Forest cases head to Supreme Court

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by Rex Storm, Forest Policy Manager
Associated Oregon Loggers

Forest Roads Case Heads to Supreme Court: On June 25th, the US Supreme Court agreed to review NEDC v. Brown, the damaging 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that would subject forest roads in the Northwest states to “point-source” pollution permit regulation under the federal Clean Water Act, with unwanted oversight & control by the Environmental Protection Agency. Forest sector allies nationwide seek to have the Supreme Court overturn the 9th Circuit’s wrongheaded decision, because future EPA regulation of logging roads would be obstructive and unworkable.

Murrelet Suit Attacks State Forests: In June, three environmental groups filed suit in the Portland Federal District Court alleging the OR Dept. of Forestry violates the Endangered Species Act. The lawsuit claims that ODF fails to secure a federal “take permit,” or Habitat Conservation Plan, prior to selling coastal state forest timber sales where the marbled murrelet seabird nests. Alarmingly, ODF enjoined itself by suspending three already-sold timber sales, and cancelled additional proposed sales. Industry intervenors in the case include purchasers, OFIC, DTO and AFRC (AOL a member).

Two Remedies to Roads Case: The US Supreme Court will hear the case in November, with a decision rendered by June 2013. In the meantime, Congress has blocked the EPA from enforcing the Court’s permit regulation, but that block expires Sept. 30, 2012. A one-year extension of the blockage is in an appropriations bill now pending in Congress. Concurrently, the National Alliance of Forest Owners is lobbying Congress for a bill that would amend the Clean Water Act to permanently exempt forest operations from the Act.

Feds Steal Negligent Fire Settlement: Sierra Pacific Industries in July agreed to settle an unprecedented lawsuit filed by the US Forest Service in N. California—which claimed the 2007 Moonlight Fire started on private forestland and damaged 65,000 acres of the Plumas and Lassen national forests. SP denied full liability for federal property and firefighting damages, despite agreeing to a settlement paying nearly $50 million and 22,500 acres of land deeded to the Forest Service. Federal prosecutors claimed the fire started from illegal operations on a red-flag warning day. Potential liability ramifications and defensive strategies are being explored by attorneys for state forestry agencies and timberland owners across the West, including Oregon.