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Oregon Wolf Delisting Training

2019372475by Legal Director Nick Cady
You may have heard the terrible news out of northeast Oregon last week that two wolves, the alpha male and female of the newly formed Sled Springs pack, were found dead next to each other.  It is highly likely that these animals were poached; poisoned given the unusual circumstances surrounding their demise, and the absence of bullet wounds.
This pair had just recently given birth to a litter of wolf pups, and now these five-month old pups must survive the winter on their own — a tall order.  The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is reaching out for information concerning the deaths of these wolves, but we are not hopeful.
Recently in Washington, a man admitted to running down an endangered wolf with his truck, and then shooting the animal.  After acknowledging poaching an endangered species, the man was released with a hundred dollar fine and a six month's probation.  (See more on this story here.) Last fall, the alpha female of the Teeanaway pack near Cle Elem was poached.
odfw imageThis tragic sequence of events is occurring in the midst of efforts by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to remove state endangered species protections for the species. Aside from all the practical and legal implications, we are worried this delisting effort will send a message to those out there hostile to wolves that it is open season. 
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission is hosting a hearing on October 9th in Florence, Oregon concerning its proposal to remove wolves from the state endangered species list. Your testimony is welcomed.
Cascadia Wildlands has partnered with Oregon Wild, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity to host a training in order to give folks interested in testifying a chance to practice their testimony and help them to refine their message.  We will be meeting at the Cascadia Wildlands office in Eugene, 1247 Willamette Street, October 8, 2015 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. 
Food is being generously donated by Falling Sky and Oakshire has donated beverages for the event.  Don't be shy, come meet people working on these issues, and help stand up for wolves in Oregon!
(Washington wolf pup photo by Conservation Northwest)

Goose Timber Sale is Back!

View of Mt. Hood from Lookout Mountain

Two years ago the community of McKenzie Bridge was surprised to find pending timber harvest signs on their property boundaries with the Willamette National Forest.  The community started askng questions and realized that the Forest Service had planned a massive timber harvest that entirely surrounded the town.  The sale involved mature forest clearcutting, extensive riverside logging along streams that directly feed the McKenzie River, logging and road building within the Lookout Mountain potential wilderness.
The community organized against the sale, gathered over 5,000 signatures of residents opposed to the sale, and Cascadia Wildlands went to court to protect this highly prized area.  We prevailed in District Court, and the Forest Service was ordered to conduct a more thorough analysis of the projects effects to the environment and involve the local community. 
See more on this victory here.
We were excited about the victory, but remained cautious because the Forest Service had already entered contracts for the sale of the timber to industrial timber companies.  We knew that these companies would not let the Forest Service off the hook.  After a timber sale is invalidated by a court, the Forest Service has legal mechanisms to escape these contracts, but all too often we witness the Forest Service go through a paper exercise to attempt to satisfy the Court, and a regurgitation of the same archaic and illegal timber sale.
This is exactly was has happened with the Goose timber sale.
We are now again faced with this terrible and massive timber sale, but the good news is that the Forest Service is accepting objections to the project from the public into October.  The Forest Service needs to be reminded  that OUR forests are not beholden to the interests of the private industrial timber complex, especially those forests that shelter the critically important McKenzie River. 
If you would like to help Cascadia through this process, please send us your stories, examples of the importance of this area to you personally.  We will use these examples from our membership to demonstrate to the Forest Service that this area is cherished by many, and urge them to abandon the project.  Just put GOOSE in the subject line of you email.  Thanks so much, we will keep you updated on the project.

