'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
  • MEMBERSHIP DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Membership Director Job Title: Membership Director Supervisor: Executive Director Classification: Full-time exempt Location: Boise, ID Job Overview Winter Wildlands Alliance is seeking a...
  • IMPROVED LOT
    Private road, hillside, views. Well, pad, septic, 99 sq.ft. hut. Dryland permaculture orchard. Wildlife. San Diego--long growing season
  • STEWARDSHIP SPECIALIST
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks experienced person to manage its 133 conservation easements in south-central Colorado.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Position Announcement POSITION TITLE: Executive Director ORGANIZATION: Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument REPORTING TO: Board of Directors LOCATION: Ashland, OR POSTING CLOSES: March...
  • ARIZONA CONSERVATION CORPS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Arizona Conservation Corps is seeking a Program Director in Flagstaff or Tucson
  • UNIQUE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
    Profitable off-the-grid business located 2 miles from Glacier National Park. Owner has 6 years operating experience. Seeking investor or partner for business expansion and enhancement....
  • NEW MEXICO PROPERTY - SILVER CITY
    20 acres, $80,000. Owner financing, well, driveway, fencing possible, very private, sensible covenants, broker owned. Contact - 575-534-7955 or [email protected]
  • GRANT WRITER
    "We all love this place we call Montana. We believe that land and water and air are not ours to despoil, but ours to steward...
  • COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
    ABOUT US: "This thriving citizens organization exemplifies the ideal of public involvement in public processes." - Billings Gazette At Northern Plains, we believe that true...
  • ST. LAWRENCE UNIVERSITY - ASSISTANT DIRECTOR IN THE OUTDOOR PROGRAM
    To view the complete position description please visit: http://employment.stlawu.edu. St. Lawrence University is an Equal Opportunity Employer.
  • TRAIL CREW & ASSISTANT TRAIL CREW LEADERS
    SEEKING TALENTED TRAIL WORK LEADERS The Pacific Crest Trail Association, headquartered in Sacramento, California is dedicated to protecting, preserving and promoting the Pacific Crest National...
  • SEASONAL SAN JUAN RANGERS
    Seeking experienced crew members to patrol Colorado's most iconic mountain wilderness.
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • DEVELOPMENT AND ADVOCACY DIRECTOR
    Provide stewardship and protection for the Great Burn wildlands along the Montana-Idaho stateline. This position is based in Missoula, MT, where a river runs through...
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • WILDERNESS CONSERVATION CORPS - OREGON
    The Siskiyou Mountain Club is hiring interns for the 2020 Field Season. Interns utilize non-mechanized tools to complete trail restoration and maintenance while gaining job...
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.