industry," said Kristen Boyles, an attorney with Earthjustice. "We need to be in these lawsuits to speak for the owls, murrelets, and people of the Northwest — the Bush administration has made clear it won’t."
Represented by Earthjustice, the groups seeking to intervene are Audubon Society of Portland, Biodiversity Northwest, Environmental Protection Information Center, Gifford Pinchot Task Force, Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Seattle Audubon Society, Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society.