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Governor urged to argue for trims in new forest plan.

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

The final details of a logging plan for 2.2 million acres of public Oregon forests are still being drafted, but 13 elected officials from Multnomah south to Jackson County aren't waiting to see the final document.

They've sent a letter to the governor asking him to make sure it protects the oldest trees in the woods.

The letter, sent on Monday, asks Gov. Ted Kulongoski to use his power to change the direction of the Western Oregon Plan Revision, known as the WOPR, the document describing Bureau of Land Management plans to increase logging on its forests.

"We believe there are a variety of reasons why the WOPR is heading in the wrong direction for Oregon. These include WOPR's inadequate attention to the values BLM lands provide for the quality of life for Oregonians, in accurate economic assumptions about county revenue, and ignoring impacts from climate change and the potential for public land management to mitigate those impacts," the letter reads.

Those who signed it include Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy, along with Eugene city councilors Bonny Bettman and Betty Taylor, and Lane County commissioners Peter Sorenson and Bill Fleenor.

For the past 15 years, management on BLM forests was governed by the Northwest Forest Plan, which severely curtailed logging in order to protect at-risk species. But a settlement between the timber industry and the Bush administration required the BLM to come up with a new plan emphasizing its original mandate to manage its forests for timber production.

The agency last year released a draft environmental impact statement on its new proposal, one that drew 30,000 comments, not just from members of the public but from state and local governments, and from other federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Counties that rely on timber for revenue and the logging industry also weighed in.

At that time, the governor told the BLM that he expected the new management strategy to comply with several principles, including protecting at-risk species and maintaining state water quality standards, while producing a predictable and sustainable harvest.

The BLM proposal has been blasted by other government agencies for failing to meet federal environmental standards.

But the draft of the plan released last year is not the one that will be finalized this fall, BLM spokesman Michael Campbell said.

The draft called for tripling logging to about 700 million board feet annually. The final version will be between that and the Northwest Forest Plan, which permitted 205 million board feet a year but actually only averaged 134 million board feet, Campbell said.

Before the proposal becomes law, the governor has a 60-day review period to examine it.

"It's not a review to go back and look at perceived deficiencies in the plan. It's a review to look at whether it complies with existing state law," Campbell said.

The governor's office sees the opportunity for review in a broader context.

"The purpose of that period is for the governor to determine if the plan is in the best interests of Oregon," said Jillian Schoene, a spokeswoman for the governor. "If it is not, the governor and the BLM will continue to work toward an agreement."

The actual language in the federal regulation allows the governor to "identify any known inconsistencies with state or local plans, policies or programs."

No commissioners from Douglas or Josephine counties - among the most hard-hit from the loss of federal subsidies that replaced timber revenue - signed the letter. One of them, Doug Robertson of Douglas County, thought the letter to the governor was premature.

"Why don't you wait till the plan comes out, till you know what you're talking about," Robertson said in a telephone interview. "To dismiss it just because we're going to harvest some timber is shortsighted."

But the governor alreadyis being lobbied to support the BLM plan by members of a task force he convened to help counties survive the economic crisis resulting from the loss of federal funds, said Lane County Commissioner Sorenson.

In a report to the governor, that task force encouraged Kulongoski to back the BLM logging increases.

Sorenson said he's well aware that the public comment period on WOPR is long past, but that plenty of back-room elbowing is going on as the final proposal is being written.

"We're just trying to keep our oar in the water," he said.

The fact that the Bush administration and a Republican Congress had six years to increase logging on public lands and wasn't able to get it done proves there's tremendous public support for leaving Oregon's old trees standing, Sorenson said.

But Robertson said that view fails to recognize a simple fact of the Western Oregon landscape: its vast tracts of public forests.

"If you look at the development, culture and history of these counties, you can't get away from the fact that the timber industry plays a major part in these economies," he said.

The BLM expects to give the governor a copy of the final proposal sometime between September and December, BLM spokesman Campbell said. It will be available for the public then, too, but the public will not have an opportunity to weigh in on the final version.

By court order, the agency must have a final record of decision on the plan completed by Dec. 31. With the record of decision in place, the plan will be implementedimmediately, Campbell said.
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Title Annotation:City/Region; Some local politicians are among 13 officials asking for protection for old growth trees
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 8, 2008
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