Task force sees obstacles to more logging

A federal task force said Thursday that major obstacles — from deep mistrust to policies demanding protection of threatened species — still stand in the way of increasing logging in Western Oregon.

The timber industry responded that the Obama administration was letting down rural timber towns with struggling economies, while the environmental camp and Oregon's congressional delegation also expressed disappointment in the report.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar created the logging task force a year ago after dissolving the Bush administration's plan to boost logging on U.S. Bureau of Land Management timberlands. Salazar said the Western Oregon Plan Revision, or WOPR, was indefensible under the Endangered Species Act.

The task force found that policies for protecting salmon and spotted owl habitat created by the Northwest Forest Plan in 1994 still stand in the way of intensive logging, a high level of mistrust remains between the timber industry and conservation groups, and federal planning documents used to lay out timber sales are so broad they won't stand up to Endangered Species Act demands.

The report said non-controversial thinning projects that have accounted for most of the logging in recent years are running out, and it called for a time-out on logging in spotted owl habitat while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finishes revising protections for the bird.

"We had hoped the report would provide clear direction for bringing sustainable management back to the 2.1 million acres of Oregon's O&C county timberlands to support our communities and local governments," Tom Partin, president of the timber industry group American Forest Resource Council, said in a statement. "Instead, the report calls for several more layers of bureaucracy." O&C lands are a checkerboard of BLM timberlands once owned by the Oregon & California Railroad.

Joseph Vaile, campaign director for the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, had a different reaction.

"Setting up a panel to find a way around the Northwest Forest Plan in order to log old trees and streamside forests will only lead to more conflict and controversy," he said. "The BLM should take a page out of the Forest Service play book as they regularly meet their timber targets by focusing on small-diameter thinning.

"Working with the same environmental regulations, on the same general landscape, the BLM never meets its targets," he concluded. "Its relentless push for unsustainable old-growth logging will always clash with regulation and public will."

The report was described as "too little, too late" by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and U.S. Reps. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, and Kurt Schrader, D-Salem. They sent a letter to Salazar asking him to meet with them to discuss their recommendations on how to move forward with a long-term forest plan.

"It's extremely disappointing that the administration's task force doesn't provide a clear path forward for creating jobs in Western Oregon's forests and mill towns," Walden said in a statement.

The report suggested creation of several new committees to look for solutions to lingering problems. Among them would be a team to review the science used to create WOPR, as well as the needs of species that depend on old-growth forests. It also recommended a new steering committee to create a common vision for management of Northwest forests while meeting the demands of environmental laws.

It urged BLM and the Forest Service to draw up plans for three years' worth of timber sales to bridge the gap until new BLM management plans can be developed for the O&C lands.

For more information, check out the report at http:tinyurl.com/WOTFreport.

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