Marching in Francis’ Army

by Josh Laughlin, Executive Director
I remember first meeting Francis Eatherington the day she rolled into an Earth First! road blockade high up on the Umpqua National Forest on her motorcycle. She was wearing a leather biking jacket, had a stack of timber sale maps under her arm, a compass dangling from her neck and a ruffled brow, shaking her finger in the air, furious that the Forest Service was intent on punching roads and logging units into the adjacent Mt. Bailey roadless area.
“I want to be in her army,” I thought.
FrancisBy my count, I’ve been in Francis’ army for 17 years, working side-by-side to defend the ecological integrity of the renowned Umpqua basin. From its headwaters near Crater Lake, through the storied old-growth forests of the Cascades and Coast Range all the way down to the Oregon Dunes, the Umpqua is a world-class landscape and has never had a better advocate.
A perpetual thorn in the industry’s and agency’s side, Francis has never been afraid to speak her conscience, calling out BS when a timber sale was masquerading as restoration or would have compromised the wild nature of this region. She knows as well as anyone how to build a legal record based on thorough field checking and document review and comment, and our environmental attorneys like that about her.
Francis has spent the past six months mentoring Robin Meacher, Cascadia Wildlands’ Umpqua Regional Director, sharing the tools and institutional knowledge that has made her such an effective advocate for the region. This summer, Francis transitioned off the staff of Cascadia Wildlands to become our Umpqua Regional Advisor.
She hasn’t skipped a beat in her new capacity, and it’s become clear you can’t take the Francis out of Francis. Today, she is sitting on the steps of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission headquarters in Washington, DC fasting as part of a mass protest against any further federal permitting of fossil fuel development in the US, including the 230-mile Pacific Connector Pipeline and associated Jordan Cove liquified natural gas (LNG) export terminal proposed for southwest Oregon. She will soon return home to the heart of the Umpqua and will undoubtedly continue fighting for the species, wildlands and waters that make her watershed so special.
Cascadia Wildlands is forever grateful for Francis’ passion, commitment and friendship, and continues to march in her army.
Thank you for believing in us and supporting the tireless work of Francis over the years.
Above photo: Francis Eatherington in her native habitat

Six Groups File for Emergency Listing for Alexander Archipelago Wolf

by Leila Kheiry, KRBD-Ketchikan
September 14, 2015
Six conservation groups on Monday petitioned for an emergency Endangered Species Act listing for the Alexander Archipelago wolf.
In a letter addressed to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Daniel Ashe and Regional Director Geoffrey Haskett, the groups cite the recent drop in the estimated wolf population on Prince of Wales Island, and the decision by state and federal officials to move forward with a wolf hunting and trapping season there.
Gabriel Scott is a spokesman for Cascadia Wildlands, one of the petitioners. He said the conservation groups hadAA wolf mom at den__ADF&G photo from Person & Larson (2013) asked that the annual wolf hunt be suspended for a year, but that request was denied.
The federal subsistence wolf hunting season started on Sept. 1, and the subsistence trapping season starts Nov. 15. The state hunting and trapping season opens Dec. 1. The quota for this year, state and federal, is nine wolves.
Scott said he’s disappointed that the request to hold off on this year’s hunt was rejected.
“Our view is just that it’s reckless to manage a wolf hunt the same way for a declining, very low population as it is for a healthy population,” he said. “The way they operate might be fine for a critter like deer that’s not in danger of extinction, but when you’ve got maybe a few dozen wolves left on the island, you can’t treat it the same way.”
A state-run population study, announced in June, indicated that 89 wolves were on Prince of Wales Island and surrounding islands. That’s a steep drop from the previous year’s estimate of 221. That study has prompted increased calls from conservation groups to protect the remaining wolves in Game Management Unit 2.
Scott said he can’t predict how long it will take government agencies to respond to the request for an emergency listing for POW wolves. He notes that the federal government has been reviewing a non-emergency request to list the wolves for a number of years. A decision on that request is anticipated by the end of this year.
Scott said depending on the results of the various requests regarding Prince of Wales Island wolves, a lawsuit is possible.
“Litigation is certainly an option,” he said. “We’d have to evaluate it at the time, but it’s definitely in the cards.”
The six conservation groups that signed on to Monday’s letter asking for an emergency listing are Alaska Wildlife Alliance, Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, Greenpeace and The Boat Company.
(Alexander Archipelago wolf and den by AK Dept of Fish and Game)

