Reviving a lawsuit over the northern spotted owl, a federal appeals court cleared the way Friday for a new timber industry challenge to Northwest logging reductions President Clinton ordered three years ago.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed an earlier ruling by District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson here in 1996 that had said challenges to Clinton's Northwest forest plan must go before a federal judge in Seattle that already had reviewed related cases.Chief Circuit Judge Harry Edwards ordered the case back to Jackson's court, saying Jackson was not compelled to follow the decision of the court in Seattle, which is in another circuit.
"We find that the doctrine cannot be applied here to deprive appellants of their right to be heard on the merits of their claims," Edwards wrote in the opinion Friday.
The Northwest Forest Resources Council based in Portland, Ore., filed the lawsuit in 1994 after Clinton implemented his Northwest forest plan, dropping logging levels on national forests in Oregon, Washington and northern California to about one-fourth the annual averages of the 1980s.
Clinton's plan was intended to protect old-growth forests inhabited by the owl, which was declared a threatened species in 1990.
Since the filing of the lawsuit, the federal court in Seattle under Judge William Dwyer has disposed of all other pending challenges and upheld Clinton's forest plan.
The industry alleged the administration had violated several procedural requirements that resulted in government officials being denied information critical to the formation of the logging strategy, which made millions of acres off-limits to timber harvests.
The suit said that if the information would have been available, Clinton would have settled on a plan that allowed for much more logging.
Chris West, vice president of the Northwest Forestry Association which joined in the suit, cheered the ruling Friday.
"It means we have a viable way to look at the president's forest plan and see if it does really follow the laws," West said.