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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.

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Editorial: Protect environment and wildlife

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Seattle P-I, May 10, 2006; Thanks to successful environmental battles and legal victories of the past, families can still walk through majestic old-growth forests in Washington that are nearly 1,000 years old and bald eagles and peregrine falcons soar through the skies in downtown Seattle on a daily basis.

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/opinion/269565_audobon10.html

May 10, 2006

By SHAWN CANTRELL AND GLORIA BALDI
SEATTLE P-I GUEST COLUMNISTS

Thanks to successful environmental battles and legal victories of the past, families can still walk through majestic old-growth forests in Washington that are nearly 1,000 years old and bald eagles and peregrine falcons soar through the skies in downtown Seattle on a daily basis.

Recently, Seattle Audubon, along with Kittitas Audubon, mailed a 60-day legal notice letter to the Weyerhaeuser Co. and the Washington Department of Natural Resources. The notice letter provides conservationists, the timber industry and state government the opportunity to work out a plan that provides reasonable protection of wildlife habitat in forests while allowing the timber industry to log responsibly.

The Audubon chapters arrived at this roadblock only after countless efforts to work collaboratively over three years. After dozens of discussions, meetings, negotiations, public hearings and inaction by DNR and Weyerhaeuser, the process continued to allow cutting critical forest habitat and brought our organizations to where we are today.

As one of the oldest conservation organizations in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle Audubon has taken action on behalf of the environment and wildlife in this region for 90 years. We were involved in the creation of Olympic National Park, North Cascades National Park and the magnificent Foster Island Natural Area within Seattle's city limits. The founders of Kittitas Audubon were charter members of the group that created the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area, Seattle's closest and most visited wilderness area. Both organizations pride themselves for their collaborative approach.

Legal efforts -- although contentious -- have preserved some of the wildest and most amazing natural areas in this country and are always a last resort for conservation organizations. This latest legal challenge was exactly that -- a last resort challenge of Weyerhaeuser's aggressive logging in southwestern Washington. Although not a lawsuit, the 60-day notice is intended to bring the parties to the table and to ensure that both Weyerhaeuser and DNR obey the federal laws already in place.

Our organizations and numerous others have engaged in a three-year stakeholder process -- brought on by a similar legal notice -- to convince the state and large timber companies that their actions on the ground are not only illegal but are contributing to the decline of threatened wildlife.

Throughout this entire process, the conservation community participated openly and in a collaborative manner. However, after several instances of insider deals between the agency and industry, three years of policy inaction by industry and DNR, and the continued destruction of important wildlife habitat, it became clear that the conservation community was not viewed as an equal in this process. Faced with inaction coupled with habitat destruction, the only tool available to us is through the judicial system.

When a company breaks the law and governments fail to enforce it, it is imperative in a democracy for private citizens and organizations to take steps to ensure the law of the land is upheld.

The Seattle and Kittitas Audubon chapters tackle environmental problems with an open mind and a cooperative approach, but when three years of process add up to the status quo, organizations such as ours must take action. This legal notice is the last remaining effective means we have to persuade industry and state to obey the law and protect the natural heritage of the region.

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Shawn Cantrell is executive director of Seattle Audubon. Gloria Baldi is president of the board of directors of Kittitas Audubon.