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Salazar restores old-growth forest protections in Oregon

July 16, 2009 |  1:16 pm


In one of the most important reversals of Bush administration forest policy yet, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has reversed plans to double logging on old-growth forest in a 2.8-million-acre region of western Oregon.

The Interior Department also is backing away from plans to open up for logging about 1.8 million acres of protected critical habitat for the disappearling Northern spotted owl across Oregon, Washington and Northern California.

But Salazar is pledging to quickly deliver as many environmentally sustainable timber tracts as possible to the struggling logging communities of western Oregon, where unemployment in many cases tops 20%.

Salazar said the Bureau of Land Management's massive new plan for managing western Oregon forests, known as the Western Oregon Plan Revisions (Whopper is what most call it) was pushed through under the political influence of former Bush administration Interior official Julie MacDonald and failed to meet standards for scientific review.

The plan, as a result, was "based on a legally indefensible process," Salazar said. "It will not stand up in court, and if we attempted to defend it in court, it could lead to fruitless years of uncertainty and inaction."

Conservation groups applauded the decision, which will restore protections for old-growth forest critical to the survival of threatened species such as salmon, steelhead, marbled murrelets and the spotted owl, whose numbers have dwindled to less than 5,000 across the Pacific Northwest.

"If we return to the scientifically tested Northwest Forest Plan instead of a sea of stumps with a return to the 1970s-type clearcut logging, that gives western Oregon a shot at keeping its healthy forests, its healthy salmon runs, its clean water and having its economy rebound by having the jobs in the woods that make sense in a 21st century economy," said Kristen Boyles, an attorney for Earthjustice, which filed suit against the Bush administration plans on behalf of several conservation groups.

We'll have the full story soon.

— Kim Murphy

Photo: The Northern spotted owl relies on the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest. Credit: Don Ryan, Associated Press.