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Protecting the environment by providing legal services for forest cases of statewide significance

Protecting the environment by providing legal services for forest cases of statewide significance.

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Washington Forest Law Center

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WFLC is a non-profit, public interest law firm dedicated to providing legal services to organizations that monitor and protect the Pacific Northwest's private and state-owned forest lands. Below are just a few of the actions we’ve recently taken to ensure the protection of our natural resources.

Feds:  Oregon logging rules don't protect fish, water

January 30, 2015 -

Today, in response to a lawsuit that WFLC filed on behalf of Northwest Environmental Advocates, NOAA Fisheries Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency filed their decision that Oregon’s plan for preventing pollution runoff from logging activities is insufficient. The state was first notified of problems with its plan back in 1998. While some improvements have been made, the feds say the program is still too weak. Changes to logging rules that could lead to improvements include increasing the no-logging buffer zones along streams, preparing inventories of old logging roads and areas prone to landslides, and keeping pesticides out of rivers and streams by increasing no-spray buffer zones.

Read EPA and NOAA Fisheries decision here.

Group challenges Plum Creek Timber Company's "green" label

December 18, 2014 - The Center for Sustainable Economy today filed a formal complaint with the Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) for breaking its own rules by continuing to provide its seal of approval to Plum Creek Timberland, LP in Oregon despite a “pattern of willful non-compliance” with the law and clearcuts that have left extensive resource damage on the ground. “A sustainability certification should be reserved for practices that meet the highest standard of excellence, not those that warrant jail time,” said Dr. John Talberth, the Center’s President and Senior Economist. “Plum Creek and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative are doing a grave disservice to consumers and investors alike who want to make responsible buying and investment choices but are instead told that illegal logging is somehow good for the Earth.” Read the complaint.


WFLC Win Protects 12,000 Acres of Mature Forest Marbled Murrelet Habitat

July 11, 2013 – Today, King County Superior Court Judge Bruce E. Heller ruled that the Washington Department of Natural Resources violated the State Environmental Policy Act by allowing logging of over 12,000 acres of mature forest in Southwest Washington. The forest had been reserved for possible inclusion in a yet-to-be developed long-term conservation strategy for threatened marbled murrelets. In May 2012, DNR amended its habitat conservation plan to allow access to the reserved habitat, even though the completion of the conservation strategy was years in the future. DNR also determined that the amendment, even though it allowed logging of 12,000 acres of forest recognized as murrelet habitat, did not require an environmental impact statement under the State Environmental Policy Act.

WFLC filed suit against DNR on behalf of Seattle Audubon Society and Olympic Forest Coalition. The American Forest Resources Council, a logging industry organization, intervened on behalf of DNR. After extensive briefing and oral argument, Judge Heller found DNR’s actions to be unlawful because DNR allowed environmental harm while relying on the speculative benefits of the yet-to-be developed conservation strategy to offset that harm. As a result of the ruling, the amendment to DNR’s HCP is invalid and logging under it may not proceed.

Read Judge Heller's opinion.

Read the press release.

Learn more about this case.


Washington Forest Law Center Files Second Complaint Against Sustainable Forestry Initiative in Federal Trade Commission

May 29, 2013 -- On behalf of ForestEthics and Greenpeace, the Washington Forest Law Center today filed an extensive Complaint against the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) in the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  The Complaint alleges that SFI violates multiple provisions of the FTC’s revised “Green Guides,” which the FTC released in October 2012.  This is the second time that WFLC has filed a complaint against SFI in the FTC; after WFLC filed the first complaint in September 2009, the FTC chose not to take direct enforcement action against SFI but, instead, revised its Green Guides to state more clearly when and how a so-called “certification” entity can market itself as an “independent, non-profit public charity.”

Read the Complaint. The Complaint attachments can be found here. Learn more here.


U.S. Supreme Court Reverses Ninth Circuit Ruling that Logging Roads Require NPDES Permits

March 20, 2013 – Today, in our case Northwest Environmental Defense Center v. Brown, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit and held that NPDES permits are not required for stormwater discharges from pipes, ditches and channels along logging roads. The Court ruled for NEDC on three of the four issues presented, but ultimately deferred to EPA’s claim that its regulations did not designate logging or logging roads as an “industrial activity” subject to the NPDES permit requirement. Justice Scalia wrote a great dissent focused on the majority’s failure to give effect to EPA’s express designation of “logging” as an industrial activity.

