Across the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a spider web of logging roads crisscrosses the landscape from the steep hillsides of headwater areas to the lower elevation valleys. Each fall, iconic runs of salmon return to these watersheds, instinctively drawn to the rising waters fed by the beginning of the rainy season. When the rain starts, salmon begin moving upstream towards their ancient spawning grounds, while at the same time the sediment begins running off of this extensive road network into those same areas.
This conflict between the pollution of the logging industry and our dwindling runs of native salmon will soon be presented to the justices of the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. Passed 40 years ago, the Clean Water Act has helped to restore countless rivers across the country by requiring permits for industrial pollution. But here in the Pacific Northwest, the timber industry has evaded the reach of the Clean Water Act for decades. For the past several years, the Crag Law Center has been working with its partners – the Northwest Environmental Defense Center and the Washington Forest Law Center – for improved regulation of logging road pollution to protect habitat for native fish.
A federal appeals court ruled in 2011 that the timber industry would have to get permits for the sediment, oil and grease and other pollution discharged from industrial logging roads. The timber industry warned that the sky was falling – in addition to the rain – and insisted that hay bales and other vague best management practices are enough to protect water supplies and salmon habitat. They filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and earlier this year the Court accepted the case for review.
Later this fall, on the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the Supreme Court will hear argument in the case. The stakes are high – for native fish, for commercial fishermen and for our communities across the Pacific Northwest.
We here at the Crag Law Center would like to thank our partners for all of their hard work on this important issue. Paul Kampmeier at the Washington Forest Law Center argued the case in the front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and has doggedly committed himself to improving aquatic habitat for native fish. Mark Riskedahl at the Northwest Environmental Defense Center has spent countless hours in the field, documenting illegal discharges of pollution and the impacts on our rivers and streams. And, a new member of our team, Jeff Fisher of the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic will be arguing this case to the Supreme Court.
To learn more, please take a look at some the recent press stories, and please stay tuned!