Talks aimed at curbing logging barriers

Daniel B. Wheeler dwheeler at ipns.com
Fri Sep 27 00:53:26 EST 2002


>From The Oregonian, Sept, 25, 2002, p A7

Talks aimed at curbing logging barriers
The negotiations deal with time-consuming and expensive wildlife
surveys

By MICHAEL MILSTEIN, The Oregonian
	The Bush administration is negotiating with timber industry groups
toward a legal settlement that could limit the exhaustive wildlife
surveys that slow and sometimes block logging on federal lands in the
Northwest.
	It is an approach the administration has used in other cases to
cancel Clinton-era environmental policies ranging from added
protection for roadless forests to prohibitions on snowmobiles in
national parks.
	Administration and Northwest timber industry officials Tuesday
confirmed that they are discussing a settlement.
	Such a deal could ease survey demands the timber industry sees as a
hurdle to logging under the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan, said Chris
West of the American Forest Resource Council in Portland, which joined
Douglas Timber Operators to file the lawsuit that led to the current
talks.
	Both administration and industry officials have said they want to
boost federal logging to match projections of the 1994 plan, which
sought a balance between wildlife protection and logging.
	The only way to do that, they have aid, is to revise a part of the
plan that requires laborious and costly surveys for little-known
species thought to inhabit old-growth forests prior to logging.
	"There needs to be some kind of reality check on this system," West
said. "All we're trying to do is get the forest plan implemented,
nothing more, nothing less."
	Logging last year totaled less than a third of the plan's original
target of 1 billion board feet each year, with agencies struggling
against lawsuits by environmental groups and demands of the plan
itself.
	One of the most painstaking elements, known as "survey and manage,"
requires land agencies to check for about 350 little-known organisms
and protect them ahead of logging or other activities that disturb the
ground.
	Such surveys may take years because they cover species such as fungi
that may emerge only under certain conditions. Surveys last year cost
$26 million.
	The American Forest Resource Council and Douglas Timber Operators of
Roseburg sued the administration in January, contending that survey
and manage is illegal. They said federal land agencies cannot "create
reserves" to protect obscure species "to the exclusion or limitation
of other multiple uses."
	None of the survey-and-manage species is protected by the Endangered
Species Act or other federal laws, so there is no reason they should
hold up logging, the timber groups argued.
	Federal attorneys began talking with the timber groups in recently
about settling the lawsuit without full court proceedings. West said
any effective settlement must reword the demands of survey and manage
into less of a burden.
	"That's the only way the Northwest Forest Plan will ever truly be
implemented," he said.
	Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, confirmed Tuesday
that settlement talks are ongoing, but he would not discuss details.
	Eight environmental groups - including the Oregon Natural Resources
Council, Northwest Ecosystem Alliance and Gifford Pinchot Task Force
-intervened in the case on behalf of the government to help defend the
survey-and-manage provisions.
	The same groups also had filed a lawsuit contending the
survey-and-manage provisions as they stand are insufficient.
	But environmentalists have been shut out of the settlement talks
between the administration and timber industry. Their requests to
participate have met with the response that "we're not entitled to be
included," said Heather Brinton, an attorney with the Western
Environmental Law Center in Eugene, which is handling the case for the
groups.
	With the administration and industry pressing for more logging, that
leaves the talks one-sided, said Doug Heiken of the Oregon Natural
Resources Council.
	"They're in the room together pursuing the same goal without giving
the public any say in the matter," he said.
	President Bush received more than 10 times as much in campaign
contributions from the forest and forest products industry as any
other presidential candidate in 2000.
	Similar industry lawsuits and settlements later worked out by the
administration have led to roll-backs of a Clinton administration ban
on snowmobiles in national parks, extra protection for roadless
regions of national forests and critical habitat for West Coast salmon
stocks.
	"It's definitely a tool in the tool chest," said Doug Honnold of
Earthjustice, an environmental legal defense group. "They invite, with
a wink and a nod, a lawsuit from industry, so they don't have to take
the heat for gutting a popular environmental rule."
	Judges encourage settlements to efficiently resolve lawsuits, West
said. He said environmental groups reached similar settlements with
the Clinton administration that canceled timber sales without telling
industry groups that had intervened.
	"It's the pot calling the kettle black," he said. "We're not doing
anything other than what judges want done and what the environmental
community has done hundreds of times before."
	Even small revisions in survey-and-manage requirements could affect
the federal timber harvest to the tune of hundreds of millions of
board feet, according to a review last year. But such changes, even if
part of a legal settlement, would be subject to public comment, West
said.
	Top Clinton administration officials added the survey-and-manage
provisions to the Northwest Forest Plan in its final stages.
	But researchers who initially developed the plan quickly saw that as
a huge new burden.

posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler
www.oregonwhitetruffles.com



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