Press Release: Josh Laughlin Hired as Executive Director of Cascadia Wildlands

For immediate release
September 10, 2015
Contact: Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands Executive Director, 541.434.1463
Eugene, OR — The Cascadia Wildlands Board of Directors is excited to announce that Josh Laughlin has been hired as Executive Director of Eugene-based Cascadia Wildlands in a permanent capacity. Josh has been leading the organization as Interim Executive Director since January 2015.
Josh started his career at Cascadia Wildlands in 2001 and has been a tireless advocate for the wild places and wildlife of the region ever since. He has worn a number of hats with the organization over the years, most recently as Campaign Director, where he oversaw gray wolf recovery in the region, a halt of old-growth clearcutting on the Elliott State Forest, passage of legislation to reform harmful suction dredge mining in wild salmon waterways, and much more.
Josh Laughlin
“The Board of Directors is so pleased that Josh has embraced the role of permanent Executive Director, which will provide the organization with a strong and stable foundation for the years to come,” says Cascadia Wildlands Board President Sarah Peters. “His nearly 15 years with the organization gives him unique insight into what it takes to successfully run an organization of this caliber and will greatly assist in Cascadia Wildlands’ efforts to safeguard the species, waters and wildlands of the region.”
Josh hails from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and moved to Eugene in 1993 to attend the University of Oregon where he received degrees in Journalism and Environmental Studies. While in college, he spent considerable time advocating for protection of the remaining old-growth forests in the region. His forest advocacy on campus played a key role in the genesis of Cascadia Wildlands. He currently lives in Eugene with his wife and two children.
Cascadia Wildlands was officially founded in 1998 by students, forest workers, scientists, concerned community members, and business owners in response to the rampant clearcutting of old-growth forests on public lands in Western Oregon. Today, the organization has five staff, eight board members and a wide array of volunteers and interns that propel its conservation campaigns, including restoring wolves and other imperiled species in the Pacific West, designating Devil’s Staircase and the Wild Rogue as Wilderness, halting reckless logging on public lands, stopping the Pacific Connector gas pipeline in southwest Oregon, and much more. The organization is sustained by individual donors, local businesses, grant making foundations and fundraising events. More information about Cascadia Wildlands can be found on its website, www.CascWild.org.
Photo of Josh Laughlin at the proposed Devil's Staircase Wilderness in the Oregon Coast Range. Photo by Cascadia Wildlands.

Last Chance to Comment on BLM’s Western Oregon Plan Revision

white castle treesThe Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages over 2.6 million acres of public forests in western Oregon and has recently undertaken efforts to revise all of its forest plans. These plans aim to dramatically increase timber harvests by 60% and ressurect the archaic practices of clearcutting older forests.
The draft of the proposed plan is currently undergoing a comment period where members of the public can weigh in on the proposed changes. The BLM is required to consider all comments submitted by the public. Cascadia Wildlands has worked up extensive comments on the proposed ramp-up as part of a broad conservation coalition effort, but it is also critical that the BLM hear from general members of the public on how these changes will affect them, or their opinions on what the BLM is doing with these lands that belong to each and every one of us.
The comment period ends this Friday, August 21, 2015, and it is critical that the BLM hear from YOU. That you oppose more roads and clearcuts and that you value our public lands for the clean water, native species, and amazing recreation oppurtunities.

Click here to personalize your comments that can be submitted by email.Every voice counts. Thank you!

