Historic Accord for Old-growth Conservation and Forest Restoration Clears Court

After nearly decade of contentious debate and litigation, an historic agreement has been reached over federal rules that require wildlife surveys in old forest habitat.  The agreement between the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and conservation groups sets a new course for habitat restoration and wildlife protection in the Pacific Northwest.  Negotiations began last summer after a federal court ruled for the second consecutive time that the agencies had violated the law in its effort to eliminate the “Survey and Manage” wildlife provision of the Northwest Forest Plan.  U.S. District Court Judge John C. Coughenour approved the agreement late yesterday. 

“We all started from the sensible premise that rare species that rely on rare old forests deserve protection and bona fide restoration projects that improve wildlife habitat should move forward efficiently,” said Dave Werntz, Science Director at Conservation Northwest. “The rest was figuring out the details.”

The Survey and Manage rule requires field surveys to determine whether rare and sensitive species are present so that logging plans or other habitat disturbing projects can be adjusted to avoid harm.

The agreement requires targeted wildlife surveys and protection of core habitat when planning timber sales in older forests.  But surveys are not required in young plantations, degraded fire-prone forests or other areas when specific habitat restoration activities are proposed.  Fuel reduction projects directly adjacent to homes, recreation projects, and routine road maintenance are similarly exempt from surveys.  As a result, projects with defined social and ecological value may proceed with increased efficiency. 

“This landmark agreement resolves a longstanding dispute and lays a fresh path toward good restoration projects which improve forest habitat, protect our most vulnerable wildlife, and generate timber for the local mills,” said Joseph Vaile, Campaign Director at Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.

The parties to the agreement include Conservation Northwest, Oregon Wild, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, American Lands Alliance, Siskiyou Regional Education Project, Klamath Forest Alliance, Umpqua Watersheds, Center for Biological Diversity, Northcoast Environmental Center, Gifford Pinchot Task Force, Environmental Protection Information Center, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.  Conservation groups were represented by the Western Environmental Law Center.