“Nobody wants to go to court unless they have to,” say five fishing and conservation groups representing the interests of imperiled coho salmon. “We had to.”
Years of inaction by the Oregon Board of Forestry has given Oregon’s fishing and environmental communities no choice but to bring a lawsuit under the federal Endangered Species Act. The lawsuit seeks to stop certain logging practices on private timberlands that harm coho salmon in Oregon’s North Coast region.
“The state routinely authorizes industrial logging that harms coho salmon, in violation of the Endangered Species Act,” explains Patti Goldman, attorney with law firm Earthjustice. “All my clients want is for the state to stop handing out permits for the same kind of logging that helped bring these fish to the brink of extinction.”
Earthjustice filed the complaint on behalf of Pacific Rivers Council, Audubon Society of Portland, Coast Range Association, Native Fish Society and Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations. The lawsuit was filed against James Brown in his role as the Oregon State Forester. The Department of Forestry (ODF) is responsible for approval of thousands of logging plans every year in Oregon, many of which affect water quality and coho habitat.
“Commercial coho salmon fishing in Oregon is decimated. We refuse to stand idly by and watch while state officials authorize destructive industrial logging in watershed after watershed.” said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, the largest organization of commercial fishing families on the west coast. “The Department should be protecting Oregon’s irreplaceable salmon runs, not supervising their destruction.”
The lawsuit targets three specific categories of coho-harming practices on private timberlands:
1) clearcut logging on high-risk sites (e.g. steep slopes) where landslides could obliterate coho salmon habitat;
2) logging near small and medium fish-bearing streams with only the minimal buffers now required under the state’s rules (a 20-foot no-cut zone);
3) logging without any no-cut buffers on small streams that feed into salmon habitat, also permitted under the current rules.
The groups are asking the court to stop the state forester from authorizing these practices.
After catastrophic landslides in 1996 that killed five people, ODF foresters began prohibiting logging on high-risk sites where landslides pose a risk to human life. Yet those same foresters routinely approve the same kind of logging on high-risk slopes where landslides are likely to bury threatened salmon. “Clearcutting in unstable headwater areas significantly increases the risk of landslides and the risk of harm to coho downstream,” says Mary Scurlock, Policy Analyst for Pacific Rivers Council, “More landslides plus inadequate riparian protection for small streams is a recipe for coho extinction.”
Forestry officials and timber industry groups are fond of characterizing the Oregon Department of Forestry as a leader in salmon and natural resource protection. But logging regulations and streamside (riparian) management practices in California and Washington do a much better job of protecting salmon than do Oregon’s rules – even with the changes now under consideration. (See “Summary Comparison of Riparian Management Practices” graph at pacrivers.org). “If Washington and California can afford to do more to protect salmon from harmful and illegal logging practices, why can’t Oregon?” asked the plaintiff groups.
Documents for this case, including the lawsuit (Pacific Rivers Council et. al. v. James Brown) and other background materials, can be found at: www.pacrivers.org