Today five conservation and fishing groups notified members of the Oregon Board of Forestry they could be sued for violating the Endangered Species Act. The violations stem from board’s recent decision to allow clearcut logging on high-risk sites regardless of the risk to federally protected coho salmon. The conservation and fishing groups say the board members each share federal liability with Oregon’s State Forester for harmful logging authorized under the state’s forest practice rules. The groups can add board members as defendants to pending litigation against the State Forester once the legally mandated 60-day notice period has passed.
Logging on steep hillsides often precipitates landslides that pour sediment into salmon spawning streams, killing salmon and smothering salmon eggs.
On January 27, 2003, the Oregon Board of Forestry enacted a temporary rule eliminating the requirement of State Forester approval for many types forest operations on landslide-prone sites. The temporary rule amounts to a blanket authorization of all logging on landslide-prone sites that meet current standards. It tries to make it more difficult to hold the State Forester legally accountable for the logging, but without actually prohibiting logging that has a high risk of triggering landslides and harming coho salmon.
“The board’s attempt to limit the State Forester’s responsibility for protecting coho salmon has put the board itself in the hot seat,” said Patti Goldman of Earthjustice. “The board should live up to its legal obligation to ensure that logging will not wipe out threatened salmon.”
“We have repeatedly encouraged the board to exercise stronger oversight and develop more protective rules,” said Mary Scurlock of Pacific Rivers Council, “The board is doing exactly the opposite of what the fish need — allowing continued conflict between logging and salmon restoration.”
“The board has left us no choice but to bring them into this,” said Sybil Ackerman of the Audubon Society of Portland, “It’s sad and frustrating that we must go to such great lengths to gain real protection for Oregon’s wild salmon.”
“It makes no sense for other Oregon agencies and many landowners to spend time and money restoring salmon when the Board of Forestry is encouraging more landslides that kill them.” concluded Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, which represents commercial fishing interests harmed by the decimation of the coho fishery. “Rather than dodge and run from its resource protection responsibilities, the board should be leading Oregon to ensure that logging under state standards meets federal law — a policy that better serves all forest landowners, particularly the smaller ones, fishing-dependent communities, and all Oregonians.”
The groups offer to work with the board to align state regulatory standards with the needs of federally protected species, such as by creating forest practice rules that are adequate to prevent logging that harms coho salmon.