Judge Rejects Challenges to Federal Logging Plan : Courts: Activists and industry officials sharply criticize Clinton proposal to balance environmental and economic concerns. Decision may end litigation logjam.


In a victory for President Clinton’s environmental policies, a federal judge Wednesday denied a host of legal challenges to the Administration’s plan for logging forests of the Pacific Northwest that are the habitat of the spotted owl.

The plan, a product of Clinton’s attempt to balance legal environmental requirements and regional economic concerns, may put to rest the five years of litigation that has virtually shut down logging on federal lands in the region. It would restore logging on millions of acres of federal land in Washington, Oregon and Northern California while preserving old growth habitat of the spotted owl and other species.

But the approved plan has been castigated by environmentalists and the timber industry alike, with both saying that the compromise is deeply flawed. Environmentalists said that it ignores new findings that the spotted owl is disappearing at an increased rate, while industry representatives said the area’s economy will continue to suffer because so little land can be logged.


Under the plan approved by U.S. District Judge William L. Dwyer, logging levels will be limited to 1.1 billion board feet per year, about one-fourth the yearly average cut during the 1980s.

In his opinion, Dwyer said that the order “will mark the first time in several years that the owl habitat forests will be managed by the responsible agencies under a plan found lawful by the courts.”

Clinton, in a written response, characterized the compromise plan as a way to end the years of fighting between loggers and environmentalists over the old growth timber of the Pacific Northwest.

“For years, gridlock over the management of public forest lands created an uncertain future for the people of the region. It was a problem my Administration inherited and one that we made a priority to solve,” Clinton said in the statement.

The ban on logging in the region has a long and bitter history. In 1991, Dwyer imposed an injunction on further timber sales, saying the George Bush Administration had failed to show that its management of the forests would not endanger the survival of the spotted owl, which had been placed on the endangered species list the year before.

Clinton’s attempt to devise a solution to the lengthy stalemate began to take shape in the 1992 presidential campaign, when he pledged to Northwest timber workers that he would convene a forest conference early in his Administration in an attempt to resolve the problem. In April, 1993, he presided over a daylong series of panel discussions in Portland, Ore., in which environmentalists, timber industry representatives and loggers pitched their own views of the regional deadlock and called on Clinton to lead them to a settlement.


Clinton’s answer came in the form of a plan announced in February. Dubbed Option 9, the wide-ranging document sought to offer species protection not only to spotted owls, but to salmon and other animals and plants throughout the old growth forests. Such so-called ecosystem management had never been tried on such a large scale as the Northwest forests.

The plan, the one approved by Dwyer on Wednesday, bans logging on 10 million acres of forest and calls for buffer zones along rivers and streams. But it also makes 20% of the region’s remaining old growth timber available for harvesting. The plan also creates experimental areas near timber towns that would be managed by government agencies, the timber industry and nearby communities.

In June, Dwyer lifted the ban on timber sales in the region, but withheld his judgment on the Clinton plan until now.

Even before Dwyer lifted the injunction, a dozen environmental groups filed suit, saying the proposal ignored new evidence that the owl is disappearing at an accelerating rate and that the Administration did not consider the economic benefits from the region’s environmental quality of life. At the same time, the timber industry sought to block it, charging, among other things, that the plan was drawn up in violation of federal law.

In his 69-page decision, Dwyer found no basis for any of the claims from either side. But he warned that “any more logging sales than the plan contemplates would probably violate the laws.”

“We were disappointed,” said Todd True, the lead attorney for the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, which represented most of the environmental plaintiffs. He said that he had not decided whether to appeal.


Timber industry spokesman Mark Rey was equally displeased. He said that the decision “has all the appearances of a brightly wrapped present. The problem is, the box is empty.”

“If this is what the Endangered Species Act and other federal statutes have wrought, maybe we need to take a look at them,” he said.