Earthjustice filed a lawsuit today seeking to pry records from the federal government regarding its secret negotiations with the timber industry aimed at weakening northwest forest protections. The lawsuit was filed because the federal government illegally withheld records in violation of the Freedom of Information Act after a request was filed last fall for records of these negotiations.
The records sought in this lawsuit pertain to government negotiations with the timber industry on ways to weaken the Northwest Forest Plan, the plan forged by President Clinton in an attempt to settle the northwest timber wars of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Bush administration officials have been engaged in intensive, closed-door negotiations with the timber industry over how to gut the Northwest Forest Plan. Out of these negotiations have emerged settlements of several industry lawsuits as well as more comprehensive proposals to eliminate some of the lan’s most fundamental environmental safeguards.
The timber industry and government officials have already announced deals to settle industry lawsuits aimed at stripping federal protections from the northern spotted owl and marble murrelet, two old-growth-dependent species found in the Northwest, and the “survey and manage” provisions for protecting old-growth dependent species. The secret negotiations have also produced proposals to weaken salmon protections, known as the Aquatic Conservation Strategy.
“The Bush administration has honed the art of hiding behind court settlements as a way of turning back the clock on environmental protections, ” said Patti Goldman of Earthjustice. “In the guise of settling lawsuits, federal officials have retired to the back room to work out deals that sacrifice our old-growth forests, salmon, and clean water for the sake of increasing clearcutting our public lands.”
The aquatic conservation strategy requires that logging, grazing, and mining avoid damage to streams that support salmon and other aquatic life. Without these safeguards, logging and other activities routinely result in soil erosion, sedimentation, and scouring of salmon spawning streams. The Bush administration wants to make the salmon protections optional.
The survey and manage rules protect old-growth forests and the species that depend on them by requiring surveys to locate species in harm’s way and protections where they are found. As with the salmon protections, the Bush administration wants to make the old-growth species protections optional.
The northern spotted owl litigation brought logging of old-growth forests to a halt because the federal government was not protecting the owls and other species that live in the ancient forests. The Northwest Forest Plan requires that the needs of species be met before the remaining old growth can be logged. The environmental community is fighting the rollback of the northwest forest protections.
“The Bush administration is using industry lawsuits to sabotage old-growth forest and salmon protections,” said Dave Werntz of Northwest Ecosystem Alliance. “By elevating timber production over environmental protection, the administration is promising to re-ignite the old timber wars.”
“This is an affront to the clear wishes of people living in the Pacific Northwest who want old-growth forests and healthy salmon streams,” said Pete Nelson of Biodiversity Northwest.
“Today’s action is aimed at exposing the behind-the-scenes machinations of the federal government and the timber industry it is supposed to regulate,” said Doug Heiken of the Oregon Natural Resources Council. “We intend to bring the real story out into the open for all to see, and hopefully bring an end to this subversion of our democracy.”
“We do not object to the timber industry or anyone else using the courts to enforce the law. That is a civil right that everyone should enjoy, but we do object to closed-door legal settlements that exclude the judge as well as other parties to the case,” said Doug Heiken. “These types of legal settlements raise serious concerns about by-passing normal democratic processes.”