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Oregon forest plan pulled

Interior secretary scraps Bush administration’s changes

by Ty Beaver, Herald and News 7/17/09

Federal officials have revoked management plans for Oregon forests that would have opened more land to timber harvests and public use in Klamath County and elsewhere in the state.

The plan was enacted in the final days of President George W. Bush’s term.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a press release Thursday that the Western Oregon Plan Revisions, or WOPR, and its related recovery plan for the spotted owl were legally indefensible and lawsuits against it would slow work in forests managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

“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,” Salazar said. Some lawmakers , including U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., praised Salazar’s decision, but U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Klamath County commissioners were less than pleased with Salazar’s decision.

“ I ’m disappointed, I thought it was a good plan,” said Commissioner Al Switzer.

The Bush administration plan would have allowed five times the amount of timber harvested last year in the state, half of what was allowed before 1994. It also would have implemented the more stringent Northwest Forest Plan.

Salazar said the WOPR was doomed by the previous administration’s incomplete reviews of how the plan would have impacted the spotted owl, listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The department’s inspector general also found that improper political influence from a Bush administration official affected decisions on the plan.

Officials have directed the BLM to identify ecologically sound timber sales under the Northwest Forest Plan as a way to protect jobs and infrastructure and ensure future sustainable harvests.

Merkley said in a press release he appreciated the Interior’s work and its emphasis on providing a future for communities that depend on timber harvests. He also criticized the former Bush administration’s actions.

“That strategy wasted a lot of time while our timber communities were in desperate need of jobs,” he said.

Walden criticized the decision to revoke the WOPR, saying the revocation would delay projects to improve forest health and provide badly needed forest management. He also called the decision a premeditated killing of thousands of jobs.

“And this is how the administration thinks they can grow jobs in rural Oregon?” the representative said in a statement.

Klamath County

Switzer said he wasn’t surprised the WOP R was revoked, though he thought a lot of effort went into it to make it work for both the local communities and the environment.

“It had the possibility of putting some people back to work,” he said.

Switzer said Klamath County could have produced more timber even before the WOPR was implemented late last year, but cuts never reached the maximum allowed in previous years.

The office of U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., did not provide comments as of press time. An afternoon request for comment from Gov. Ted Kulongoski was not returned.

The BLM’s Klamath Falls office referred all questions to its Washington, D.C., office. Officials there did not return late afternoon phone calls.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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