SEATTLE (AP) -- The federal government has failed to show it can conduct timber sales and protect endangered fish at the same time, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was told Thursday in a hearing on a lawsuit that has halted two-dozen Oregon timber sales.
''If they win this case, they will be able to keep logging and degrading habitat one sale at a time, which in turn will hurt the fish. We just want a honest appraisal of the impact on the salmon habitat,'' Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund Managing Attorney Patti Goldman told Appeals Court judges.
The suit was filed by the defense fund last year on behalf of several environmental and fishing groups who contended endangered salmon and trout runs in Oregon would be harmed by logging.
In October, U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein ordered that 24 Oregon timber sales on National Forest and Bureau of Land Management land be halted until the government could show that fish would not be harmed and the sales complied with the Clinton administration's 1994 Northwest Forest Plan.
Defendants named in the suit and appealing the order are the National Marine Fisheries Service, Douglas Timber Operators Inc. and Northwest Forestry.
At issue are timber sales on Umpqua National Forest and Bureau of Land Management parcels in the Umpqua Basin around Roseburg, Ore. The basin, comprising those lands draining into the Umpqua, is home to endangered Umpqua cutthroat trout and threatened runs of coho salmon, both protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Under the act, the Forest Service and BLM were required to get a ''biological opinion'' from the National marine Fisheries Service before proceeding with any logging plans in the Umpqua River basin, where runs of cutthroat trout have dipped into single digits in some years.
Justice Department attorney Lisa M. Van Atta on Thursday defended Fisheries' approval of the timber sales and said the agency complied with the Northwest Forest Plan.
''The National Marine Fisheries Service has utilized the best available scientific information to implement the aquatic conservation strategy of the that plan in order to protect the listed species,'' she said. ''We are confident that the 9th circuit will agree with our analysis.''
Mark Rutzick, attorney for Douglas Timber, contended there would be little impact from logging in any case.
''The sales of timber are miles away from the nearest stream with salmon,'' he said.
The Northwest Forest Plan is aimed at balancing the demand for timber from public lands with the need to protect habitat for dwindling populations of fish and wildlife. The plan reduced logging in Northwest forests by about 80 percent from levels of the 1980s.
Plaintiffs in the suit, all of them Oregon-based, include Umpqua Watersheds Inc., Coast Range Association, Headwaters, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Association and the Institute for Fisheries Resources.
There was no indication on Thursday when the 9th Circuit would issue a ruling in the case.
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