, July 16, 2009 (ENS) - Because the Bush administration failed to follow established administrative procedure before leaving office, its plan to intensify logging in western Oregon, known as the Western Oregon Plan Revisions, is legally indefensible and must be withdrawn, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said today.
In addition, Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Thomas Strickland said that the federal government will ask the District Court to vacate the Fish and Wildlife Service's 2008 revision of the critical habitat for the spotted owl, on which the Western Oregon Plan Revisions was in part based, because Interior's Inspector General determined that the decisionmaking process for the owl's recovery plan was potentially jeopardized by improper political influence.
"We have carefully reviewed the lawsuits filed against the WOPR and it is clear that 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," said Secretary Salazar.
With the withdrawal of the Western Oregon Plan Revisions, Bureau of Land Management forests in western Oregon will again be managed under the Northwest Forest Plan, which guided BLM timber sales from 1994 until December 2008.
Conservation groups credited President Barack Obama with the decision to restore protection for old growth forests and the species that depend upon them.
"President Obama has pulled the plug on the most cynical attack on Oregon's old-growth forests in decades,” said Doug Heiken with the conservation group Oregon Wild, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the Western Oregon Plan Revisions. "This is a victory for salmon, clean water and future Oregonians, and one that we now need to make permanent."
Logging Oregon's old growth forests (Photo courtesy OregonWild)
The forest industry will not be abandoned under this decision, Salazar said. To help protect jobs and timber infrastructure in the region, he directed the Bureau of Land Management, in coordination with the Fish and Wildlife Service, to identify ecologically sound timber sales under the Northwest Forest Plan that can get wood to the mills over the coming months.
Salazar noted that the legal problem with the Western Oregon Plan Revisions, which was finalized in late December 2008, arose from the previous administration's decision not to complete consultation on the plan's impacts on endangered species under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.
The Western Oregon Plan Revisions also partially relied on spotted owl protections that have been challenged in federal court and have been called into question by Interior's Inspector General, who determined that the integrity of the decision making process was potentially jeopardized as a result of the improper political influence of a former Bush administration official.
Strickland said today that the federal government will conduct a thorough review of the 2008 Spotted Owl Recovery Plan, which informed both the WOPR and the Fish and Wildlife Service's 2008 revision of critical habitat for the spotted owl.
"We will work with the scientific community to ensure that the spotted owl recovery plan lives up to its name, by accounting for scientific and technical reviews by prominent national scientific organizations, as well as forthcoming new data on the status of the spotted owl population," said Strickland. "A solid, peer-reviewed recovery plan will provide a road map for the spotted owl's return to health, enabling us to designate critical habitat areas and help develop a forest management plan that meaningfully contributes to its recovery."
If the court agrees to vacate the Service's 2008 critical habitat revision, designated critical habitat for the spotted owl would revert to the 6.9 million acres designated in 1992 until a new designation is finalized.
Secretary Salazar said that despite the actions of the previous administration, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, Governor Ted Kulongoski, Senator Jeff Merkley, Congressman Peter DeFazio, and others have helped build consensus around a vision for forestry on Oregon's BLM lands that moves the region beyond the battles of the past.
"There is broadening agreement that it is time to reevaluate the logging of old growth forests on BLM lands," said Secretary Salazar. "There is also agreement that logging should not occur in areas that would put water quality at risk, and we should fully consider advances in forestry and increased knowledge of species' needs over the last two decades."
"We are thankful for Secretary Salazar's leadership; these are important steps forward toward conserving northern spotted owls, marbled murrelets and other threatened species, and assuring the integrity of forest management in the Pacific Northwest," said Steve Holmer, director of public relations for American Bird Conservancy, a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Plan.
The Western Oregon Plan Revisions would have tripled old-growth logging on federal forests in Oregon managed by the Bureau of Land Management, reducing habitat for the threatened birds and impacting threatened wild-salmon stocks. Holmer estimated that 680 known spotted owl sites and 600 marbled murrelet sites would have been eliminated over the course of the plan's implementation.
While the Fish and Wildlife Service revises its Recovery Plan, the BLM will explore the development of local, collaborative planning processes in areas where timber harvest is particularly important and often controversial, such as in the Roseburg and Medford Districts. These collaborative efforts could serve as the starting point for the eventual development of new resource management plans for Western Oregon.
Acting Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Ned Farquhar emphasized that forest restoration and timber harvest are dual, compatible goals.
"We can support a strong and sustainable forest industry by focusing on thinning, forest restoration projects, and certain types of regeneration harvests," said Farquhar. "Done right, timber harvests can increase the structural complexity of stands, provide better habitat for spotted owls and other wildlife, reduce the risk of catastrophic fire, provide revenue for Western Oregon counties, and generate a reliable and robust supply of timber for local mills and biomass plants."
Interior agencies are taking several immediate and coordinated steps to help local communities, said Farquhar. They will engage local stakeholders, counties, elected officials, and the state of Oregon to put "appropriate projects" online as fast as possible.
"We will keep offering timber for sale, we will do all we can to maintain western Oregon's timber infrastructure, and we will work with the timber industry to extend existing contracts."
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.
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