Seattle PI: "Greenwater timber case hears opposing views"
By Robert McClure
Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter
LACEY -- Details, details, details.
That's what will prove that the state and Weyerhaeuser Co. did their jobs properly when staking out a timber cut in a potentially precedent-setting case, a state lawyer argued as a hearing got underway yesterday.
"Accuracy is important in this case," Assistant Attorney General Cheryl Nielson, representing the state Department of Natural Resources, told the Forest Practices Appeals Board. "It's important as a regulator to be accurate."
The case pits DNR and Weyerhaeuser against the Washington Environmental Council and Washington Trout, which claim the state and the timber company failed to protect a sufficient amount of trees in a planned timber cut along the Greenwater River.
Details can't be ignored, said the environmentalists' attorney, Peter Goldman, but the case "will not rise and fall on details." Rather, he said, what is key is the vision of those who hammered out the highly touted Forests and Fish Act was passed by the Legislature in 1999.
The law, with federal authorities' blessing, gives the Washington timber industry a 50-year exemption from Endangered Species Act protections for salmon. In exchange, the timber industry agreed to be bound by new, stricter and more fish-friendly logging rules.
The appeal before the forest board, the first such appeal of a logging permit issued under the new rules, centers on how much streamside land should be designated as off-limits to timbering on the Greenwater River, which demarcates the Pierce-King county line east of Enumclaw.
Leaving trees intact alongside streams is important to salmon because, as they grow tall and fall into the river as envisioned in the Forests and Fish deal, they will form logjams that cause the river to spread out across the valley floor.
The ability of rivers to spread is crucial to salmon because it creates side pools and secondary channels the fish use to rest, eat and lay eggs. The environmentalists contend that Weyerhaeuser and DNR ignored instructions in a manual describing how to determine how much land to leave uncut alongside the river, where the trees keep the water shaded and cool and provide myriad other protections to the fish.
"We will prove they did not faithfully follow the board manual," Goldman said. "In fact, we will prove that they turned a blind eye to many of its commands."
He charged that the timber company and state "ignored telltale signs on the floodplain of where the river had been and could go."
Ann Forest Burns, one of the lawyers representing Weyerhaeuser, countered in her opening statement that, "Weyerhaeuser did what the rules and the manual say should be done."
"This case is not simple," Forest Burns said, "but it is straightforward."
Like Nielson, Forest Burns indicated that the five-day hearing will be an intense exercise in examination of technical material, and that details will count.
"This is going to be a long week for all of us," Forest Burns said.