Suit challenges feds' efforts to boost logging

Conservation groups are trying to stop Bush administration officials from boosting logging in Oregon's old growth forests before their time in office runs out.

A lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Portland charges that the U.S. Department of the 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.

"Over 29,000 people took the time to comment on the draft proposal," said Joseph Vaile, campaign director of the Ashland-based Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild). "It is not fair to citizens who engaged in good faith only to shortcut the public process and deny their right to protest. The Bush administration wants to rush this through at the last minute."

The appeal 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 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.

The BLM's logging plan — referred to by its acronym as the Whopper — revises 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. Timber industry officials said actual harvest levels fell far short of the Northwest Forest Plan agreement, in large part because of environmental lawsuits.

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

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.

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ForestsKlamath Siskiyou