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Judge: Timber Cutting Can Proceed in the Northwest

November 7, 1989

SEATTLE (AP) _ A federal judge has cleared the way for logging next year in some of the Northwest’s oldest forests - prime nesting spots for the rare spotted owl.

U.S. District Judge William Dwyer on Monday ruled that an agreement reached by Congress that allows cutting of some of the giant trees is constitutional, according to Vic Sher, lawyer for the Sierra Club Legal Defense Club.

The order turned back a challenge by environmentalists and vacated an injunction against timber cutting on federal land in Washington and Oregon and a Nov. 13 trial of the environmentalists’ lawsuit.

″I would hope we could start fairly quickly″ to auction timber in 13 national forests affected by the lawsuit, said John Butruille, the Northwest’s regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service.

Congress’ compromise also requires the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to start protecting old growth trees, which are at least 200 years old.

Dwyer gave no explanation in his ruling, which upheld a section of an appropriations bill passed by Congress and signed by President Bush last month. The judge said an opinion will follow, according to Sher.

″What took him so long?″ said Dennis Daughtery, president of the Contract Loggers Association.

The disputed trees ″probably should have been hewed down over 100 years ago ... they’re just taking up good growing room in the forests,″ Daughtery said.

″Obviously, we’re really pleased,″ said Forest Service Chief F. Dale Robertson. ″We’re glad to see the court say we can continue.″

Plainiffs contended Congress acted unconstitutionally in creating the one- year compromise crafted to satisfy the timber industry and the advocates for the owl, which nests primarily in the old growth forests of the Northwest.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether to list the owl on the endangered species list.

″It’s a disappointing ruling for us,″ Sher said. ″But our quarrel is not with Judge Dwyer or the federal court, it’s with Congress which has put federal agencies above the law and stripped the courts of their ability to enforce the law.″

The Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, representing The Audubon Society, the Oregon Natural Resources Council and other environmental groups, had asked Dwyer to proceed with a trial. The lawsuit contended that logging on federal land in the Northwest in spotted owl habitat would violate federal environmental laws.

In March, Dwyer blocked timber sales in Washington and Oregon in owl- sensitive areas. The blocked sales total more than 1 billion board feet.

Last May, Dwyer signed an order putting the lawsuit on hold. Congress then stepped in.

Sher said the plaintiffs haven’t decided whether to appeal Monday’s decision.

″It’s hard to say what the next step will be until we see the judge’s reasoning, and we see how the Forest Service proceeds with implementing the new legislation,″ he said.

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