FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contacts: Pete Frost, Western Environmental Law Center, (541) 543-0018
(Seattle, WA) – Late yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman issued a final decision declaring illegal the Bush administration’s decision to eliminate safeguards that protected old-growth forests and associated plants and wildlife. Under the principle of “look before you leap,” the “Survey and Manage” standards of the Northwest Forest Plan required federal agencies to survey an old-growth area for rare plants and wildlife before allowing logging or other destructive activities and, if found, modify their plans to reduce the risk of extinction. The survey requirement only applies on federal lands.
“Once again, the courts have insisted that the Forest Service use science rather than politics and favoritism to protect our northwest ecosystems,” said Pete Frost of the Western Environmental Law Center. “We hope this ends the government’s attempts to roll back the protections the Northwest Forest Plan affords some of our last remaining old-growth forests.”
The Bush administration attempted to eliminate the Survey and Manage standard along with other safeguards as part of a settlement agreement with the logging industry over a lawsuit logging interests filed in 2001. Before a judge could rule on the merits of the case, the Bush administration agreed to the demands of the logging industry.
“The Bush administration's back-room deal with the timber industry was thrown out. The decision to eliminate protection for old-growth wildlife is enjoined, and now the Forest Service and BLM must take the common sense approach by ‘looking before logging,” said Doug Heiken of the Oregon Natural Resources Council, one of the plaintiff groups.
The rare and uncommon species protected by the survey standard live primarily in old-growth forests. Of the 144 timber sales planned by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) implicated in the ruling, one-half would have logged old-growth forests.
“This is a huge victory for people who value wildlife and the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest. It’s time for the Bush administration to recognize that Northwesterners value our natural heritage and want to see it permanently protected,” said Rolf Skar, campaign director of the southern Oregon-based Siskiyou Project.
Judge Pechman’s ruling today vacates the administration’s decision to eliminate the survey and manage standard, reinstates the standard, and requires that all timber sales on federal forests in western Washington, western Oregon, and northwestern California comply with the standard.
“If the Bush administration wants to avoid doing pre-logging surveys for wildlife, they should stop cutting old-growth forests,” states Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Protecting all old growth is a move supported by a broad majority of the public.”
“This ruling helps preserve an important system of checks and balances that helps protect our old-growth forests for wildlife, clean water, and future generations,” said Dave Werntz, science director for Conservation Northwest.
“There are hundreds of species that are essential to clean air, clean water, and the health of old-growth forests. The Survey and Manage program, developed by some of the best scientific thinkers in the region, is a global model of conservation because it recognizes this important connection,” said Randi Spivak of the American Lands Alliance.
The plaintiffs on the case include: Conservation Northwest (formerly Northwest Ecosystem Alliance), Environmental Protection Information Center, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Oregon Natural Resources Council, American Lands Alliance, Siskiyou Regional Education Project, Klamath Forest Alliance, Umpqua Watersheds, Center for Biological Diversity, Northcoast Environmental Center and Gifford Pinchot Task Force. They are represented by the Western Environmental Law Center and Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center.
The Western Environmental Law Center is a non-profit public interest environmental law firm that works to protect and restore Western wildlands and advocates for a healthy environment on behalf of communities throughout the West.
In March 2004, the Bush administration eliminated the “Survey and Manage” standard—a central part of the Northwest Forest Plan, since it was adopted nearly ten years ago. The Plan was declared to be legal in 1995 in part because the Survey and Manage standard gave federal officials some assurance that wildlife in the forests would be adequately protected from logging.
A fundamental principle of the survey and manage rules is to protect habitat for threatened wildlife to prevent them from becoming endangered. Doing so lessens the likelihood that future endangered species listings will interfere with logging.
The Northwest Forest Plan was adopted in 1994 to protect spotted owls, wild salmon, and over one thousand other species that call the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest home. The plan applies only to federal lands, and was supposed to provide enough wildlife habitat on federal lands so that private forests could be managed with fewer restrictions.
The Northwest Forest Plan significantly reduced logging on federal lands at a time when the logging industry was restructuring to address changing mill technology and international competition. Most mills that remain competitive today have retooled to process smaller trees and obtain most of their log supplies from private lands. Only a few mills in Oregon and Washington continue to target old-growth trees from federal lands. Meanwhile, polls have repeatedly demonstrated that a majority of voters in Oregon and Washington support protecting all remaining mature and old-growth forest in their states.