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The Olympian: "Judge rejects timber plan"

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Sept. 28, 2005 -- A plan to boost state timber harvests by 30 percent during the next decade was rejected Tuesday by a King County Superior Court judge.

By John Dodge 

A plan to boost state timber harvests by 30 percent during the next decade was rejected Tuesday by a King County Superior Court judge.

Environmental groups that filed a lawsuit last October challenging the state Board of Natural Resources' logging plan hailed the preliminary ruling by Judge Sharon Armstrong as a major victory for wildlife, salmon and water quality.

Officials from the state Department of Natural Resources, which governs logging on state land, declined to comment until Armstrong issues her final order.

In a preliminary ruling e-mailed Tuesday to parties in the case, Armstrong said the environmental impact statement for the new logging plan was inadequate in assessing effects of increased logging on the northern spotted owl and salmon.

She also said the state failed to sufficiently examine less environmentally costly alternatives.

She ordered DNR to return to harvest levels in place before the new logging plan was approved Sept. 7, 2004, pending further environmental reviews. At that time, the state was logging about 460 million board feet of timber per year, compared with the 597 million board feet it would average in the next 10 years under the new plan.

"It's a victory for protecting public resources," said Becky Kelly, campaign director for the Washington Environmental Council.

"She ruled that the new plan allowed too much logging in the wrong areas -- in mature forests and near salmon-bearing streams."

DNR spokeswoman Patty Henson said her agency doesn't understand the rationale behind the judge's preliminary order. "We're uncomfortable commenting any further until we see the final order," she said.

The logging plan covers 1.4 million acres of state forestlands in Western Washington.

State Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland has lauded the plan as environmentally sound and capable of boosting the inventory of old-growth forests on state lands during the 70-year life of the plan. Support for the 2004 harvest plan also came from the timber industry and rural counties and communities dependent upon logging revenue.

The Washington Environmental Council, Audubon Washington, Conservation Northwest and the Olympic Forest Coalition filed the lawsuit, alleging that the higher logging volumes came at the expense of sensitive forests near streams, landslide-prone areas and mature forests.