Conservation groups file legal challenge against timber sale

Less than 24 hours after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar met with representatives from the timber industry and conservation groups to resolve a decades-old battle over federal timberlands in Western Oregon, conservationists filed a legal challenge to a U.S. Bureau of Land Management timber sale.

But those filing the challenge in U.S. District Court in Medford to the Spencer Creek timber sale just west of Keno on the BLM's Lakeview District say it isn't intended as a rebuke against Salazar's efforts.

"This is certainly not a slap directed at Salazar — he is trying to take the agency in another direction," said George Sexton, conservation director for Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, one of the groups filing the challenge.

"He wants a science-based program, and we don't want to take away from that," he said, adding that he believes Salazar supports a timber harvest that provides jobs while protecting forest health through thinning small-diameter trees in overcrowded forests.

The legal complaint, filed Tuesday, seeks a review of a biological opinion issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Aug. 3 which determined the planned harvest was not likely to harm spotted owls or their habitat.

The harvest project, which covers a little more than 1,000 acres, has been split into two timber sales, including Replacement Gal, which includes about 3.5 million board feet of timber. According to the complaint, six known spotted owl habitat territories are in the area to be logged, and two of those territories would be reduced below levels where the owls could survive.

The spotted owl was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1990. Scientists have determined the owl needs old-growth habitat to survive.

Joining the local conservation group in the case was Oregon Wild in Portland and Eugene-based Cascadia Wildlands. The case was filed by Earthjustice and Western Environmental Law Center on behalf of the groups.

Janet Lebson, spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife agency's Portland office, said attorneys for the agency are reviewing the 51-page document. A call to the BLM's Lakeview District office was not returned Tuesday afternoon. Both agencies are under the auspices of the Interior Department.

The point, Sexton said, is that the planned harvest of mature trees is in the area Fish and Wildlife officials had designated as spotted owl critical habitat in the early 1990s.

"With Secretary Salazar in Oregon to contemplate the future of our forests, we want him to hear loud and clear that his agency should get itself out of the old-growth logging business," Sexton said. "The BLM in Southern Oregon is a roadblock to progress right now."

Yet many national forests in Oregon, including the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, as well as some BLM districts, have successfully refocused planning efforts toward non-controversial, restoration-based projects, he said.

Meanwhile, following Monday's meeting in Roseburg, representatives from both the environmental and timber industry have accepted Salazar's invitation to meet again in mid-November in Washington, D.C., to try to settle their differences.

The goal is to approve of two pilot logging projects that produce timber for jobs while protecting habitat for fish and wildlife. They also hope to develop a 20-year plan for managing the so-called O&C Lands stretching from Portland to Ashland that are overseen by the BLM, according to The Associated Press.

The heads of BLM, the Fish and Wildlife Service and Salazar's endangered species adviser will meet with representatives of conservation groups, the timber industry and rural Western Oregon counties, Salazar said.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at

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