Skip to content

Protecting the environment by providing legal services for forest cases of statewide significance

Protecting the environment by providing legal services for forest cases of statewide significance.

You are here: Home » Our Work » Docket » Seattle Audubon and Olympic Forest Coalition v. Dept. of Natural Resources

Seattle Audubon and Olympic Forest Coalition v. Dept. of Natural Resources

Document Actions

COURT INFORMATION:  King County Superior Court, No. 12-2-19053-4SEA

PLAINTIFFS/CLIENTS:  Seattle Audubon Society and Olympic Forest Coalition

DEFENDANT:  Washington State Department of Natural Resources

DEFENDANT-INTERVENORS:  American Forest Resource Council and Wahkiakum County

STATUS:  Complaint filed May 29, 2012; on July 11, 2013, King County Superior Court Judge Bruce E. Heller ruled that the Department of Natural Resources violated the State Environmental Policy Act by allowing logging of over 12,000 acres of mature forest in Southwest Washington.

CASE DETAILS:  The lawsuit alleges that the DNR’s adoption of a proposal to clear-cut approximately 12,000 acres of mature forest in Southwest Washington violated the State Environmental Policy Act. The lawsuit asked the Court to require DNR to prepare an environmental impact statement for the proposal and to stop DNR from logging under the proposal until it prepares the EIS.

Marbled Murrelet

The marbled murrelet is a dove-sized black and white bird in the same family as puffins. The marbled murrelet feeds by day in Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean and carries its food to its young in nests in rare old-growth forest stands up to fifty miles inland. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service listed the marbled murrelet as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1992, citing logging of its habitat as the leading cause of the decline.

The federal government approved DNR’s Federal Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) in January 1997. With respect to the marbled murrelet, the HCP provides special protections in Southwest Washington because the area is biologically critical and because there are few old trees left after decades of intense logging. The HCP required DNR to survey western Washington for all potential marbled murrelet habitat and, for old growth-deplete Southwest Washington, place all of this habitat into a reserved status until a long-term conservation strategy for the bird’s recovery was adopted on State lands. The State was supposed to have completed its long-term strategy 11 years ago but it still has not; in fact, the official planning for the strategy just commenced in April 2012. It has also been discovered that many of DNR’s marbled murrelet surveys were defective, with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife concluding that, in some areas, DNR’s surveys missed up to 77% of the nest sites.

Instead of waiting for the long-term conservation strategy planning process to conclude and resurveying the marbled murrelet habitat, in early 2012, DNR amended its HCP to allow clear-cutting on approximately 12,000 acres of older growth habitat in these special reserve areas. The amendment also included “commercial thinning” within the “Marbled Murrelet Management Areas,” areas that were supposed to be set aside permanently or be subject only to restoration forestry that would create habitat, as required by the HCP. The lawsuit alleges DNR should not have amended its HCP without first preparing an EIS and seeks to prevent DNR from relying on the amendment for purposes of logging over 12,000 acres in Southwest Washington until an EIS is prepared.

On July 11, 2013, Judge Heller ruled that DNR violated the State Environmental Policy Act by allowing logging of over 12,000 acres of mature forest in Southwest Washington. Judge Heller found DNR’s actions to be unlawful because DNR allowed environmental harm while relying on the speculative benefits of the yet-to-be developed long-term conservation strategy to offset that harm.  As a result of the ruling, the SEPA environmental review and HCP amendment are invalid and logging under those documents may not proceed.

Read Judge Heller's opinion.

Read the press release.

Read the Complaint.