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