A federal appeals court decided Tuesday that mud washing off logging roads is pollution and ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to write regulations to reduce the amount that reaches salmon streams.
A conservation group that filed the lawsuit said if the ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stands, logging roads on federal, state and private lands across the West will eventually have to be upgraded to meet Clean Water Act standards.
"Those roads historically have gotten a free pass," said Mark Riskedahl of the Northwest Environmental Defense Center in Portland. "This is not rocket science. There are some very low-cost, low-maintenance steps folks can take to remedy this problem."
The center had sued the Oregon Department of Forestry over sediment washing off two logging roads on the Tillamook State Forest in northwestern Oregon.
A three-judge panel of the court found that the sediment exceeded Clean Water Act limits, and should be regulated by EPA as a point source of industrial pollution. The judges rejected arguments from the state that the sediment falls under exemptions granted by Congress and less stringent regulations for things like agricultural runoff.
Chris Winter, an attorney for the CRAG Law Center in Portland, which represented the center, said the EPA has long recognized sediment as one of the leading sources of water pollution in the country, and that it is harmful to fish, but has chosen not to address the issue of logging roads.
In 2001, the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) filed a similar lawsuit: EPIC v. Pacific Lumber and U.S. EPA.