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In Plan to Speed Logging in Northwest, Sensitive Species Seen Losing Out

May 24, 2003|From Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. — Under proposed changes to the Northwest Forest Plan announced Friday, federal forest managers would no longer have to survey for dozens of sensitive plant and animal species before logging.

The changes, prompted by a timber industry lawsuit, would increase logging on federal land in parts of the Northwest by about 60% a year and save the government about $18 million a year, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management officials said.

The Bush administration agreed to discontinue the "survey and manage" requirements for 304 sensitive species imposed by the Northwest Forest Plan to settle a lawsuit brought by two Oregon-based timber groups.

The federal government says the changes will allow timber companies to log nearly the full 1.1 billion board feet promised under the plan while protecting the species under other programs. Since 1994, logging levels have averaged 60% of the plan's quota.

Environmental groups, however, say that the settlement is part of a deliberate attempt by the timber industry to undermine protections for old-growth forests.

"They're going to stop looking for those species, and it's going to be OK to clear cut and log places we should be protecting," said Doug Heiken of the Oregon Natural Resources Council. "Thousands of acres will now be threatened as a result of this policy change."

The revisions are expected to be approved this year following a public comment period that is scheduled to end Aug. 22.

Sensitive plant and animal species are protected under the Northwest Forest Plan with the goal of keeping them off the endangered species list.

Currently, federal officials are required to complete extensive surveys for these species before any logging can take place on forests in western Oregon and Washington and northwestern California.

Under the new plan, 166 of those species would instead receive protection under national administrative programs that have been in place since the 1980s, said Dick Prather, team leader for the Forest Service group that created the amended plan.

Federal officials would continue to survey for 47 species in areas where they already are known to exist, he said.

The changes will save the government about $18 million a year in the short-term and about $8 million a year in the long-term, Prather said, and increase logging from about 480 million board feet a year to 760 million board feet a year.

The Northwest Forest Plan originally called for logging 805 million board feet a year, Prather said.

"Survey and manage was never intended to prevent the harvest of old-growth. It was intended to protect the habitat of those species, and we're still doing that," he said.

Watchdog groups, however, said they weren't convinced the species would be adequately protected.

"It's not really clear that there is any enforcement action that the agency is required to take under these other programs," said Bob Dale, field director for the Eugene-based Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. "Where's the enforcement action?"

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