Ancient Forests, Spotted Owls and Modern Public Land Law

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Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review

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B.C. Env't Aff. L. Rev.


This article is a revised version of a 1991 speech on the battle then looming over ancient forests and timber harvests in the Pacific Northwest. It discusses the biology and ecology of old-growth forests and their relationship to the northern spotted owl. It also explains the legal framework governing federal timber harvests, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Finally, the article examines several then-pending and legal challenges to continued industrial timber harvesting, including Seattle Audubon Society v. Robertson, Northern Spotted Owl v. Hodel, and Marble Mountain Audubon Society v. Rice. The article concludes by drawing a number of institutional lessons evident from the environmentalist campaign to preserve ancient the Pacific Northwest's forests.

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