Timber industry seeks reviews
Daniel B. Wheeler
dwheeler at ipns.com
Sun Feb 17 01:48:39 EST 2002
>From The Oregonian, Feb. 16, 2002, p B1
Timber industry seeks reviews
The government is asked to re-evaluate species protections that barred
logging in vast tracts of Northwest forests
By MICHAEL MILSTEIN, The Oregonian
The timber industry wants the U.S. government to re-evaluate its
northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet protections, which placed
millions of acres of Northwest forests off-limits to chain saws in the
1990s and contributed to the collapse of public lands logging in the
The Portland-based American Forest Resource Council notified Interior
Secretary Gale Norton in the past two weeks that it will sue the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service for not reviewing the status of the two
species as required by the Endangered Species Act.
It is the latest in a series of industry actions to try to free up
timber promised but never delivered under the 1994 Northwest Forest
Plan, devised by the Clinton administration to balance logging with
The forest resource council, with member logging companies across
Oregon and Washington, said a decade of studies since the birds were
first protected suggests they are not as dependent on old-growth
forests as once thought and may not be declining as much as projected.
"The old paradigm is that they were solely dependent on old growth
and at risk due to cutting of the last old growth," said Chris West,
the group's vice president. "That's not a valid assumption anymore."
The two birds, both listed as threatened by the Endangered Species
Act, were a driving force behind creation of the Northwest Forest
Plan. The plan placed millions of acres of federal lands off-limits to
most logging so they could mature into the old-growth forests the
species are thought to prefer.
But the Endangered Species Act requires the Fish and Wildlife Service
to review the status of protected species every five years. The agency
has not fully reviewed the owl since its listing in 1990 or the
murrelet since its listing in 1992, the forest resource council
It could be that with the reserves set aside by the Northwest Forest
Plan, the species are no longer threatened and do not need protection
on other federal or private lands, West said.
The forest resource council said it would sue in 60 days to force a
review of both species and critical habitat designated for them. The
move follows a request a month ago to strike down the Northwest Forest
Plan's painstaking "Survey and Manage" rules, which require biologists
to survey for obscure snails, fungi and lichen prior to logging.
Such surveys have combined with other factors to slow cutting to
about 200 million board feet of timber last year, far short of the
roughly 1 billion promised in the original Northwest Forest Plan.
Timber advocates are also encouraging federal foresters to streamline
environmental reviews of timber sales. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore.,
wrote to the president's Council on Environmental Quality in January,
urging it to provide the "leadership and coordination" for such fixes.
All the actions are part of a larger strategy to free up wood loggers
had expected under the Northwest Forest Plan, said Tom Partin, the
forest resource council president.
"We think it's time to force this all out onto the table," Partin
said. "We're moving through a step-by-step process to try to get the
Northwest Forest Plan back on track."
But environmental groups said the strategy is a veiled attempt to
open more public forests to logging.
"The timber industry is definitely making a pitch to get at some of
the last old growth," said Doug Heiken, acting conservation director
of Oregon Natural Resources Council. "There's a lot of work to be done
in the forest, but it's not destroying old growth; it's thinning out
some of the crowded tree plantations many of our forests have become."
In its notice to Norton, the forest resource council said new studies
of marbled murrelets suggest the seabirds may be more dependent on
ocean conditions than the high, moss-covered branches in older forests
where they nest.
Computer models used to estimate owl populations may have written off
young owls as dead when they were still alive and flourishing, the
group said. It also noted that the barred owl is known to be invading
spotted owl territories and needs to be considered along with logging
as a factor that can affect owls.
Eric Forsman, a longtime spotted owl biologist at Oregon State
University, said biologists have accounted for the shortcomings of
computer modles. While owls may be stable in some places while still
declining in others, he said that does not mean the whole population
is any better off.
"We need to be cautious about drawing conclusions about the long term
based on the short term," he said.
Comment by poster: With the recent death of Judge Dwyer, it appears
that both logging and environmental camps have declared open season
again. From this and other news items (which I will also post), I
cannot claim that either side has compelling evidence on their side.
Science tends to be rather conservative. There is a reason for this.
Until there can be some demonstrated recovery in populations which has
not been verified to this point, I don't see the logging industry has
much factual support. Perhaps if they can get the current understory
president to release funds to study that aspect of science...<G>
Daniel B. Wheeler
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