EPIC hopes a debt-for-nature swap can protect the area permanently
U.S. District Judge
Maxine Chesney granted a preliminary injunction temporarily barring Pacific Lumber from removing downed or diseased trees from 50,000 acres of Humboldt County redwood forest, including the Headwaters Forest, the world's largest stand of ancient redwood in private hands. The new September 28 injunction continues the ban begun two weeks earlier when the same judge issued a Temporary Restraining Order. Pacific Lumber has just announced it will appeal.
The injunction bans exemption salvage logging on Pacific Lumber Company (PL) land. Not affected are approved Timber Harvest Plans in these same areas, and PL has said that it will be able to continue logging operations and running its sawmills. The injunction protects all the ancient redwood groves, including the 40,000 acre Marbled Murrelet Critical Habitat Area recently proposed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Also protected are scattered tracts of residual old-growth forests.
Unless overturned on appeal, the injunction will remain in effect until trial in a federal lawsuit by the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), a citizens' group in Garberville, California. The trial is probably about a year away, according to EPIC lawyer Thomas Lippe.
A jubilant Cecelia Lanman, EPIC Programs Director stated, "This injunction temporarily protects the most critical areas of old-growth redwood and Douglas fir on Pacific Lumber land. But the litigation is only a stopgap. We must find a way to protect the area permanently, in a way that will enhance the recovery of the Marbled Murrelet and other species, and restore the watershed. We're hoping that can be accomplished through a debt-for-nature swap. Meantime we have to stay in the litigation trenches because we're on the brink of losing Headwaters. Looking at their recent history, PL has shown us that they will do everything they can to get around the law, and we can expect more of that from them."
"Salvage" exemption is loophole in state rules
The EPIC suit
says the law requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Service to do a biological assessment of the effects of logging on the Northern Spotted Owl, the Marbled Murrelet and other protected species. Judge Chesney ruled that there are "serious questions that merit further litigation." She also ruled that there was "a reasonable certainty of imminent harm" to the protected wildlife if logging were allowed to begin.
Normally, before logging can be done California's Forest Practice Act requires an approved Timber Harvest Plan (THP). Before approval a THP is reviewed by a multi-agency team to make sure it meets forestry, wildlife and water quality regulations, and the public is notified and has an opportunity to comment and raise questions. The THP review and approval process has been certified as meeting the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act.
However, when timber stands have been damaged by fire, insects or disease, a timber owner can file for a salvage logging exemption to the rule requiring THPs. The exemption was designed to be used in situations where there would be additional loss caused by the delays required for the drafting and environmental review of a THP. Under an exemption no THP is required and there is no environmental review or opportunity for public comment. The exemption allows the taking of all downed trees and up to 10% of standing dead, dying or diseased trees. CDF approved three exemptions covering 185,000 acres of Pacific Lumber lands in March of this year.
According to Cecilia Lanman, "Those (exemption) rules were meant to be used in an emergency situation where forest health or public safety was really in danger, and that's not the case with Headwaters. There is no disease infestation. PL under deposition and in public has stated that they will gain millions of dollars from the "salvage" operation. It's not to benefit forest health or anyone else but themselves. They're using the salvage exemption deliberately, as a loophole."
Standing trees, alive or not, provide habitat for wildlife and shade salmon streams. Fallen trees hold water, return nutrients to the soil and provide food and homes for animals and plants. The ancient forest ecosystems have developed over many thousands of years. Every piece, whether it's a downed log or a standing tree, fits in somewhere. If too many pieces are removed, the natural balance may be disrupted, and the ecosystem may stop functioning.
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