U.S. Scraps Bush Logging Plan
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The Obama administration has withdrawn a Bush era logging policy, calling it legally indefensible. The plan dealt with millions of acres of old-growth forest in the Pacific Northwest. Environmental organizations are celebrating.
But as NPR's Martin Kaste reports, the decision is more bad news for logging towns already hurting in the recession.
MARTIN KASTE: Remember the spotted owl? It's still alive, not just physically, but politically, too. Back in 1994, the endangered bird prompted the controversial Northwest Forest Plan, a set of logging restrictions meant to protect the owl's native old-growth forest.
Oregon's timber industry has always found the plan too restrictive and some of the rules were loosened under the Bush administration, most notably last December when it issued the WOPR.
Ms. KRISTEN BOYLES (Attorney, Earthjustice): The WOPR is the terrible acronym we use for Western Oregon Plan Revisions.
KASTE: Kristen Boyles is a Seattle lawyer with Earthjustice, an environmental legal fund that's been fighting these moves in court.
Ms. BOYLES: It certainly was a whopper of a plan as far as taking out the heart of the Northwest Forest Plan and opening up these forests to the kind of old-school 1960s and '70s clear-cut logging that this region had moved away from.
KASTE: Conservation groups were upset at the way the WOPR seemed to be rushed, issued just a month before the end of the Bush administration. They especially objected to the administration's decision to skip a study of the logging plan's effects on endangered species. They said the decision was legally unsound, and today, President Obama's interior secretary, Ken Salazar, agreed.
Secretary KEN SALAZAR (Department of the Interior): Today we are taking action to reform the Department of Interior and clean up mistakes of the past by correctly legal shortcuts the previous administration made late in its tenure.
KASTE: Salazar referred to a damning report by the Interior Department's inspector general, which accuses a key Bush-era official of ignoring science in decisions relating to the Endangered Species Act. Conservation groups long accused the Bush administration of letting politics trump science, but even the timber industry, which wanted the looser logging rules, was worried.
Ann Forest Burns, vice president of the American Forest Resource Council, says last fall, her organization actually asked a federal judge to weigh in.
Ms. ANN FOREST BURNS (Vice President, American Forest Resource Council): We were hopeful that the agency had made the right decision, but we had actually gone to court to ask a judge whether or not they had.
KASTE: Burns is sorry to see the Bush administration's logging plan upended like this because she firmly believes it would have passed mustered under the Endangered Species Act, but she says she also takes the Obama administration at its word when it says it'll try to make up for some of the lost timber and that spotted owl or not, it does not want to see the rest of Oregon's timber industry disappear.
Ms. BURNS: The mills that have survived are very efficient, very tough mills.
KASTE: But those mills are hurting. Despite the housing bust, many of the mills are having trouble getting enough timber. That's because the owners of private forests are holding onto their stock in hopes of an economic recovery and higher prices. In logging towns, where unemployment is currently as high as 16 percent, that shortage of timber hurts. And Burns says if Oregon's mills are going to survive these tough times, they need more timber from public lands.
Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.
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