Move to Increase Logging on Oregon Land
By FELICITY BARRINGER
Published: December 31, 2008
The Interior Department announced a controversial decision late Wednesday to double the rate of logging on 2.6 million acres of federally owned forests in southwestern Oregon. In doing so, it brushed aside the objections of the governor and two federal agencies charged with guarding the quality of the area’s water and the health of the fish that depend on it.
The decision, which was posted on the Web sites of the Bureau of Land Management’s Oregon offices, has revived the battle lines formed during the fight over the extensive logging of old-growth timber in the 1980s, a practice blamed for the rapid decline in populations of the northern spotted owl.
The economies of the timber industry and Oregon’s rural southwestern counties took a major hit when logging on federal lands in the area was cut back by 80 percent under the terms of the Northwest Forest Plan, which took effect about 15 years ago. Representatives of both groups applauded Wednesday’s decision, saying it would revive local mills and timber companies.
But environmental groups condemned the decision and gave notice that they would challenge the plan in federal court. The group Earthjustice called the decision a “massive giveaway at the expense of salmon spawning streams, healthy old-growth forests and habitat for rare birds such as the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet.”
Michael Campbell, a spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management’s office in Portland, Ore., said Wednesday that the plan was a blueprint and that there would be additional chance for environmental review and public comment as various tracts of land are prepared for sale.
“We’re not saying anywhere in the plan that you need to log X piece of land at X location,” he said. “That’s going to come later.”
In a Dec. 8 letter that faulted the plan on several grounds, Gov. Theodore R. Kulongoski of Oregon, a Democrat, said it could interfere with any future wilderness designations in the areas around the Rogue River. Because of environmental and public concerns, he wrote, harvest increases should be carefully phased in.
Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, said any increase in logging “will happen gradually with this plan,” thanks in part to the requirements that local Bureau of Land Management offices must follow to prepare lands for sale to loggers.