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Court Upholds Logging Ban To Protect Spotted Owl

December 24, 1991

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A federal appeals court upheld a ban on logging in the national forests of California, Oregon and Washington to protect an endangered species living there - the northern spotted owl.

The three-state ban, imposed in May by U.S. District Judge William Dwyer and upheld Monday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, forbids the sale of timber from 17 forests.

A lawyer for woodworkers and logging companies said the injunction was devastating to the timber industry in the Pacific Northwest.

The Bush administration argued that the Endangered Species Act was the only law applying to the owl, classified as a threatened species in June 1990.

The requirement that the Forest Service prepare a plan by March 5 to maintain the owl as a viable species is contained in a different law, called the National Forest Management Act.

That act still applies, despite the owl’s classification, the appeals panel declared in a 3-0 ruling.

The plan must go further than simply preventing the bird’s extinction - it must maintain the bird as a viable species, the court said. Judge Mary Schroeder upbraided the Forest Service for a ″systematic refusal to follow the law in the past.″

Environmental groups could sue the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for allegedly failing to fully analyze the danger to the owl from logging on BLM lands, Schroeder wrote.

″It’s another significant victory for the spotted owl in the face of continued violations of the law by federal agencies,″ said Victor Sher of the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. He represented Washington and Oregon environmental groups in the case.

Mark Rutzick, a lawyer for logging companies and woodworkers, said the injunction that the court upheld was ″devastating the timber industry in Oregon and Washington.″

″It’s shut off Forest Service timber sales completely,″ he said. ″Mills are closing on a regular basis because they don’t have timber to process.″

Rutzick said his clients would review the decision for a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court is already considering the validity of a law that was aimed at blocking legal challenges to individual timber sales in the Pacific Northwest.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said excessive logging threatened the survival of the remaining 3,000 pairs of northern spotted owls in the forests.

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