The Supreme Court’s decision is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Logging roads continue to pollute streams and adversely impact fish habitat and water quality throughout the Pacific Northwest, so WFLC and its partners and allies will continue advocating for a regulatory program that effectively limits the harmful discharges. Please stay tuned for details about next steps.

You can read the Supreme Court’s decision here.

News media coverage:

Supreme Court decision won't end battle over logging road pollution, activists vow,” The Oregonian

Group keeps up challenge to logging roads,” The Seattle Times

Justices Back Loggers in Water Runoff Case,” The New York Times

See videos of polluted stormwater runoff.

Learn more about NEDC v. Brown here or read the Supreme Court briefing.


WFLC Wins Appeal and Will Go to Trial to Protect Salmon Habitat

On March 22, 2013, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Erik D. Price upheld a decision by the Pollution Control Hearings Board to issue an injunction halting illegal logging near the Quinault River until a full trial is held on the merits.  The Quinault Indian Nation had secured the injunction by successfully arguing that the logging would be in the channel migration zone of the Quinault River.  Channel migration zones are the areas where rivers are likely to move in the future and protection of these areas preserves trees that are critical for developing salmon habitat.  The Nation seeks to protect and restore the habitat of the blueback sockeye salmon, a unique fish integral to the Nation’s economy, culture, and religious beliefs.  Learn more about the importance of the blueback salmon here (see discussion of Quinault Lake).

WFLC represented the Quinault Indian Nation on appeal and will represent the Nation in a trial before the Hearings Board, likely to be held late this summer.  The case is an important step in the fight to preserve channel migration zones and also to highlight the lack of enforcement of the Forest Practices Act and regulations by the Department of Natural Resources.  DNR appears to have failed to delineate the channel migration zone and approved the logging permit regardless, a practice which dilutes the effectiveness of forestry regulation in Washington.  Recent DNR compliance monitoring reports indicate that these failures are standard practice, with the rate of compliance only about 60%. Lack of enforcement of forestry laws and regulations presents an enormous threat to the future of forests and salmon in Washington.


Groups Sue State for Proposing to Clear-cut Endangered Marbled Murrelet Habitat in Southwest Washington

May 29, 2012  -- Today, on behalf of Seattle Audubon Society and Olympic Forest Coalition, WFLC filed a lawsuit against the State of Washington and the elected Commissioner of Public Lands, Peter Goldmark. The suit, filed in King County Superior Court, alleges the State’s and Lands Commissioner’s May 1, 2012 - adopted proposal to clear-cut approximately 12,000 acres of older-growth potential marbled murrelet habitat in SW Washington violated the State Environmental Policy Act. The lawsuit asks the Court to require DNR to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) for its proposal to conduct this logging that carefully considers long and short-term environmental impacts and alternatives.

Read the Complaint.


Weyerhaeuser landslide Dec. 2007

Photo by David Perry

SFI Complaint Filed Against Weyerhaeuser for Irresponsible Logging on Steep and Unstable Slopes

On October 1, 2009, on behalf of Sierra Club, WFLC filed a complaint against Weyerhaeuser challenging the company’s “green” certified forestry conducted in Southwest Washington.  Weyerhaeuser’s forests are certified under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certification system.

The complaint alleges that Weyerhaeuser violated several of SFI’s environmental standards when it conducted logging and roadbuilding on extremely steep and unstable slopes.  During a storm in December 2007, many of these slopes produced massive landslides which delivered large quantities of wood and sediment to rivers and streams, exacerbating flooding that damaged private property and public resources.

The complaint asks SFI to suspend or revoke Weyerhaeuser’s certification and to prescribe conditions ensuring that Weyerhaeuser reforms its practices.

Learn more.

Read the Sierra Club’s complaint.

Read Architecture Week’s October 23 article, “High Tension Over Big Timber.”


WFLC Files Complaints Against SFI Forest Certification System

Sept. 10, 2009 -- On behalf of ForestEthics, WFLC filed complaints against the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) forest certification system with the Federal Trade Commission and the Internal Revenue Service.  The FTC complaint alleges that SFI engages in deceptive and misleading national advertising; the IRS complaint reports SFI for potentially inappropriately using a tax-exempt “public charity” for funding, operating, and marketing its private forest certification label.  The filing of these complaints was covered by The New York Times on Saturday, September 12.  Learn more.

Read the FTC complaint.

Read the IRS complaint.

Why Have We Taken On SFI?  Read WFLC director Peter Goldman’s statement.