Today the Bush administration announced new rules that will increase the logging of old-growth trees in Pacific Northwest forests and put salmon and other rare species at greater risk of extinction. The rule changes come as amendments to the Northwest Forest Plan, a landmark compromise that slowed rampant clearcutting in the region a decade ago. In a record of decision released today, the Bush administration is eliminating key provisions in the plan. These provisions protect rare wildlife species that live in mature and old growth forests and protect drinking water and habitat for salmon and other aquatic wildlife.
First, the Bush administration weakened a key watershed protection measure known as the Aquatic Conservation Strategy. No longer will the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management be required to review and ensure that each timber sale will not harm water quality. The result will be more old-growth logging and more damage to sensitive streams and the salmon that spawn there.
The goal of the Aquatic Conservation Strategy is salmon recovery in the Northwest Forest Plan area. Rather than faithfully implementing safeguards, the Bush administration seeks to weaken them at the expense of the region’s watersheds and the human and natural communities they support. There are approximately five dozen sales found illegal because they did not adequately protect salmon by failing to comply with the Aquatic Conservation Strategy. It is likely that these harmful logging projects will be quickly approved, resulting in clearcutting of old growth forests and degrading salmon habitat.
“The administration is gutting salmon protections,” said Michael Mayer, with Earthjustice. “The ACS revisions remove the standards that protect endangered fish so that mandatory measures are now entirely voluntary. It’s bad policy and it’s bad biology.”
“The Aquatic Conservation Strategy is the first and best example of an ecosystem approach to managing watersheds and streamside forests on federal lands in the nation,” said David Bayles of the Pacific Rivers Council. “This administration is determined to eliminate the ‘ecosystem’ element from the strategy to allow for logging and road construction next to salmon streams and on steep slopes, where the most harm results.”
The administration also eliminated the “survey and manage” standard that has been a central part of the Plan since it was adopted nearly ten years ago. The standard requires that before logging federal lands, the agencies must survey for rare and uncommon species that live in mature and old growth forests and establish logging buffers to protect them. The Forest Service and BLM estimate that without survey and manage, 47 species are at high risk of local extinction.
“The Bush administration is making it easier to cut old growth trees for an industry that will fund its reelection campaign,” said Jeremy Hall of the Oregon Natural Resources Council Action in Eugene. “The industry donated more than $1 million dollars to the President and his party and the payback is log trucks loaded with our biggest trees.” The administration proposed eliminating the standard in response to a lawsuit filed by the timber industry.
To coincide with the issuance of the ROD, today a coalition of conservation groups released a new report titled On the Backs of Salmon. The report provides real-world examples of places that have been protected and restored by means of the ACS.
The Northwest Forest Plan was adopted in 1994 to protect spotted owls, wild salmon, and over 1,000 other species associated with old-growth forests. The plan applies only to federal lands, and was supposed to provide enough wildlife habitat in part so that private forests could be managed with some stability.
The Plan significantly reduced logging on federal lands at a time when the timber industry restructured to address changing technology and international competition. Most mills that remain competitive have retooled to process smaller trees and get most of them from private lands. Only a few mills in Oregon and Washington remain dependent on old-growth trees from federal lands. Meanwhile, polls have repeatedly demonstrated that a majority of voters in Oregon and Washington support protecting all remaining mature and old-growth forest.