There is a lot at stake for you and I with the looming forest plan revisions, including:
  • Water and Salmon. While droughts in neighboring regions also draw attention to water conservation. The impact that clearcutting has on the incredible water-storage capacity of these old rainforests cannot be overstated. When you clearcut, you lose the “sponge effect.” In an environment with vegetative cover, the soil acts like a gigantic sponge, storing a vast quantity of water that is used by plants and trees or released gently into streams and rivers. Without this extensive nutrient exchange network and it’s crucial water storage capacity, the affects on salmon and human communities who rely on abundant clean water can be devastating. Water is the lifeblood of our region, and we will vigorously defend it.
  • Livability. Oregon’s great outdoors play a major part in the reason why many of us live here. From the boundless streams and rivers to the tracts of roadless wilderness in the region, it is easy to understand why Oregon was named the top place in the country people moved to last year. Join us in the fight for the cornerstone of what makes our region so special.
  • Climate Change. The old rainforest in western Oregon play a pivotal role in regulating our climate. The stately forests in our region store more carbon per acre than any other forested ecosystem in the world, and for that we must do all we can to ensure they remain standing so they can continue to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. We are facing this challenge with the fierce determination it calls for.
  • Iconic Wildlife. From the secretive marbled murrelet and majestic northern spotted owl to the elusive Pacific fisher, these older-forest-dependent species need increased protections for their survival. Wildlife needs a voice, and we will continue our role as a champion for wildlife.
After submitting your comments, please consider making a donation to help support this critical work.

Land Board Moves Ahead on Elliott Sale

Capitol Bureau by Hillary Borrud
August 13, 2015
SALEM — The Oregon State Land Board voted unanimously Thursday to move ahead with a plan to sell the Elliott State Forest to a buyer who will agree to conservation and job creation mandates.
The goal is to sever the connection between the forest and a state trust fund that provides money for K-12 public education. Currently, the state has a mandate to raise revenue from timber sales from the forest for schools. However, the listing of endangered species in the forest and subsequent environmental lawsuits forced the state to scale back timber harvests in recent years, to the point where the state lost money on the operation.
Under the plan the State Land Board approved Thursday, the state could select a buyer by December 2016 and close on the sale by DecemberElliott rainforest (photo by Cascadia Wildlands) 2017.
Department of State Lands director Mary Abrams during the State Land Board meeting Thursday in Salem that the new plan has the potential to resolve in 26 months an issue “that has frustrated the board, as trustees, for almost two decades.” The state could extend the deadline by one more year if necessary to finalize financing for a deal, Abrams said.
The land board is composed of the governor, secretary of state and state treasurer.
The state lost approximately $5 million on the Elliott State Forest over the last two years, and state officials expect the forest will continue to operate with an annual deficit of $500,000 to $1 million indefinitely under the status quo.
Environmental groups and individuals said during testimony Thursday they want the Elliott State Forest to remain in public ownership, whether that means the federal government or a state agency. The state faces the challenge of finding a buyer who can pay fair market value for the 84,000 acres in the Elliott forest, which is required because of the connection to the state school fund.
“We’re actually going to be asking for three appraisals and then a review appraisal to ensure we come up with a number that is truly defensible,” Abrams said of the property value.
Jim Green, deputy executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association, told the State Land Board members they were “actually in violation of your fiduciary responsibility” because the forest is currently losing money from the school fund. “You have a role as the trustees of the common school fund to ensure you get the highest value for the common school fund going forward.”
The protocol the land board approved on Thursday will require any buyer of the forest to purchase the entire property and allow public access for hiking, fishing, hunting and other recreation on at least 50 percent of the land. The buyer will also have to protect older timber stands in 25 percent of the forestland from harvest, and ensure at least 40 direct and indirect jobs are created annually over the next decade from logging, reforestation, recreation or other activities.
Finally, the buyer must maintain 120-foot stream buffers in all areas with salmon, steelhead or bull trout and areas upstream.
Potential buyers now have 14 months to formulate proposals, although they must notify the state of their interest by Dec. 15. Environmental groups said during testimony Thursday they hope to raise money from a combination of private and public sources to purchase the forest, then possibly transfer it to a public owner. A bill that would have established a state system to protect trust land such as the Elliott State Forest, House Bill 3474, died in committee earlier this year but some people said they hope lawmakers to revive the proposal in 2016.
Seth Barnes, director of forest policy for the Oregon Forest Industries Council, said the land board should consider that the timber industry remains an important part of the economy in the southwest region of the state.
“I was just encouraging them to keep in mind the timber revenue jobs that come off these properties are incredibly important to Oregon,” Barnes said after the meeting. Barnes said the plan approved Thursday could reduce annual timber harvests on the Elliott State Forest from 40 million board feet down to 20 million, and each 1 million board feet of timber harvested directly creates approximately 11 jobs.
Josh Laughlin, interim executive director of Eugene-based Cascadia Wildlands, said the group wants the state to require that any buyer allow public access to the entire forestland.
“We support you working with land trust organizations and other organizations to make the common school fund whole,” Laughlin said, but he added that Oregonians want to keep the forest in public ownership. Specifically, Laughlin said the state should transfer the Elliott State Forest to the Siuslaw National Forest and pay for the deal with a combination of federal, state and private money.
Christy Splitt, coordinator for the Oregon Conservation Network, said state officials should provide “bold leadership” to coordinate efforts to decouple the Elliott State Forest from the school fund in a way that preserves the forest for the public. Conservationists are “reaching out to people with capital, in the Silicon Valley” and across the country in an effort to line up money to purchase the Elliott State Forest. Splitt said the state’s time line might be too short for a trust land proposal to succeed, if lawmakers reboot the idea.
Abrams said the state plan allows time for a trust land plan, if one moves forward, and she said it is now time “to stop debating and get to work.”
“There has to be a little pressure put on the people who are interested in the future of the Elliott,” Abrams said.
(School kids in the Elliott State Forest, photo by Cascadia Wildlands)

