Activists praise forest plan ruling

ASHLAND — Cindy Deacon Williams feels vindicated that a Seattle federal judge has ruled that the Bush administration illegally amended laws in the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan protecting streams on federal land.

Not only is she the conservation director for Headwaters, one of the plaintiffs in the 2004 lawsuit, but the fishery biologist also was the U.S. Forest Service’s assistant national fisheries program manager in Washington, D.C., and heavily involved in creating the plan’s aquatic conservation strategy.

"This means that whenever the agencies plan a timber sale, they must slow down, step back and think clearly to make sure they are not doing any harm to a watershed, to make sure they are protecting salmon and clean water," she said Wednesday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Alice Theiler found that the March 2004 Bush administration decision to ease logging restrictions governed by the plan was arbitrary and should be invalidated.

The 1994 plan had required the federal agencies to consider impacts on aquatic and riparian ecosystems as part of planning timber sales.

However, in response to a lawsuit by the timber industry, which argued the plan’s complex requirements were unworkable and took years to complete, the Bush administration changed the requirement. Basically, the change in aquatic strategy meant the agencies no longer had to evaluate individual projects, but only on a watershed-wide basis.

The magistrate took the federal government to task for not "supplying a reasoned analysis in changing their course" and for relying on a discretionary process without addressing "the potential impact posed by projects proceeding without application of that discretionary process."

She also ruled that the agencies had failed to ensure that logging would not jeopardize the survival of endangered salmon.

Her recommendations are contained in a report to U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez, who will make the final ruling in the case.

"We’re hopeful the district court judge will affirm the magistrate’s ruling," Williams said. "We think the administration was out of step with the public’s desire to protect fish and clean drinking water."

Chris West, vice president of the American Forest Research Council in Portland, disagreed.

He told The Associated Press that any deficiency in the amended strategy could easily be fixed.

"The bottom line in all of this is that water quality and threatened species are being protected," he said. "This litigation is challenging nothing more than paperwork. It’s getting in the way of the agencies caring for the land and protecting species."

But Glen Spain, representing the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, a plaintiff in the suit, said the judge’s recommendation was timely.

"This ruling could not have come at a better time, with salmon runs collapsing in the Klamath (River) for lack of federal protection, and the fishing industry facing economic ruin," he said in a prepared statement.

"Maintaining these very modest protections against the impacts of federal timber operations, including in the Klamath Basin, will help with long-term salmon recovery," he added.

In addition to Headwaters and the Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, plaintiffs in the case included the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Ashland, Siskiyou Regional Educational Project in Grants Pass, Umpqua Watersheds, Klamath Forest Alliance, Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Pacific Rivers Council and The Wilderness Society.

ForestsKlamath Siskiyou