Spotted Owl

FILE — In this May 8, 2003 file photo, a northern spotted owl sits on a tree in the Deschutes National Forest near Camp Sherman, Ore.

Federal Judge William L. Dwyer Upholds the Federal Spotted Owl Management Plan in a Key National Environmental Policy Act Court Decision

On Dec. 21, 1994, Federal District Court Judge William L. Dwyer (1929-2002) upholds the federal spotted owl management plan in a key National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) court decision. The case has important repercussions for logging and environmental protection in the Northwest, and it also creates important precedents in interpretation of NEPA, the nation’s environmental protection statute. The decision holds that the federal government’s “ecosystem analysis” approach sufficiently complies with the intent of NEPA. It also, for the first time, emphasizes that compliance is dependent on careful monitoring in the future.

A Forest Management Plan

For decades, the spotted owl controversy had been front-page news in Washington and in the Northwest. The spotted owl couldn’t survive without old-growth forest, yet that habitat was diminishing with the cutting of every giant tree. Early attempts to resolve the interests of the logging industry and the birds — and the environmental organizations taking on the birds’ cause — had failed.

An earlier Environmental Impact Statement, required under NEPA, had been ruled inadequate in 1992. In 1993, the federal government ordered the Interior Department and the Agriculture Department to create a long-term Forest Management Plan in 1993 with the goal of keeping both the spotted owl and the region’s logging industry alive. A new Environmental Impact Statement was prepared and released in February 1994.

The plan did not please either side. Both the environmental groups (led by the Seattle Audubon Society) and the logging industry (led by the Northwest Forest Resource Council) filed appeals challenging the plan and its new Environmental Impact Statement.

Upholding the Ecosystem Approach

Judge Dwyer rejected both appeals and upheld the Forest Management Plan. Several key passages in his ruling had important implications for future interpretation of NEPA and its Environmental Impact Statement requirements. The Northwest Forest Resource Council had based its challenge on the fact that the plan took an “ecosystem” approach to the problem, in a marked change from earlier practice. In other words, it analyzed the problem for “the entire biological community, not for one species alone” (Seattle Audubon v. Lyons).

Dwyer, in his decision, said, “Given the current condition of the forests, there is no way the agencies could comply with the environmental laws without planning on an ecosystem basis” (Seattle Audubon v. Lyons).

It was the first time a court had “passed judgment on the ... ecosystem approach” and it actually went beyond merely upholding the concept (Cohen and Miller, p. 191). Dwyer applauded the fact that the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service were finally cooperating on a plan instead of going their separate ways. He said that the “courts have repeatedly urged” federal agencies to turn from “disparate strategies” to a “cooperative approach” (Seattle Audubon v. Lyons).

In addition, the court decision established another principle of NEPA compliance: the importance of continued monitoring to ensure that the plan works the way it’s intended. The key sentence in the court decision reads, “Careful monitoring will be needed to assure that the plan, as implemented, maintains owl viability.”

Whaleback Freighter Charles W. Wetmore Arrives in Everett

On Dec. 21, 1891, the so-called “whaleback” freighter Charles W. Wetmore arrives to great fanfare in the budding town of Everett on Port Gardner Bay in Snohomish County. The design of the steel-hulled vessel is a major maritime innovation, and her arrival marks the intense industrial boom overtaking the Everett Peninsula. Her captain and designer, Alexander McDougall, backed by East Coast money, will set up The Pacific Steel Barge Company with plans to employ 100 men.

A Unique, Whale-like Vessel

In 1872, McDougall, a Scottish-born Great Lakes captain, designed the new-type freighter hull made of steel to carry maximum loads while resisting water and wind. It had a flat bottom and a rounded deck for shedding water. The Port Gardner News reported: “The bow rounded up like the rounded end of a cigar ... . Above water there was neither bulwark nor plank sheer, nor deck in the ordinary meaning of the word deck. The sides simply arched up over and met amidships. A section across the ship above the water line was simply the half of an ellipse. When she was loaded the top of the arch was perhaps four feet out of water. A wave in a gale would simply go rolling across her, scarce impeded by her pressure” (Port Gardner News, Oct. 2, 1891). 

Observers thought its appearance when fully laden was that of a whale, thus the name “whaleback.” Detractors called it a pig and refused to use McDougall’s novel design. In response he started his own shipyard, the American Steel Barge Co., at West Superior, Wisconsin. His first vessel was the 101, thought to have been named after a comment of a friend who gave it 10-1 odds it wouldn’t work. McDougall went on to build 17 whaleback ships and 25 barges for the ore trade.

The Wetmore

The Charles W. Wetmore was the first whaleback to operate outside the Great Lakes. She had dimensions of 264 by 38 feet with a 16.4-foot draft and a tonnage of 3,000. She ran on a 700-horsepower steam engine and had four jury masts on which four trysails and a jib could be set for emergencies. A small cabin and a pilot house near the bow sat on the upper works. The pilot house had a turret with windows for observing conditions in any direction. She was named for one of McDougall’s financial backers.

In June 1891, she sailed out of Duluth, down the Saint Lawrence rapids (she was too big for the locks) and headed for London. Her arrival there was a sensation. After returning to New York, she loaded up for the Pacific Northwest where investors made plans for a West Coast operation of the American Steel Company in Everett.

“The now celebrated whaleback steamship Charles W. Wetmore is the first whaleback that ever crossed the Atlantic,” a reporter raved in the Port Gardner News. It “has successfully made a trip from Duluth, Minn., in the heart of the American continent, across the Atlantic Ocean to Liverpool and thence back to New York ... So successful has she proved from the beginning that the whaleback is now being loaded at New York for a voyage around Cape Horn to Puget Sound, in the Pacific state of Washington” (Port Gardner News, October 2, 1891).

For the next several weeks, newspapers closely followed her voyage: “The whaleback Wetmore sailed from Willmington, Delaware, two weeks ago Tuesday. It will arrive at Everett sixty days from that date, if the conditions of the voyage are not unfavorable” (Port Gardner News, Oct. 9, 1891).

“The whaleback Charles W. Wetmore has rounded the Horn and will be in Everett in 30 days” (Port Gardner News, Nov. 13, 1891).

“Captain Alexander McDougall, inventor of the barge arrived in Everett, Wednesday. He is a reporter’s delight” (Port Gardner News, Dec. 4, 1891).

On December 6, the Wetmore lost her rudder off the Oregon Coast. After repairs at Astoria, she continued on and arrived in Everett on December 21. She brought with her the machinery “for the factories of Everett” including iron for the construction of another whaleback and a supply of machinery for the nail factory and paper mill. Delighted citizens went down to board her.

The Wetmore was the pride of Everett, but the ship was short lived. On Sept. 8, 1892, she grounded in a foggy Coos Bay and was lost. She had been carrying coal out of Tacoma for San Francisco.

City of Everett — a Northwest Whaleback

Two years later the Everett company launched the first and only West Coast whaleback, the City of Everett. This ship was the first American steamship to go through the Suez Canal and to circumnavigate the world. She was in use into 1923.

The only reminder of the Wetmore is the street named for her at the top of the hill in downtown Everett. Her significance in maritime history has been largely forgotten.

 

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