Oregon Land Board May Seek Buyer for Elliott State Forest

The Associated Press by Jeff Barnard
August 7, 2015
GRANTS PASS — The Oregon State Land Board is scheduled to vote on a plan to find an unusual buyer for the Elliott State Forest: one that will pay a fair market price, conserve older trees, protect threatened fish and wildlife, produce logs for local mills, and leave it open to the public.
The board, made up of the governor, the secretary of state, and the state treasurer, meets Thursday in Salem to consider the 315-page proposal.
The 140-square-mile forest in the Coast Range north of Coos Bay was created in 1930 and 90 percent of it generates money for schools. It once produced $8 million a year but lately has been running $1 million a year in the red. Attempts to ramp up logging to produce $13 million annually for schools failed. Lawsuits continually blocked timber sales on grounds they failed to maintain habitat for federally protected coho salmon and IMG_4527the marbled murrelet, a seabird that nests in big old trees.
Department of State lands spokeswoman Julie Curtis acknowledges that finding such a buyer is a tall order, but a series of hearings identified all those elements as priorities for Oregon residents. The board rejected two other alternatives, to find a new manager for the forest, and to develop a new plan for protecting threatened salmon and wildlife that would produce more timber.
Curtis said the department has been meeting with representatives of local governments and agencies, timber companies and conservation groups, but so far all are keeping their intentions to themselves. If no buyers emerge, the department goes back to the board in December 2016. Two options would be to retain the forest while accepting losses of $1 million a year, or selling it without the conservation and public access restrictions.
Josh Laughlin of the conservation group Cascadia Wildlands said it would favor a public land trust buying the forest and selling it back to the federal government, so it could be returned to the Siuslaw National Forest. That would retain public access and conservation protections, particularly on the half of the forest that has never been logged.
Bob Ragon, director of Douglas Timber Operators, said he could not imagine a private timber company being interested in buying the forest, because of all the conditions being imposed.
"I think (the board has) struggled so hard trying to find a happy ground that would meet everybody's interest, that the simplest solution would be to sell it to the highest bidder, and put restrictions on it like no log exports, which would keep the highest return for the School Fund," he said.
(Rally to save the Elliott State Forest. Photo by Cascadia Wildlands.)

