A federal judge has banned logging on a privately owned California old-growth timber tract, in a ruling that environmentalists say could set a precedent for wider use of endangered species laws.
U.S. District Judge Louis C. Bechtle ruled Monday in San Francisco that Scotia, Calif.-based Pacific Lumber Co. is permanently prohibited from carrying out its logging plans on 237 acres of its hotly contested Owl Creek area in Humboldt County. The judge found that logging would harm and "harass" the endangered marbled murrelet, a robin-sized bird protected by both state and federal law.
Pacific Lumber officials could not be reached for comment Monday.
Faced with growing national criticism of endangered species laws, environmentalists called the decision a major victory.
The ruling "does for endangered species and endangered habitat on private lands what the spotted owl did on public lands," said Macon Cowles, a Boulder, Colo., attorney representing the Environmental Protection Information Center in Garberville, Calif. The group had sued Pacific Lumber in April, 1993, after the timber firm began cutting in the old-growth area in the summer and fall of 1992.
Bechtle also ruled that forestry experts hired by Pacific Lumber lacked "objectivity and credibility" in their attempts to prove that the marbled murrelet doesn't live in the tract and that their reports "were written with substantial input" from Pacific Lumber attor neys.
Environmentalists have experienced "a series of defeats in the administrative realm in this issue," said Jeff Romm, professor in resource policy at the College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley. "So they've been almost forced to turn to the courts. . . . I think they will probably be taking a lot of hope out of this, because there are a lot of cases that are coming up that are likely to be more significant."
Pacific Lumber has been strongly criticized by environmentalists since it dramatically increased its cut of old-growth redwoods after it was acquired in a hostile takeover in 1985 by Houston entrepreneur Charles Hurwitz's Maxxam Inc. It has denied that its practices harm the marbled murrelet.