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Seattle PI: "Judge Blocks Timber Plan"

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Sept. 28, 2005 -- A King County judge Tuesday slapped down plans to boost logging on 1.4 million acres of state-owned forests in Western Washington, saying the Department of Natural Resources' blueprint fails to adequately protect salmon and spotted owls.

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/242519_forest28.html

By Robert McClure
PI Reporter

A King County judge Tuesday slapped down plans to boost logging on 1.4 million acres of state-owned forests in Western Washington, saying the Department of Natural Resources' blueprint fails to adequately protect salmon and spotted owls.

The preliminary ruling by Superior Court Judge Sharon Armstrong rolls back a 10-year plan that would increase the amount of timber cut over that period by nearly one-third.
It is a setback for Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland, who led the state Board of Natural Resources in the adoption of the plan last September.

"The judge basically told Commissioner Sutherland and the Board of Natural Resources that they sharply increased logging without taking a close look at what that would mean for the environment and the public's resources, such as water and salmon and older forests," said Becky Kelley of the Washington Environmental Council, the lead plaintiff in the case.

Environmentalists fought hard against the logging increase, arguing that the state should do more thinning of state forests. The plan would allow three-quarters of the forestland away from rivers and streams to be clearcut. It also would permit some cutting near streams, and where spotted owls live.
Armstrong's five-paragraph e-mail to lawyers in the case Tuesday does not spell out her reasoning.

But she did declare that the environmental impact statement required to increase logging was insufficient because it didn't do enough to justify its effects on salmon and spotted owls, which are both protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

DNR officials, who had sought to boost timber revenues by $30 million a year to help schools and other government functions, said they will study the judge's full ruling when it comes out. No deadline was set for its release.
"We haven't seen the final order yet, so we don't have enough information to offer any meaningful comment," DNR spokeswoman Patty Henson said.

"It would be premature to comment at this point. We know what the ruling says, but we don't know the rationale behind it."
In court papers, state lawyers said that the plan would result in the annual logging of a little over 1 percent of Western Washington timber. Further, they said, the logging blueprint satisfies a habitat conservation plan approved by federal wildlife agencies charged with protecting salmon, spotted owls and other creatures.

DNR "produced an extremely comprehensive and detailed impact statement that thoroughly considered the environmental impacts," state lawyers argued.

Sutherland and the Board of Natural Resources considered six alternatives, most of which would increase logging. One alternative kept the harvest at the previous level -- which is where it must remain now, under Armstrong's ruling. The judge said the board should also have considered "less environmentally costly alternatives."

Kelley, who supported Sutherland's Democratic opponent in the last lands commissioner race, said she hopes the ruling will spur state officials to rethink the whole strategy.
"This wasn't a no-logging-versus-lots-of-logging kind of battle. It was people asking them to take some new, smarter approaches to logging," Kelley said. "We're saying, do it smarter. Don't go into these places that shouldn't be logged, like right next to a salmon stream."

Environmentalists have pushed for the state to make its logging practices protective enough that state-produced wood could win an international environmental certification, thereby raising its commercial value.

The plan at issue is binding for 10 years but looks out decades longer. It projects a spike in logging on state lands for the next 10 years -- to 597 million board feet per year -- followed by 60 years of lower tree harvests.

Before the board's decision a year ago, harvests on that land had been running a little more than 450 million board feet per year -- although that number fell short of the previous goal of 575 million board feet annually.

Armstrong's ruling specifically prevented the state from going forward with a planned timber sale on the Olympic Peninsula. The sale, which would have allowed timber cutting near the homes of spotted owls and steelhead, was cited by environmentalists as an example of the plan's negative environmental effects.
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P-I reporter Robert McClure can be reached at 206-448-8092 or robertmcclure@seattlepi.com.
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