Conservationists filed a legal challenge in federal court today challenging a Bush administration effort to fast track approval for a massive increase in logging on federal land. The legal action comes after the Bureau of Land Management cut thousands of citizens out of the Western Oregon Plan Revisions public process.
"The Bush administration is once again cutting the public out of its decisions and letting private interests determine the fate of our public lands," said Kristen Boyles, an attorney with the environmental legal firm Earthjustice. "It is pretty clear that the Bush administration is dodging the public process because they have a severely flawed plan in their hands."
The Western Oregon Plan Revisions (WOPR) rezones thousands of acres of Oregon forest managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management to make them available to timber companies. These forest lands have been governed under the Northwest Forest Plan since 1994. The WOPR calls for increasing overall logging on these lands by 400 percent while slashing protections for sensitive streams and waterways in half. Seventy-percent of the logging will be executed via clear-cut logging. The WOPR came about after the Bush administration and the timber industry settled a lawsuit aimed at removing these sensitive wild lands from the protections of the Northwest Forest Plan.
Almost 30,000 people commented on the draft plan, with the majority opposing the drastic increase in logging. These comments prompted the BLM to make substantive changes to the original version of the plan. Conservation groups argue that the public should be afforded the same opportunity to comment now that the plan is being considered for final approval so they are asking the court to order BLM to initiate a 30-day public comment period on the final version of the plan.
In addition to the critical public comments, the BLM also received scientific reviews that were highly critical of the logging plan, saying that the WOPR was based on insufficient study, incomplete modeling, and would likely not comply with laws safeguarding fish and wildlife habitat.
The WOPR represents the most far-reaching decision regarding forest management since the Northwest Forest Plan was drafted. WOPR would undermine the science-based guidelines found in the Northwest Forest Plan at a critical juncture. The proposal comes after prior unsuccessful attempts by the Bush administration to strip Northwest forests of critical protections were soundly rejected in a number of court rulings.
Comments from groups:
John Kober, Executive Director, Pacific River Council:
"The BLM apparently doesn't want to hear the truth about its final proposal: their plan to log extensively near rivers and streams will undermine community-based restoration efforts and cause harm to salmon, steelhead and all who depend on clean water."
Dan Kruse, Legal Director, Cascadia Wildlands Project:
"The BLM could have taken the time it needs to listen to the public's input and carefully consider its options. Instead of careful consideration, we're seeing a desperate frenzy to push a plan forward while the Bush administration still holds office. This is politics, not science or logic."
Joseph Vaile, Campaign Director, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center:
"More than 29,000 people took the time to comment on the draft proposal. 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, but that does not make it legal."
Doug Heiken, Conservation and Restoration Coordinator, Oregon Wild:
"With our old-growth forests impacting so much of our lives, from providing clean drinking water to helping stave off global warming, it doesn't make any sense to cut the average citizen out of the process. We all deserve a chance to have our voices heard when it comes to management of our public forests."
Kristen Boyles, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 33
Doug Heiken, Oregon Wild, (541) 344-0675
John Kober, Pacific Rivers Council, (206) 778-0883
Dan Kruse, Cascadia Wildlands Project, (541) 434-1463
Joseph Vaile, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, (541) 488-5789
Bob Freimark, The Wilderness Society, (206) 624-6430, ext. 228
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