Oregon joins suit to halt logging rules.
Oregon on Tuesday joined California and New Mexico in a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service to stop the implementation of revised roadless rules that would allow possible logging and mining on 58 million acres of untouched national forests.
The new rules, introduced in May by the Bush administration, reversed an edict issued a few days before President Bill Clinton left office in 2001.
Clinton's roadless area conservation rule placed a moratorium on building new roads on some of the most pristine federal forestland left in the West, including almost 2 million acres in Oregon. The regulation essentially removed local decision-making authority from regional foresters to allow logging, mining and road building on roadless federal forestland.
In announcing the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski said the Forest Service violated federal environmental laws when the agency adopted the new rules four months ago.
The so-called 2005 Rule allows roads, logging, mining and other commercial uses on the forests the Clinton administration sought to set aside. Under the rule, governors can submit petitions through 2006 to prevent road building on some of the 34 million roadless acres where such activities would be permitted. Governors also can request that new forest management plans be written to allow the construction of roads on a large portion of the remaining 24 million acres.
Although the new rule gives states the ability to petition to protect roadless areas, there is no guarantee that the Forest Service would grant the requested protections identified by the states, Kulongoski said.
"When the 2005 Rule was announced, I made it clear that the federal government's actions placed an unfair and unnecessary burden on states that would amount to a price tag of millions of dollars and result in piecemeal management of federal forestland," Kulongoski said.
About 97 percent of the roadless areas set aside in 2001 are in 12 Western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
New road building and logging is barred or severely limited in many federal forests in Western Oregon under the Northwest Forest Plan, a separate document adopted in 1994 to strike a balance between protecting the northern spotted owl and other at-risk species, and logging.
Of the roughly 839,500 roadless acres in Western Oregon, 525,400 are set aside from logging by the Northwest Forest Plan, said Doug Heiken of the Oregon Natural Resources Council, a conservation organization.
That leaves 314,100 roadless acres with little or no protection, he said, including a large area southeast of Waldo Lake, about 60 miles east of Eugene.
The remaining 1.1 million roadless acres in the state are in Eastern Oregon, and include the Malheur, Ochoco, Umatilla, Wallowa-Whitman and Winema national forests.
Tagging the state's roadless areas "would give way better protection" than other designations, Heiken said.
Kulongoski's move to join the lawsuit drew immediate fire from the wood products industry.
"We're very disappointed that he decided to take the approach to sue the Forest Service,' said Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, which represents mills and others in the industry.
Partin said the new federal rule hasn't made much difference thus far when it comes to increasing the volume of timber cut on federal land in Western Oregon, which is less than half of what was promised under Clinton's Northwest Forest Plan in 1994.
`None of the (active) timber sales were planned or set up to be in roadless areas,' Partin said. "We were not counting on volume coming off roadless areas."
Under the Northwest Forest Plan, the Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management were supposed to offer about 1 billion board feet of timber of federal land in Western Oregon and Washington each year. Currently, the Forest Service and BLM have offered about 470 million board feet for sale, Partin said.
While environmental groups hailed the lawsuit that seeks to return to the 2001 roadless conservation rule, many asked Kulongoski to do more.
"We applaud the court challenge, but the governor shouldn't put all his eggs in one basket," said Steve Pedery, conservation manager for the Oregon Natural Resources Council.
"He needs to follow through and petition the Forest Service to restore protections for Oregon's pristine roadless lands."