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Know the West

Northwest forests hit by new lawsuits


Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, A doomed species?

The fate of Northwest forests has been tied up in the courts since 1987, when the Portland Audubon Society sued the government for failing to address the possible extinction of the northern spotted owl.

Although the suit was later thrown out of court, a flood of litigation followed. In 1991, in a case filed by the Seattle Audubon Society and 11 other environmental groups, federal Judge William Dwyer in Seattle ruled that the government's timber sales in the Northwest failed to protect forest species such as the owls throughout the range, as required by the National Forest Management Act. Dwyer barred timber sales that would log the owl's habitat until the government changed those policies.

Dwyer's injunction was still in effect when President Clinton opened the historic Forest Summit in Portland in April 1993. He promised a solution that would "put the stalemate behind us." But the solution - Option 9 - has fallen short of that goal.

The judge's three-year ban on logging was not lifted until last week, and Dwyer was careful to say that the legality of Option 9 "should be tested." He scheduled a hearing Sept. 12 to hear legal challenges to the plan.

Other lawsuits loom. On May 18, the environmental community filed a new lawsuit, this time contending that Option 9 violates the National Forest Management Act. Dwyer was scheduled to rule on the merits of this case within 120 days of the day it was filed. During this period, the 13 plaintiffs have agreed not to seek further injunctions. The plaintiffs in this case are the Oregon Natural Resources Council, Pacific Rivers Council, Seattle Audubon Society, Headwaters, The Wilderness Society, National Audubon Society, Pilchuck Audubon Society, Western Ancient Forest Campaign, Washington Environmental Council, Klamath Forest Alliance, Northcoast Environmental Center, Portland Audubon Society and Lane County Audubon Society.

Meanwhile, all but one of the 12 plaintiffs in the 1991 suit have agreed to release 83 million board-feet of timber sales enjoined by Dwyer. This deal, reached last August, has been dubbed the "Deal of Shame" by a number of groups not party to the settlement, including the Native Forest Council in Eugene. They claim the mainline groups "sold out" in giving some old growth up for harvest (HCN, 12/27/93). The mainline groups, including the Sierra Club, Oregon Natural Resources Council and others, contend they feared political backlash in Congress if they failed to approve the deal. Nonetheless, the deal is being challenged in Dwyer's court by the Forest Conservation Council and Save the West and in a separate filing by the Native Forest Council.

The timber industry has filed two suits, one in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., that claims the Clinton forest team violated the federal open meetings law. Interestingly, a plaintiff in this case is the Native Forest Council. In March, the judge ruled against the government, but the case is likely to be merged with other litigation before Dwyer.

The other lawsuit charges Option 9 violates a law which industry claims requires the government to maximize timber harvests in western Oregon.