A federal court halted a logging plan in Northern California that would have harmed old-growth forests and federally protected fish and wildlife species.
The decision by the U.S. District Court Northern District of California stems from a lawsuit filed by three conservation groups against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and
the National Marine Fisheries Service for approving a 50-year plan by Fruit Growers Supply Co. to increase logging of occupied spotted owl habitat and for granting “take
permits” for endangered species on 150,000 acres of forest in Siskiyou County, Calif.
The court’s decision means that Fruit Growers Supply will not be given a blank check to
harm struggling salmon populations, destroy endangered species habitat, and decimate old-growth forests.
The federal agencies originally approved a “habitat conservation plan” for Fruit Growers Supply that allowed the company to log thousands of acres during the next 10 years in
exchange for dubious promises of future habitat improvements. The plan allowed the company to “take” (harm or kill) endangered species including up to 83 northern spotted
owls, nearly half the owls believed to live in the area. The logging would also have impacted federally protected salmon, steelhead, and the fisher, a species proposed for
listing under the Endangered Species Act.
“This is a big victory for Northern California’s old-growth forests and its endangered wildlife,” said George Sexton, Conversation Director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands
Center. “The court made it clear that this type of destructive logging is not only bad for our environment, it’s illegal.”
The forestland targeted by the plan is nestled in the Klamath and Scott River watersheds, located between Weed, Calif., and the Oregon border. The area is home to mixed conifer forests and sensitive watersheds that have been experiencing an uptick in wildfire events. Converting fire-resilient ancient forests into dense young fiber plantations would have increased fire hazard in these stands.
“Fruit Growers’ 50-year logging plan targeted endangered species and the forests that sustain them in the first 10 years in exchange for 40 years of empty promises to do good after the habitat and the species are gone,” said Sexton. “The plan fails rare species and would have been a big step backwards for healthy forests and rivers in Northern California.”
Under the Endangered Species Act, a habitat conservation plan can allow for the harming or killing of endangered species, but only if the plan limits that harm as much as possible and includes appropriate mitigation measures. Instead, the Fruit Growers Supply logging plan called for aggressive forest liquidation in the first decade of implementation and allowed for the company to take credit for owl habitat that may develop on federal lands.
In addition, both the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board criticized the plan saying it would have allowed further degradation of water quality in an area already out of compliance with the Clean Water Act.
“The math on this plan simply doesn’t add up. Old-growth forests that take hundreds of years to grow can’t be replaced in 50 years,” said Kimberly Baker, Executive Director of the Klamath Forest Alliance. “These irreplaceable Northern California forests and the wildlife that lives in them need to be preserved, not sold off for vague promises of improvements that may never happen.”
“Northern California’s rivers, salmon and rare wildlife are worth protecting. Industrial logging and habitat loss keep too many species on the brink of extinction,” said Baker. “It is imperative that responsible federal agencies step up for species recovery.
“The Endangered Species Act is designed to be a safety net for our most vulnerable wildlife,” said Justin Augustine with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Today’s decision reinforces that principle and will prevent Fruit Growers Supply Co. from getting a free pass to destroy the forests that spotted owls, salmon, and many other species rely upon to survive.”
The conservation organizations—Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Klamath Forest Alliance, and the Center for Biological Diversity—were represented in the lawsuit by the Washington Forest Law Center and the Western Environmental Law Center.
George Sexton, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, (541) 778-8120
Kimberly Baker, Klamath Forest Alliance, (707) 834-8826
Wyatt Golding, Washington Forest Law Center, (860) 480-9069