1991: Judge Dwyer Decisions

On March 7, 1991, U.S. Federal District Court Judge William L. Dwyer ruled on the northern spotted owl lawsuit filed by the Seattle Audubon Society against the Forest Service. Two months later, on May 23, 1991, Dwyer released a related judgment directing the Forest Service to revise its standards to protect owls and their habitat.

In his March ruling, Dwyer granted a summary judgment in favor of the Audubon Society and stated that the Forest Service could not lawfully exclude timber sales in spotted owl habitat from the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) standards to "maintain viable populations." In its unsuccessful defense, the Forest Service had argued that because the spotted owl was listed under the Endangered Species Act, the agency no longer was obligated to conform to NFMA regulations and that recovery duties shifted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

Dwyer refuted this claim on several counts: first, the Fish and Wildlife Service had recently suffered a defeat of its own when a federal court ruled that the FWS had failed to abide by the Endangered Species Act and properly designate critical habitat for spotted owls. As Dwyer put it, "...the Forest Service is arguing, in effect, that its duties are discharged by complying with the directives of another agency [FWS] which itself is failing to meet its statutory duty."

Next, Judge Dwyer distinguished the duties prescribed in NFMA as distinct from those found in the ESA. According to Dwyer, NFMA's requirement to maintain viable populations is a duty that "requires planning for the entire biological community -- not for one species alone." By contrast, the ESA seeks to "save a listed species from extinction."

Finally, Judge Dwyer pointed to a number of Forest Service documents and actions that clearly illustrated that the agency "understood at all times that its duties under NFMA and EPA [sic] are concurrent." Despite the Forest Service's spotted owl claim that the ESA recovery superseded its obligations to the NFMA regulations, Dwyer pointed out that the agency had never before acted in such manner.

Dwyer's second decision, in May, followed up the ruling against the Forest Service by ordering the agency to "proceed diligently" to comply with NFMA regulations. Specifically, the judge ordered the Forest Service to revise its standards and guidelines "to ensure the northern spotted owl's viability" as required by the NFMA and submit such revisions to the court by March 5, 1992.


Northern Spotted Owl: Dwyer Decision

Spotted Owl: Record of Decision -- Final Environmental Impact Statement on Management for the Northern Spotted Owl in the National Forests (1992)