Tuesday, July 21, 2009

THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES WITH A RESCUE FROM THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION

Bald Mtn Blockade
photo by David Cross

YUP! The stuggle begun nearly 30 years ago by activists in Southern Oregon to save the Ancient Forests from the chainsaws have seen many swings. This is one of the good ones.

Limits on Logging Are Reinstated

By FELICITY BARRINGER
Published: July 16, 2009
NY Times

Go to original article.

In a move to protect endangered species, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Thursday that his department had reversed a Bush administration decision to double the amount of logging allowed in and around old-growth forests in western Oregon.

Veering between swipes at “indefensible” moves by the Bush administration and pledges to step up noncontroversial timber sales, Mr. Salazar said in a conference call with reporters that he was reinstating a compromise reached 15 years ago to limit logging with the goal of protecting watersheds, trout and salmon fisheries and endangered birds like the northern spotted owl.

“Today we are taking action to reform the Department of Interior and correct mistakes by correcting legal shortcuts the late administration made at the end of its tenure,” Mr. Salazar said.

The Bush policy, challenged in the courts by environmentalists, would have allowed timber companies to cut up to 502 million board-feet of lumber annually from 2.6 million acres of forests in the region, or about double the amount allowed under the Northwest Forest Plan, which was adopted in 1994 under President Bill Clinton.

In fighting the Bush plan, known as the Western Oregon Plan Revisions — or to its detractors, “Whopper” — environmentalists argued that the department’s Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the forests, had failed to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service about the logging’s impact on endangered and threatened species.

Environmentalists also took issue with a related decision that narrowed the extent of protected habitat for the spotted owl.

The Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to consult wildlife agencies about potential consequences of prospective actions.

Kristen Boyles, a lawyer with the environmental group Earthjustice, praised the reversal of the Bush policy on Thursday. “Whopper was not going to be the ticket for Oregon,” she said. “It would have been a sea of stumps, and not what we needed to see in working Oregon forests.”

She added, “This is a big step for the Obama administration to take.”

Still, Mr. Salazar’s decision to reverse that policy during a severe recession was fraught: at 12.1 percent, the unemployment rate in Oregon is among the highest in the country. In Douglas County, where the forestlands involved are located, the unemployment rate is 16.9 percent, in large part because of closings of sawmills and the loss of timber jobs.

Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, expressed frustration with the reversal. “Oregon is facing double-digit unemployment,” he said in a statement. Opening up logging under the Bush administration’s plan “would have given our timber-dependent communities a real boost.”

But Mr. Salazar said the Obama administration hopes “to move beyond the battles of the past” while reviewing possible updates to the 15-year-old Northwest Forest Plan.

In a question-and-answer post Thursday on its Web site, the Interior Department listed several timber sales it said it was preparing in Oregon that would create at least 200 jobs.

Tom Strickland, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, said in the conference call that such timber sales, now on a fast track, would most likely focus on smaller-diameter trees.

But Ann Forest Burns, a spokeswoman for the American Forest Resource Council, a timber-industry group, questioned that approach. “Just thinning the second growth will not restore the health of these forests and will not be what these communities need,” Ms. Burns said.

Some economists, however, argue that the timber economy in Oregon suffers less from logging restrictions than from the housing downturn and new low-cost competition from logging companies overseas.

Despite the logging limits, spotted owl numbers have continued to decline since the Northwest Forest Plan was put in place in 1994. Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist for the nonprofit National Center for Conservation Science and Policy and an expert on the species, said competition from its more aggressive cousin, the barred owl, had hampered the spotted owl’s recovery.

“We need to continue to protect the old forest to let these two owl species settle out their differences,” Dr. DellaSala said.

MANY THANKS TO ALL THE ACTIVISTS, SCIENTISTS, LAWYERS AND SUPPORTERS WHO HAVE BEEN EVER-VIGILANT IN DEFENDING THE REMANANTS OF THESE GREAT FOREST AND THE COMMUNITY OF LIFE THAT DEPENDS ON THEM.

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