Lawsuit challenges Bush logging increase effort

GRANTS PASS — Conservation groups are trying to stop the Bush administration from rushing to judgment with a last-ditch plan to boost logging in Oregon old growth forests before their time in office runs out.

A lawsuit filed today in U.S. District Court in Portland charges that the U.S. Department of Interior and the Oregon office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management violated federal laws by prohibiting administrative appeals of their Western Oregon Plan Revision.

That process would typically add more than a month to final approval, which is slated for late December.

"This is really aimed to undo this latest Bush administration attempt to cut the public out of the process in its haste to get their decisions out the door before its administration ends," said Kristen Boyles, an attorney for the public interest law firm Earthjustice in Seattle.

The effort to rush through approval for increased logging comes on the heels of other Bush administration efforts to rush through reductions in environmental protections, including a revision to regulations under the Endangered Species Act.

The BLM agreed to boost logging in Western Oregon as part of the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the timber industry. The deadline for meeting that agreement is the end of this year.

Known from its acronym as the Whopper, the BLM logging plan dismantles the Northwest Forest Plan adopted during the Clinton administration, which cut logging more than 80 percent to protect habitat for northern spotted owls and salmon.

Initiated to fulfill the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the timber industry, the Whopper comes after previous efforts to boost logging on national forests throughout the Northwest by removing habitat protections from the Northwest Forest Plan failed to pass court muster.

BLM spokesman Michael Campbell said there was ample time for the public to comment on the draft plan — five months, 170 public meetings and 29,000 comments from the public.

The decision to have the final environmental impact statement signed by Assistant Interior Secretary Stephen Allred, bypassing a decision by the Oregon BLM director that would be subject to administrative appeal, reflected the regional importance of the plan, Campbell said.

The same process had been followed by the Clinton administration with the Northwest Forest Plan, he added.

If given the chance to appeal the plan, Boyles said the conservation group would question BLM's decision not to consult with biologists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries over the potential harm to threatened and endangered salmon and the northern spotted owl, reductions in protections for salmon and steelhead habitat, and increased logging in old growth forests.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction stopping implementation of the BLM logging plan until there is a 30-day period for the public to file administrative appeals, and BLM can consider them.

— The Associated Press

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