Congress ends legal battle over logging roads

2014-02-06 Ashley Bach

With the passage of a new Farm Bill this week, Congress ended a legal battle over logging roads that started all the way back in 2006.

The issue started eight years ago, when an environmental group filed a lawsuit against an Oregon timber company, claiming the company's logging roads were "point sources" of stormwater pollution and therefore subject to federal permits and potential lawsuits on every culvert and stream passage. The environmental group lost in district court, but in 2011, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the group's favor, leaving forest owners around the country vulnerable to innumerable lawsuits.

Since then, the environmental lobby has lost on every conceivable level. In 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it would not classify logging roads as "point sources" of pollution, despite the Ninth Circuit ruling, and one year later, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Ninth Circuit decision.

One legal point remained. The Supreme Court had ruled that logging roads should continue to be regulated by state-derived Best Management Practices (BMPs), as they had been for decades, but the question of whether logging roads are "point sources" was left unanswered. 

Enter Congress, the last branch of the federal government to weigh in against the environmental lobby. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, introduced a bill to clarify that logging roads are not point sources, and after months of debate, the language from that legislation was added to the Farm Bill, which was approved by the U.S. House last week, by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday and is set to be signed by President Obama on Friday.

An 8-year legal battle is now over, and timber leaders and other supporters are rightfully celebrating the news.

Mark Doumit, Executive Director of the Washington Forest Protection Association:

“We thank Congress, and especially the members of our state delegation who supported the forest roads legislation, for their approval of a Farm Bill addressing the threat of citizen lawsuits over forest roads. Under this legislation the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can and should continue to use state developed Best Management Practices for logging roads under the Clean Water Act, as it has successfully done for nearly four decades."

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler:

“In a resource-rich region like Southwest Washington, maintaining working forests is critical to providing good family-wage jobs for thousands of moms and dads. By keeping in place four decades of science-based approach to our forests, we take a giant step forward to make sure these jobs are protected from burdensome red tape and costly litigation.  I am thankful for the hard work of Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas and my colleagues in the Senate to include this permanent, bipartisan job protecting initiative in the Farm Bill.” 

Tom Westergreen, fourth generation tree farmer and forester and President of the Washington Farm Forestry Association

“For over a hundred years our family has lived on the land and made the necessary expenditures to keep our forests sustainable, while continuing to improve the protection of water resources and enhancement of wildlife habitat. It is a relief to see that farm bill conferees have made the sensible decision to allow forest landowners, like us, to manage our private forests, which are already under very protective laws and regulations, without having additional regulatory hurdles or risk of frivolous lawsuits that would provide no additional public resource protection, but can discourage us from staying on the land.”