'His courtroom was a classroom'

 

"The end of an era" is how Mark Rutzick, attorney for the timber industry, describes the passing of Judge William L. Dwyer, who died Feb. 12 at 72 from complications associated with cancer and Parkinson's disease. Although the sentiment is perhaps wishful thinking on the part of Rutzick, who lost virtually every case he brought before Dwyer, there's no disputing the influence Dwyer had on public land policy.

Dwyer served for 15 years as Senior U.S. District Court Judge in the state of Washington. Judge Dwyer's signature accomplishment on the bench was the 1991 spotted owl ruling that led to the Northwest Forest Plan, which protected 8 million acres of Pacific Northwest ancient forest. His opinion, printed contemporaneously on the Washington Post's editorial page, was not the dry legal prose we expect from judges, but a thoughtful and persuasive justification for saving old-growth forests.

In its conclusion, Dwyer said, "The argument that the mightiest economy on earth cannot afford to preserve old-growth forests for a short time, while it reaches an overdue decision on how to manage them, is not convincing today. It would be even less so a year or a century from now."

The durability and prescience of Dwyer's ruling is even more impressive a decade later. Dwyer's predictions of dramatic changes in the timber industry that would minimize the economic consequences of old-growth forest protection have all come true. Private lands did increase production to offset public logging declines, and raw log exports plummeted by two-thirds in the years following his decision. He recognized that the spotted owl issue was emblematic of the Pacific Northwest's economic and social transformation from a resource-extraction economy to one based on information technology and services. No doubt his ruling was the blueprint for President Clinton's famous Forest Summit in Portland a year later.

Dwyer was "a lawyer's lawyer and a judge's judge," according to Earthjustice's Todd True, one of the attorneys for environmental groups in the spotted owl case. His courtroom was a classroom for newly appointed judges wishing to learn from the best how the law works in practice. No matter whether you won or lost before him, his intelligence, diligence and charm made for a memorable experience. Dwyer's joint nomination to the bench by liberal Democrat Dan Evans and conservative Republican Slade Gorton (surely one of the few matters on which they agreed) showed the esteem in which he was held. The durability of his spotted owl ruling is due, in no small part, to his character, as well as to his legal reasoning.

Although I spent many hours in his courtroom and submitted scores of expert affidavits for his consideration, I never once exchanged even a pleasantry with Judge Dwyer. Nevertheless, years later he always answered personally the brief correspondences I would send, including references to his spotted owl decision. I feel privileged to have known the man, if only in this small way.

He is survived by his wife of nearly 50 years, Vasiliki; three children, Joanna Tiffany, Tony Dwyer and Charlie Dwyer; and five grandchildren.

Andy Stahl is the executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, and worked as a forester for the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund (now known as Earthjustice) from 1987 through 1994.


Copyright © 2002 HCN and Andy Stahl

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Mountain Time Arts, a Bozeman-based nonprofit, is seeking an Executive Director. MTA advocates for and produces public artworks that advance social & environmental justice in...
  • BEND AREA HOME WITH AMAZING CASCADE PEAKS VIEW
    Enjoy rural peacefulness and privacy with one of the most magnificent Cascade Mountain views in sunny Central Oregon! Convenient location only eight miles from Bend's...
  • MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Marketing Communications Manager to join our...
  • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks an Editor-In-Chief to join our senior team...
  • RESEARCH FELLOW (SOUTHWESTERN U.S. ENERGY TRANSITION)
    The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) in partnership with the Grand Canyon Trust is seeking a full-time Fellow to conduct topical research...
  • LENDER OWNED FIX & FLIP
    2 houses on 37+ acres. Gated subdivision, Penrose Colorado. $400k. Possible lender financing. Bob Kunkler Brokers Welcome.
  • ONCE OR TWICE
    A short historical novel set in central Oregon based on the the WWII Japanese high altitude ballon that exploded causing civilian casualties. A riveting look...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • HOUSE FOR SALE
    Rare mountain property, borders National Forest, stream nearby. Pumicecrete, solar net metering, radiant heat, fine cabinets, attic space to expand, patio, garden, wildlife, insulated garage,...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Want to organize people to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life with Northern Plains Resource Council? Apply now-...
  • CONSERVATION MANAGER
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is hiring an energetic and motivated Conservation Manager to develop and complete new conservation projects and work within...
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -