Pacific Lumber v. Marbled Murrelet (Salvage Logging in Headwaters)

Pacific Lumber v. Marbled Murrelet (Salvage Logging in Headwaters)

1997

In February 1995, EPIC won an Endangered Species Act lawsuit that permanently enjoined logging of Pacific Lumbers Owl Creek grove, and by extension other murrelet-occupied old growth redwood stands in the Headwaters area. Three days after this major victory, Pacific Lumber announced plans to “salvage” log the murrelet-occupied old growth redwoods of Headwaters Forest, using an exemption in the forest practice rules that allows the landowner to take up to 10 percent of the volume of a stand, with no environmental review at all.

EPIC filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the salvage logging of the ancient groves would likely harm the marbled murrelet. Because of our lawsuit, the proposed logging operations were scaled back considerably, limiting removal of trees to those that were already felled and could be reached from existing roads. Because of the substantially restricted nature of the proposed salvage logging, we ultimately lost the case. However, by bringing the case we were able to minimize the damage to the ancient groves, and we protected two of the groves, Headwaters Grove and Elk Head Springs, from salvage logging until they could be protected by a moratorium under the 1996 Headwaters Forest agreement.

Upon winning the case, Pacific Lumber attempted to twist the language of the Endangered Species Act to make us pay their legal fees. Claiming that they had advanced the interpretation of the Endangered Species Act, PL sought $47,000 in costs plus $600,000 in attorney fees from EPIC. Clearly such an award would have put EPIC out of business, but perhaps more importantly, such a decision would have put a damper on similar citizen litigation brought under other environmental and civil rights laws.

PL’s request was denied by the District Court. The Ninth Circuit upheld the denial on appeal, stating that Congress and the courts have long applied different fee award standards for plaintiffs and defendants in civil rights and environmental cases where citizens seek to enforce the law. The January 18, 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decided not to consider the appeal, a welcome victory for EPIC, and maintained citizen’s right to enforce public interest laws.