A federal judge who struck down a Bush administration decision to ease logging restrictions last summer issued an injunction Monday blocking as many as 144 timber sales in three states, a decision that will cost the government $2.7 million in revenue.
The timber sales in Washington, Oregon and California had been approved under the administration's decision to stop requiring that the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management look for and protect rare plants and animals before logging on 5.5 million acres covered by the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan.
The Bush administration eliminated the so-called "survey and manage" rule in spring 2004 as part of a legal settlement with the timber industry. Environmental groups sued over the decision, arguing that it was arbitrary and that the government had not evaluated what the impact would be on protected species such as the red tree vole and the great gray owl.
Old growth included
Last August, U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman agreed, striking down the new rule. At the time, she did not say whether she would allow the 144 timber sales — approved since the rule's adoption — to proceed. About half of those sales included old-growth logging.
In her decision Monday, she reinstated the survey-and-manage rule, and made clear that no timber sales would proceed unless they met that standard.
The potential harm to the approximately 300 species protected by the old rule outweighed the potential harm to the government, which put its projected economic loss from stopping the timber sales at $2.7 million. The judge noted, as the environmental groups had, that the court should not be concerned about any money the government stood to make by breaking the law.
"The courts have again had to force the Forest Service to use science rather than politics and favoritism to preserve our last remaining old growth forests," said Pete Frost, attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center in Eugene, Ore.
Forest Service strategy unclear
Frost and Dave Werntz, of Conservation Northwest, said the government has suggested some of the 144 timber sales at issue may meet the reinstated survey-and-manage standard, and thus will be allowed to continue. But the government has not said in court papers how many such sales there are, and a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service did not return a call seeking comment Monday.
No acreage figure was immediately available, but the 144 timber sales totaled 289 million board feet — more than half the amount logged under the Northwest Forest Plan in 2004.
The forest plan is a compromise forest-management plan that covers 24 million acres in Washington, Oregon and northern California.