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for people who care about the West

Bush administration stretches a lawsuit to get the cut out

  In the Pacific Northwest, trees probably will start falling faster than they have in nearly a decade. In August, the Bush administration committed to more than double the amount of logging in public forests west of the Cascades — including massive old-growth trees.

The commitment came in a legal settlement with 18 Oregon counties and an industry group, requiring the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to make “their best efforts every year” to sell 1.1 billion board-feet of federal timber annually, starting in 2005. That’s the amount the Clinton administration estimated the agencies would sell when it released the sweeping Northwest Forest Plan in 1994 (HCN, 10/14/02: Forest protection under the knife). But environmental lawsuits and other hang-ups have kept the actual harvest far short of that; last year, the federal agencies offered 428 million board-feet.

“We finally have a real commitment of what the agencies need to do, which is huge,” says Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, an industry group in Portland, Ore.

The original lawsuit was concerned only with 2.4 million acres of federal forest intermixed with state lands. But the Bush administration’s final settlement reaches beyond that to boost logging on more than 6 million acres — all the lands in Oregon, Washington and Northern California covered by the Northwest Forest Plan.

“They’re using a decade-old case that had virtually no merit or life left in it to give away the forest,” says Patti Goldman, a lawyer with Earthjustice.