A True Hero

This Page Added:  May 21, 2001

Doing justice to the environment

Sunday, May 20, 2001
By Margot Higgins

Lawyers aren't often regarded as heroes.  Doug Honnold, an attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, might change that attitude.

At 46, Honnold has been fighting to safeguard environmental laws for nearly 20 years.

While volunteering for Earth-
justice (formerly the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund) after he finished law school, Honnold was quickly "drawn to the idea that you could use the courts for public interest litigation that could prevent species from going extinct."

Three years later, in his first major case, he successfully halted clear-cutting on more than 2 million acres of national forest land in order to protect the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.

Due to an infestation of bark beetles in the Southeast, the U.S.  Forest Service had authorized clear-cutting infested trees in protected wilderness areas.

On behalf of Earthjustice, Honnold argued that nature should be allowed to take its course in the area.  Clear-cutting not only violated the Wilderness Act but also posed a fatal attack on the habitat-sensitive woodpeckers.

Doug Honnold is an attorney for Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.

At the time that Honnold was considering whether or not to get involved in the litigation, scientists predicted that the entire population of woodpeckers would be gone in a decade.

While the species is still listed as endangered, it is no longer on the brink of extinction.

"The power of the federal judges to enforce the law was brought home to me in that case," Honnold recalls.

Since then, Honnold's legal successes have reinforced the federal Endangered Species Act and Wilderness Act time and time again.   He has been at the center of legal battles to protect wolves and grizzly bears, whose endangered species status has been continually threatened by special interest groups.

Without Honnold's efforts, it is likely that the wolf would no longer roam Yellowstone National Park, and that the grizzly would be absent from the Selkirk Mountains of eastern Washington.

"The combination of doing something you are good at and having it make a difference in the world is a pretty powerful intoxicant," Honnold says.  "It's a sacred trust I have to represent people and conservation groups and endangered species.  Often times before I go into court, I take a minute to think about the awesome responsibility of being a representative of all of the species that roam the Northern Rockies because it is so much bigger than I am."

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