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Northwest Prairie Bird Species

For Immediate Release, August 5, 2015
Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, (541) 434-1463, nick@cascwild.org
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495, ngreenwald@biologicaldiversity.org
Lawsuit Launched to Gain Stronger Protections for Northwest Bird
Gaping Loophole in Federal Protection Exempts Farming, Spraying, Airport Activities Harmful to Streaked Horned Larks in Oregon, Washington
Photo courtesy of US Fish and WildlifePORTLAND, Ore.— Four conservation groups filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today seeking to strengthen protections for the streaked horned lark, which has lost 98 percent its grassland habitat. The lawsuit will challenge an October 2013 decision by the agency to protect the lark as “threatened” rather than the more protective “endangered” status and to exempt all agriculture, chemical spraying, and airport activities from the prohibitions of the Endangered Species Act regardless of whether they harm the lark.  
“Protecting the streaked horned lark under the Endangered Species Act means nothing if all of its threats are exempted from protection,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The lark exemption creates a loophole big enough for a combine or a 747. It seriously threatens the survival of these handsome, horned songbirds.”
Formerly a common nesting species in prairies west of the Cascade Mountains from southern British Columbia through Washington and Oregon, the lark was so abundant around Puget Sound that it was considered a nuisance by turn-of-the-century golfers. The widespread destruction of its grassland habitats, however, caused cataclysmic population declines. It has been extirpated from the San Juan Islands, northern Puget Sound, Oregon’s Rogue Valley and Canada. In Washington it currently breeds at only 10 sites, including Grays Harbor, Fort Lewis, the Olympia airport and islands in the Lower Columbia River. In Oregon it breeds in the lower Columbia River and Willamette Valley, including at the Portland, Salem, Corvallis, McMinnville and Eugene airports.
“The streaked horned lark is already gone from many of the places it used to call home and is continuing to decline,” said Andrew Hawley. “If the lark is going to have any chance at survival, it needs the full protections of the Endangered Species Act.”
The streaked horned lark is a small, ground-dwelling songbird with conspicuous feather tufts, or “horns,” on its head. Its back is heavily streaked with black, contrasting sharply with its ruddy nape and yellow underparts. They are part of a growing list of species that are imperiled by loss of prairies in the Willamette Valley and Puget Trough to urban and agricultural sprawl, including the Fender's blue butterfly, Taylor's checkerspot butterfly, Willamette daisy, Kincaid's lupine and others.  
“Many people don't even know that prairies were once a common feature in both the Willamette Valley and Puget Sound,” said Nick Cady, Legal Director with Cascadia Wildlands. “If we save the lark, we are protecting an important part of the Northwest's natural heritage.”
The groups on the lawsuit are the Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, and Oregon Wild.  
Find a copy of the Notice of Intent here.



