Loggers win one

  WASHINGTON


A county jury says the state of Washington must pay a logging company almost $10,000 an acre if it wants to protect spotted owls on private land.


SDS Co. was forced to halt logging on 232 acres of its land in 1992 after state biologists found evidence of an owl nest in the area. When the company sued the state for illegally "taking" its land, a jury decided in favor of the company, and lawyers on both sides expect the judge to uphold the jury's financial award of $2.25 million.


State officials now worry the case could set a precedent. "It has grave implications for the ability of the state to regulate private landowners," says Susan Zemek of the Washington Department of Natural Resources. "State law would need to be changed if we had to compensate every private landowner in situations like this."


But the company doesn't believe the implications are wide-ranging since it is "the opinion of merely one court in one county in the state," says Mike Neff, attorney for SDS Co.


The company's 232 acres that had been slated for logging are part of one of 10 state-designated spotted owl preserves. In its suit, SDS said landowners within the preserves are unfairly targeted for protection of the owl.


"Their scheme doesn't protect breeding owls - only owls in the preserve," says Neff. "Are we asking too few people in our state to protect owls?"


Attorney Michael Grossmann says the state plans to appeal the decision. He adds that if SDS had done landscape planning for its 40,000 acres, "then a little harvesting on the 232 acres would have been allowed."


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