Judge rejects old-growth forest rollbacks

 

A federal judge in Seattle has rejected the Bush administration’s elimination of the Northwest Forest Plan’s "survey and manage" rules. The rules required government agencies to survey for hundreds of rare species in the Pacific Northwest’s old-growth forests, logging only where those species wouldn’t be disturbed.

In August, Judge Marsha Pechman sided with conservationists, saying the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management failed to address how rare plants and animals would be protected in the absence of the rules.

The ruling is likely to impact logging projects from the Cascades to the coast, says one of the plaintiffs, Dave Werntz, science director for Conservation Northwest: "It puts into question all old-growth logging plans that have been developed after the Bush administration eliminated wildlife protections (last year)."

The Bush administration dropped the survey requirements last March in the face of a timber industry lawsuit, which argued that they were too strict and time-consuming (HCN, 9/27/04: Life After Old Growth).

Eliminating the rules "took away a huge mechanism for environmentalists to stop projects," says Ross Mickey of the American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry trade group. But even so, he adds, only a few small logging projects had proceeded without wildlife surveys.

In May, a federal judge in Portland threw out a similar Bush administration rollback of salmon protections on the Columbia River (HCN, 6/13/05: For salmon, a crucial moment of decision).