Judge halts nine timber sales

  After five years of an uneasy truce, both sides in the Pacific Northwest timber wars are slugging it out again (HCN, 11/23/98). On Aug. 2, federal Judge William Dwyer sided with 13 environmental groups and blocked nine major timber sales while threatening to stop dozens more. Dwyer ruled that the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management failed to protect 77 animal and plant species, including lichen, mosses, snails and mollusks.


The timber industry says the ruling, which affects at least 104 million board-feet of lumber, comes as a major blow. "We're disappointed that a federal court judge thinks he knows better than natural resource professionals about how to protect these species," says Chris West, a spokesman for the Northwest Forestry Association.


In 1994, the Clinton administration brokered the 24 million-acre Northwest Forest Plan after years of legal battles between environmentalists and timber companies over protecting the northern spotted owl. The plan called for logging on a third of the remaining public old growth, but required the Forest Service and BLM to conduct surveys of rare species. In court, Dwyer told the agencies that they failed to adequately conduct these studies.


"These forests are a kind of Noah's Ark," says Regna Merritt of the Oregon Natural Resources Council. "So much surrounding land has been developed that (these species) have nowhere else to survive. We may not understand how each little piece of the puzzle works, but we can't afford to throw out 77 of those pieces."


The Forest Service says the ruling will force it to re-evaluate upwards of 200 projects. The industry hopes a legislative rider currently before Congress will relax the standards for environmental surveys. Washington Sen. Slade Gorton, R, attached the rider to the Department of the Interior's appropriations bill in June.


* Tim Westby