Judge Upholds Protection for Old-Growth Forests

Judge Upholds Protection for Old-Growth Forests

August 2, 2005

For more information, please contact:
Doug Heiken, Oregon Natural Resources Council, 541-344-0675
Dr. Dominick DellaSala, World Wildlife Fund, 541-482-4878
Scott Greacen, EPIC, 707-476-8340

Seattle — The Bush administration’s decision to eliminate safeguards that protected old-growth forests and associated plants and wildlife has been declared illegal by a federal judge. The “Survey and Manage” rules under the Northwest Forest Plan, required federal agencies to survey an old-growth area for rare plants and wildlife before allowing logging or other destructive activities, and if found, modify their plans to reduce the risk of extinction.

“This is a huge victory for people who value wildlife and the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest” said Doug Heiken on Oregon Natural Resources Council. “It’s time for the Bush administration to recognize that Northwesterners value our natural heritage and want to see it protected.”

“This ruling helps preserve an important system of checks and balances that protects our old-growth forests for wildlife, clean water, and future generations,” said Scott Greacen of the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), based in Garberville, CA.

Judge Marsha Pechman of Seattle ruled that “even though the Survey and Manage standard was only a part of the overall strategy to protect these species, it was a necessary part to satisfy the [Northwest Forest] Plan’s `foundational objectives.'”

Dominick DellaSala, a PhD and forest ecologist with the World Wildlife Fund, explains how the rule protects a delicate web of life. “There are hundreds of species that are essential to the health of old-growth forests by cycling nutrients and cleaning our air and water, where the sum of their parts is greater than the whole.” DellaSala explains, “The Survey and Manage program, developed by some of the best scientific thinkers in the region, is a global model of conservation because it recognizes this important fact.”

The United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management estimate that without the Survey and Manage rules, more than 50 species are at high risk of local extinction. Without the rules, old-growth forests across northwestern California and the western third of Oregon and Washington were all at greater risk from logging. The Bush administration attempted to eliminate these and other safeguards as part of a settlement agreement with the logging industry over a lawsuit that logging interests filed in 2001.

Background

In March 2003, the Bush administration eliminated the “survey and manage” standard—a central part of the Northwest Forest Plan since it was adopted nearly ten years ago. The Plan was declared to be legal in 1995 in part because the Survey and Manage standard gave federal officials some assurance that wildlife in the forests would be adequately protected from logging.

A fundamental principle of the survey and manage rules is to protect habitat for threatened wildlife in order to prevent them from becoming endangered. Doing so lessens the likelihood that future endangered species listings will interfere with logging.

The Northwest Forest Plan was adopted in 1994 to protect spotted owls, wild salmon, and over one thousand other species that call the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest home. The plan applies only to federal lands, and was supposed to provide enough wildlife habitat on federal lands so that private forests could be managed with fewer restrictions.

The Northwest Forest Plan significantly reduced logging on federal lands at a time when the logging industry was restructuring to address changing mill technology and international competition. Most mills that remain competitive today have retooled to process smaller trees and obtain most of their log supplies from private lands. Only a few mills continue to target old-growth trees from federal lands. Meanwhile, polls have repeatedly demonstrated that a majority of voters support protecting all remaining mature and old-growth forest in their states. You can find poll summaries, economic analyses, and more background information at http://www.nwoldgrowth.org/InfoStation/infostation.htm

The plaintiffs include: Conservation Northwest (formerly Northwest Ecosystem Alliance), Environmental Protection Information Center, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Oregon Natural Resources Council, American Lands Alliance, Siskiyou Regional Education Project, Klamath Forest Alliance, Umpqua Watersheds, Center for Biological Diversity, Northcoast Environmental Center and Gifford Pinchot Task Force. They are represented by the Western Environmental Law Center and Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center.