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Feds will drop forest plan details

Forest agencies to substitute a supplemental EIS for the species survey-manage part

The Bush administration intends to drop survey and manage requirements for rare and unique species now mandatory for logging mature and old-growth federal forestlands.

In Monday's announcement, the administration said the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service will prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) to replace the final EIS for survey and manage issued two years ago for the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan.

The new document would amend land and resource plans for national forests and BLM forests in the range of northern spotted owls. That includes western Oregon and Washington and northwestern California.

The move appalled the environmental community but was applauded by the timber industry.

Dave Hill, executive vice president of the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association, was encouraged by the announcement.

I have full confidence that environmental protection will be provided for endangered species, sensitive sites and other resources of significant value, he said of federal lands where timber can be harvested.

The survey and manage work placed a heavy burden on federal employees at a high cost to taxpayers without any substantial benefit to the species, he said.

I don't think the survey and manage has been effectual or efficient to protect significant resources, he said, adding there are ample environmental laws in place, both state and federal, to protect those resources.

But Joseph Vaile, spokesman for the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, disagreed.

Instead of worrying about how to protect old-growth-dependent species, why don't we stop degrading mature and old-growth forest? he asked. Federal land managers can then focus on watershed restoration and stabilizing resource-dependent communities.

We really can provide adequate habitat for these species and still provide timber out of young-growth stands that harbor these species, added Doug Heiken of the Oregon Natural Resources Council. When you thin in young stands you are not going to run into a salamander that only lives in old-growth forests.

Rex Holloway, spokesman for the Forest Service's regional office in Portland, said agency programs now in place, as well as other requirements of the Northwest Forest Plan, will continue to protect those meant to be protected under the survey and manage program.

The objective is to keep species from needing to be listed under the Endangered Species Act and to meet population and distribution requirements of the National Forest Management Act and other legislation, he told the Associated Press.

Changing the protocol would not change the amount of timber harvested under the Northwest Forest Plan, according to Karen Gillespie, spokeswoman for the BLM's Medford District.

This would remove the survey and manage (program) but would replace it with an alternative to achieve the goals of the Northwest Forest Plan, she said.

The proposed action is the result of a settlement agreement in a lawsuit brought by the Douglas Timber Operators Inc. and the Association of O&C Counties against the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture.

The plaintiffs had argued the requirements were excessive and unwarranted, and beyond the authority and intent of state and federal laws. The administration reached a settlement before the case was tried.

The goal is to have the draft SEIS filed with the Environmental Protection Agency in January, and make it available for a 90-day public review at that point. A final ruling would be made next summer.

The agencies request that public comments on what should be contained in analysis now under way be received in writing by Nov. 20, 2002.

Comments should be sent to: Comments, SEIS for Survey and Manage, P.O. Box 2965, Portland, OR 97203.

More than 400 plant and animal species were listed by scientists as at risk if logging took place in their habitat on lands are designated as available for timber harvest under the plan.

However, earlier this year, the federal government removed 37 species in all or part of their range from survey and manage requirements.

That included 16 plant/fungi species and the Del Norte salamander in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District and the Rogue River and Siskiyou national forests.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at