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Bush official favors increase in logging.

Byline: JOE HARWOOD The Register-Guard

A top Bush administration official and former wood products industry lobbyist said Saturday that he would like to deliver the timber harvest volumes promised under the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan.

"I would like to see if we can redeem the commitments made in the plan and achieve all of its objectives," said Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service. Rey made the comments at the Annual Convention of Associated Oregon Loggers in Eugene.

The forest plan was crafted by the Clinton administration to try to resolve the bitter legal fighting between the timber industry and environmentalists over millions of acres of federally owned forests that are home to the northern spotted owl.

The plan sought to allow continued logging on large parts of the 24 million acres of federal forests stretching from San Francisco to the Canadian border while also protecting the habitat of the owl and other endangered species.

Yet timber harvests on the federal land included in the plan have traditionally been a fraction of what was promised. In 1999 for example, the Forest Service set a harvest target of 566 million board feet, but only offered 164 million board feet for sale.

Dozens of timber sales have been challenged in court by environmental groups or have fallen victim to what Rey called "analysis paralysis."

He said the Forest Service is now in the process of reviewing its internal regulations in regard to the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and other environmental laws.

Administration officials have noted that the overlapping, and sometimes conflicting, environmental rules governing timber sales have created a bureaucracy difficult to navigate.

The "survey and manage" component of the forest plan is an example, he said. The rule requires the Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to survey for certain plant and wildlife species before putting timber up for sale.

In 1999, a federal judge locked up 34 sales totalling 225 million board feet of timber after ruling the agencies had failed to survey for 32 plant, fungi and wildlife species.

The two agencies have been unable to develop survey guidelines for the 32 species, thus preventing the timber harvests.

"It's now gotten to the point where the process has become an end in itself," Rey said. "Because of the process, we're not making decisions at all."

Rey declined to answer specific questions about how the administration might tinker with the forest plan to pump up federal timber harvests. He said the Forest Service would be working on new guidelines throughout the year.

He did make it clear, however, that timber harvest is a component of managing the forests for multiple uses.

"There is a role for the national forests to play in providing a portion of the country's wood-supply needs," Rey said.

Rey was in the news last week after a federal judge in Montana ruled that the Forest Service and the Bush administration tried to "circumvent law" by bypassing the public appeals process that often ties up logging in the West.

The Forest Service had sought to allow the logging of more than 40,000 acres of burned trees in the Bitterroot National Forest of Montana before completing the public appeals required by a 1992 law.

That process allows citizens to contest forest management plans made at the local level - such as timber harvests or road building - to regional or national Forest Service managers.

Environmental groups including the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society sued, contending the Forest Service was trying to take a short-cut by waiving the appeals process.

Rey signed off on the decision to exempt the appeals process because forest officials figured environmentalists would sue to stop the salvage logging anyway.

Rey said Saturday that the agency's lawyers are considering whether to appeal the ruling. A decision should be made by early next week, he said.

Before his appointment to undersecretary, Rey worked for U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, as chief of staff for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Forestry.

Rey was one of the primary architects of the controversial 1995 "salvage" rider, which briefly suspended environmental laws and stepped up logging of burned or insect-ravaged forests. Prior to that, Rey worked as a lobbyist for the American Forest & Paper Association.
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Title Annotation:Business: Mark Rey tells a trade group he'd like to modify forest rules to get timber harvests to levels promised in 1994.; Environment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 13, 2002
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