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Seattle Times: "Judge rejects state logging plan"

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Sept. 28, 2005 -- A controversial plan to increase logging in state-owned forests was dealt a defeat yesterday by a King County Superior Court judge, who ruled that the state Department of Natural Resources didn't properly evaluate the impact on spotted owls and threatened salmon, and didn't amply consider less-intrusive logging practices.

By Warren Cornwall
Seattle Times staff reporter

A controversial plan to increase logging in state-owned forests was dealt a defeat yesterday by a King County Superior Court judge, who ruled that the state Department of Natural Resources didn't properly evaluate the impact on spotted owls and threatened salmon, and didn't amply consider less-intrusive logging practices.

judge Sharon Armstrong didn't elaborate in her ruling, which she issued in a terse e-mail.

The ruling blocks further implementation of the plan, which called for a 30 percent increase in the amount of timber cut from state lands in Western Washington over the next 10 years.

Armstrong has ordered the parties in the lawsuit to submit proposals for how to proceed legally. Meantime, the ruling stalls at least one timber sale and possibly delays others.

The ruling is a setback for Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland, a Republican who chairs the state Board of Natural Resources and runs the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The plan to step up logging was a centerpiece of his first term, and he won re-election last year shortly after the natural-resources board unanimously approved the plan.

Agency officials had touted the plan as a way to boost state revenue for public schools, colleges and local governments while improving forest health by thinning overcrowded stands. It calls for logging nearly 600 million board feet each year, well above the average 458 million board feet logged between 1995 and 2003.

nvironmentalists decried the plan because it allows more logging in environmentally sensitive areas and rolls back restrictions imposed by the previous lands commissioner, Jennifer Belcher, a Democrat. Sutherland's plan eliminates delays on timber sales near spotted-owl habitat and permits some clear-cutting near salmon streams.

Four environmental groups filed the suit that Armstrong ruled on yesterday.

"I think this represents a major rebuke of [Sutherland's] policy direction," said Becky Kelley of the Washington Environmental Council, one of those groups.

DNR should scale back logging volumes and adopt more environmentally friendly forestry practices, Kelley said.

NR responded that the natural-resources board already has determined the plan is environmentally sustainable, said Patty Henson, a DNR spokeswoman.

We had a very extensive scientific-review process," said Henson. "And we stand by that."

Because the judge's ruling was unspecific yesterday, DNR isn't sure what Armstrong thinks is wrong with an earlier DNR study of how the plan would affect salmon and spotted owls.

Sutherland wasn't available to comment but will comment after he learns more about Armstrong's ruling, Henson said.

DNR has halted a 153-acre timber sale near Clallam Bay on the Olympic Peninsula, which had been scheduled for yesterday.

Henson said officials are unclear how the ruling might affect other sales.

Meanwhile, the timber industry maintains the Sutherland plan is conservative and defensible.

"We believed it then, we believe it today, and we're not going to try to stop convincing the world of that," said Bob Dick, Washington manager for the American Forest Resource Council.

Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or wcornwall@seattletimes.com

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