California Supreme Court Sides with Environmentalists in Decades-Long Forest Dispute

California Supreme Court Sides with Environmentalists in Decades-Long Forest Dispute

July 17, 2008

For more information, please contact: Scott Greacen, EPIC, 707-822-7711

SAN FRANCISCO – After decades of legal wrangling, environmentalists emerged victorious in a California Supreme Court case that promises improved protection for California’s endangered species and industrial forestlands.

Today’s ruling in Environmental Protection Information Center & Sierra Club v. Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, is the culmination of a challenge to the permits issued as part of the Headwaters Deal in 1999 and centered on endangered species protection and sustainable forestry mandates. It holds state agencies responsible for upholding these protections.

“This is a stunning victory for the environment and for holding government agencies accountable. When agencies won’t do their job and follow the law, the courts will not defer to them,” said Scott Greacen of EPIC. “The California Supreme Court clearly saw that CDF and the Department of Fish and Game weren’t following the law.”

California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno, who wrote the court’s unanimous opinion, ruled that Pacific Lumber failed to turn in a “sustained yield plan” for its Humboldt-area holdings, as required by the Headwaters Agreement. The court also chastised the agency for approving a document that did not actually exist.

The court also ruled that the Department of Fish and Game broke the law by assuring Pacific Lumber that it would not need to do additional conservation if new species become endangered in the future.

The California Department of Fish and Game shouldn’t have agreed to the “No Surprises” provisions, which limited the timber company’s obligation to mitigate certain impacts on endangered species, including the effects of natural disasters. Instead, the court ruled, those who hold endangered species permits must work to “fully” protect these animals and plants, especially if their behavior enhances the effects of natural disasters on animal or plant life.

The state must approve adequate sustained yield plans to ensure companies have enough timber resources to protect wildlife and maintain the local economy, the court ruled.

EPIC and Sierra Club California first filed this challenge to Pacific Lumber Company’s unsustainable plans to endanger Humboldt’s economy and wildlife in March of 1999. In the meantime, Pacific Lumber has gone bankrupt, and its woodland holdings are being taken over by Mendocino Redwood Company, which promised to practice more sustainable harvest practices.

The impact of this decision will outlast Pacific Lumber itself to create a significant legacy for California’s forests and endangered species,” predicted Paul Mason, Sierra Club California’s Deputy Director. “It requires timber companies and state agencies to protect both the working families and the endangered animals that depend on these woods for their survival.”