Interior Department tosses controversial logging plan

Bush-era plan favored timber industry, hurt wildlife


Another controversial Bush-era policy has just been reversed by the Obama administration. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced July 16 that the administration would withdraw a plan to intensify logging in western Oregon, delighting environmentalists but dismaying struggling timber towns.

The Western Oregon Plan Revisions (WOPR, or, as its critics dubbed it, “The Whopper”) would have tripled logging on 2.8 million acres in western Oregon, effectively doubling the area of old-growth forest available for timber harvest. Finalized in the waning months of the previous administration, the plan failed to consider impacts on endangered species, Salazar said in a press release, and was not legally defensible. “As a result of the previous administration’s late actions, the plan cannot stand up in court and, if defended, could lead to years of fruitless litigation and inaction,” Salazar said.'

The plan had proven divisive from the start. Conservation groups quickly filed lawsuits questioning the administration’s failure to fulfill requirements of the Endangered Species Act. Harvest of old-growth forests threatens the survival of imperiled species such as steelhead, salmon, marbled murrelets and northern spotted owls.

Environmentalists also criticized the 2008 spotted owl recovery plan, part of the groundwork for the Western Oregon Plan Revisions, for failing to use scientific data when designating critical habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will now conduct a thorough scientific review of the spotted owl plan, says Thomas Strickland, assistant secretary of the Interior for fish, wildlife and parks.

The withdrawal of the western Oregon plan means that the forests will again be managed under the Clinton administration’s original Northwest Forest Plan, which guided timber sales from 1994 until 2008. More than 24.5 million acres in Washington, Oregon and Northern California are covered under that plan, which aimed to protect spotted owl habitat and ensure sustainable levels of timber sales.

Secretary Salazar acknowledged the need to act swiftly to protect timber jobs in the region. The WOPR would have resulted in at least 1,200 new timber-related jobs and prevented the loss of another 3,800, according to the Bureau of Land Management. Salazar urged the BLM and the Fish and Wildlife Service to identify ecologically sound logging sites, and cited specific plans to expedite timber sales.

Conservation groups say that the plan’s withdrawal signals a positive change in federal policy. “The administration is putting science back in the driver’s seat,” says Michael Francis, national forest program director with The Wilderness Society. “Sometimes we like the science, and sometimes we don’t, but if it’s good science we have to acknowledge that.”

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