Plan alters salmon protection - White House aims to fire up timber sales in Northwest

The Olympian

Oregon/Washington Bureau of Land Management:


GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- The Bush administration is proposing changes to the strategy for protecting salmon that frees Northwest national forests from court rulings demanding that they show every timber sale they offer won't harm fish.

The Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management published a notice Monday in the Federal Register saying they were preparing a supplemental environmental impact statement that would restore the original intent of the aquatic conservation strategy of the Northwest Forest Plan.

BLM spokesman Chris Strebig said the primary reason for amending the language of the aquatic conservation strategy was to help the agencies meet the Northwest Forest Plan's annual timber harvest goal of 1 billion board feet. Harvests have fallen far short every year since the plan was adopted in 1994.

Created to settle the spotted owl lawsuits that shut down federal logging in the 1990s, the Northwest Forest Plan cut timber production 80 percent on national forests west of the Cascade Range in Washington, Oregon and Northern California to protect fish and wildlife habitat.

The environmental impact statement, which takes into account public comments, is on a fast track to be finished by August 2003, Strebig said.

Representatives of commercial salmon fishermen and environmental groups denounced the proposal as a way to boost logging at the expense of the recovery of threatened and endangered salmon runs, and said they would fight it.

"We would be going back to a blank check system where all they have to do is follow some guidelines and who cares what happens to fish where they actually live," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.

"None of these fish were (Endangered Species Act) listed when the Northwest Forest Plan was adopted," Spain added.

"Now they all are. Now is not the time to be loosening standards and creating more clearcuts and destroying more river systems."

The commercial fishermen's group brought the lawsuits that resulted in federal court rulings that the Forest Service and BLM had failed to provide scientific evidence to support their conclusions that natural regrowth of forests would offset the harm to fish habitat from logging.

A 'technicality'

Chris West of the American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry group, said salmon and water quality would be adequately protected under the standards and guidelines for planning timber sales.

"Ironically, it is the Bush administration that is trying to implement the Clinton-Gore forest plan as envisioned by the scientists," West said. "What we have here is a word technicality that has been abused by those who want to obstruct the plan from being implemented."

Chris Wood, a former assistant to the chief of the Forest Service under the Clinton administration now working for the conservation group Trout Unlimited, said the changes would cut the guts out of the aquatic conservation strategy.

"The final line of page B-10 says, 'Management actions that do not maintain the existing condition or lead to improved conditions in the long term would not meet the intent of the aquatic conservation strategy and thus should not be implemented,' " Wood read from the Northwest Forest Plan.

"Back then the people who did the work on it said, 'You can pay me now by taking this hard medicine, or you can pay me later with more and more endangered species listings and social disruption.' "


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