Interior Withdraws Legally Flawed Plan for Oregon Forests, Presses For Sustainable Timber Harvests

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Because the previous 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Revisions (WOPR) – is legally indefensible and must be withdrawn, Secretary
of the Interior Ken Salazar said today.

Moreover, 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 WOPR 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.  “Now, at a
time when western Oregon communities are already struggling, we face the
fallout of the previous Administration’s skirting of the law and efforts to
taint scientific outcomes.  It is important that we act swiftly to restore
certainty to timber harvests on BLM lands and to protect vital timber
infrastructure in these tough economic times.”

To help protect jobs and timber infrastructure in the region, Salazar
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. With the withdrawal of the WOPR, Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
forests in western Oregon will again be managed under the Northwest Forest
Plan, which guided BLM timber sales from 1994 until December 2008.

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 WOPR 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.

Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Thomas 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 late actions of the previous
Administration,  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.”

While the FWS 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.

“Local and tribal communities, stakeholders, and the dedicated men and
women of the BLM and the FWS in the Pacific Northwest have worked very hard
on these issues for many years,” said Secretary Salazar.  “Their expertise
and experience will be essential as we work to craft a timber program that
can ensure a sustainable economic and environmental future for the Pacific
Northwest.”

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.”

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