SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A federal appeals court Thursday blocked the harvest of thousands of acres of old-growth forest in Oregon, ruling the federal government did not adequately address the plight of protected salmon.
The sweeping decision by a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also may halt proposed logging of hundreds of thousands of acres throughout California, Oregon and Washington state - all idled pending the ruling.
``This is a victory for salmon,'' said Patti Goldman of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which sued the government on behalf of environmental groups.
The appellate panel said the National Marine Fisheries Service failed to adequately consider the harm logging would have on endangered salmon runs on federal land in the Umpqua Basin around Roseburg, Ore.
The basin is home to Umpqua cutthroat trout and threatened runs of coho salmon that are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The lawsuit contended endangered salmon runs in Oregon would be harmed by logging.
In October, U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein of Seattle halted timber sales halted until the government could show that fish would not be harmed and the sales complied with the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan and the Endangered Species Act.
The court said the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management failed to get sufficient ``biological opinions'' from the fisheries service on the cumulative effects of proposed logging.
The appeals panel found the government provided no scientific evidence to support its conclusion that natural vegetation regrowth would adequately offset degradation from logging. It said the government relied on the premise that the area would be restored in a decade.
``This generous time frame ignores the life cycle and migration cycle'' of fish, the court said. ``In 10 years, a badly degraded habitat will likely result in the total extinction of the subspecies that formerly returned to a particular creek for spawning.''
Mark Rutzick, an attorney for Douglas Timber Operators, said the court's ruling may create environmental standards ``that are impossible to meet.'' He said the timber companies may appeal.
Federal officials said they plan to allow logging in the area, but must first figure out how to satisfy the courts.
``We can't move ahead with these timber sales yet,'' said Rex Holloway, a National Forest Service spokesman in Seattle.