Appeals Court Affirms Roadless Protections on Tongass

E&E by Phil Taylor
Thursday, July 30, 2015
By the thinnest of margins, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday ruled to reinstate roadless protections on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, marking a major victory for conservationists and tourism companies fighting to protect the temperate rainforest from new logging and a defeat for the state's declining timber industry.
The decision, backed by six of the panel's 11 judges, found that the George W. Bush administration failed to provide a "reasoned" explanation for exempting the lands from President Clinton's sweeping national roadless rule.
Clinton's 2001 rule banned most road building and logging across 58 million acres of the nation's forests, including roughly 9 million acres, or just over half, of the Tongass.Tongass NF (David Beebe)
Conservationists said the ruling would protect some of the last remaining stands of old-growth temperate rainforest in the world while allowing limited economic development including hydropower, transmission lines, mining and tourism projects.
"The Tongass' roadless rainforests are a national treasure, and the last, best intact wildlands in our bioregion," said Gabriel Scott, Alaska legal director for Cascadia Wildlands, one of a dozen environmental litigants in the case.
The others were the Organized Village of Kake, the Boat Co., the Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Tongass Conservation Society, Greenpeace, the Wrangell Resource Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club.
But Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) argued the ruling would restrict access across forestlands the size of New Jersey. She plans to advance S. 631, a bill to permanently exempt the Tongass from the Clinton plan.
While southeast Alaska once boasted two massive pulp mills, it now contains just one significant mill, Viking Lumber on Prince of Wales Island. Timber harvests have fallen by 70 percent, causing jobs in the industry to fall from around 2,100 in 2000 to an average of about 100 last winter, Murkowski said, citing state data.
"The roadless rule may make sense in the Lower 48, where there are existing roads and utility lines on national forest lands, but in Alaska, where little, if any, infrastructure exists, it is truly counterproductive," she said.
Yesterday's ruling reverses a 2-1 decision in March 2014 by a smaller 9th Circuit panel that found the Bush administration's temporary rule in 2003 exempting the Tongass from roadless protections was "entirely rational" (Greenwire, March 27, 2014).
That ruling, which was cheered by former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R) and the state's congressional delegation, had reversed a 2011 decision by a district court judge in favor of the Clinton rule.
But the full 9th Circuit found the three-member panel had gotten it wrong.
Namely, it said the Bush administration, in exempting the Tongass, had failed to reconcile two conflicting statements.
When the Clinton administration finalized its roadless rule in 2001, it included the Tongass on the grounds that current forest management in Alaska posed a high risk to the "extraordinary ecological values of the Tongass." The Bush administration, under legal pressure from Alaska, reversed course in 2003, finding "roadless values are plentiful on the Tongass and are well protected by the Tongass Forest Plan. The minor risk of the loss of such values is outweighed by the more certain socioeconomic costs of applying the roadless rule's prohibitions."
The Bush administration found that the roadless rule could eventually cost southeast Alaska 900 jobs.
But "the 2003 [decision] does not explain why an action that it found posed a prohibitive risk to the Tongass environment only two years before now poses merely a ‘minor’ one,” the 9th Circuit ruled in an opinion penned by Judge Andrew Hurwitz, a President Obama appointee. “The absence of a reasoned explanation for disregarding previous factual findings violates the [Administrative Procedure Act]."
As a result, the court added, the Clinton rule "remains in effect and applies to the Tongass."
While the court acknowledged that elections "have policy consequences," the Forest Service "may not simply discard prior factual findings
without a reasoned explanation."
But five of the panel's judges disagreed, writing in a dissent that "the policies of the new president will occasionally clash with, and supplant, those of the previous president."
"The majority has selected what it believes to be the better policy, and substituted its judgment for that of the agency, which was simply following the political judgments of the new administration," wrote Judge Milan Smith, a Bush appointee.
Alaska's attorneys in the case have argued that most of the Tongass roadless areas were already closed to logging in 2001, and that the exemption would only affect roughly 300,000 acres.
They argued that the Forest Service's change of course in 2003 was "well reasoned" and rested on the conclusion that Congress had found the Tongass was sufficiently protected by previous laws, namely the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980.
The agency "reweighed the balance of social and economic impacts" and decided the exemption would "best implement the spirit and letter of the law," the state said.
Judge Alex Kozinski, a Reagan administration appointee, joined Smith's dissent but wrote his own separate dissent noting the "absurdity" of the court still reviewing at the end of the Obama administration a policy issued at the beginning of the Bush administration.
"The glacial pace of administrative litigation shifts authority from the political branches to the judiciary and invites the type of judicial policymaking that Judge Smith points out," Kozinski wrote. "This is just one of the ways we as a nation have become less a democracy and more an oligarchy governed by a cadre of black-robed mandarins."
(photo by David Beebe of the Tongass National Forest)
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