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Anglers, hunters blast BLM's draft for habitat protection

More than half a dozen fishing and hunting groups are criticizing the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Western Oregon Plan Revisions draft.

The plan would roll back habitat protections on some 2.6 million acres of BLM land in western Oregon, threatening hunting and fishing areas, concludes a report released this past week by the eight groups.

"For most Oregon hunters and anglers, our public land is the only hunting and fishing estate we will ever own," said Eagle Point resident Mike Beagle, representing Trout Unlimited. "The BLM proposal lacks the balance needed to support Oregon's priceless outdoor heritage."

Basically, the agency's preferred alternative would triple the annual timber sale volume on its western Oregon lands while removing all green trees in harvest areas.

The fishing and hunting groups say the plan would threaten watersheds critical for salmon, steelhead and trout as well as forests that are home to Oregon's prized big game species such as Roosevelt elk, blacktail deer and black bear.

Specifically, the groups say the preferred alternative would:

  • Reduce protections for spawning streams by cutting the current "no-logging" buffer on fish-bearing streams, permitting logging within 25 feet of the bank.
  • Reduce critically important old-growth forests known as "late successional reserves" by more than 40 percent. Oregon's most popular big-game species rely on these forests for a certain degree of security, cover and winter forage.
  • Build about 1,000 miles of new roads into areas that have traditionally been valuable for hike-in hunting and wildlife habitat.
  • Reduce areas for fishing and hunting enthusiasts as well as habitat for wildlife by creating off-highway vehicle areas.

In addition to Trout Unlimited, other groups signing the report include the Oregon Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Oregon Division Izaak Walton League of America, Oregon Council Federation of Fly Fishers, Northwest Steelheaders, Berkley Conservation Institute and Native Fish Society.

The issue isn't that the groups are opposed to logging, Beagle stressed.

"I understand that with the litigation over the years, the BLM hasn't been able to get wood fiber out to the local mills," he said. "That's an important consideration.

"But at the same time, hunting and fishing is also an important legacy in the Northwest," he added. "These are cherished traditions that need to be passed on to our kids and grandkids. We want a better array of choices in the plan."

Brian Maguire of Portland, speaking for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, agreed.

"Hunters and anglers know how important habitat is for the future of our favorite activities," he said in a prepared statement. "Oregon sportsmen need to be heard loud and clear. Tell the BLM to keep habitat protections on the books, so we have fish in the rivers and game in the woods. Our kids deserve it."

Citing U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service figures, the groups say 750,000 people hunted and fished in Oregon in 2006, pumping nearly $900 million into the state's economy that year.

The copy of the groups' report is available online at tinyurl.com/36q9f8.

Meanwhile, the deadline for commenting on the BLM's draft plan is Friday. Substantive comments are the most useful, officials said. A final environmental impact statement is expected late this year.

The complete document and instructions on how to comment electronically is available at www.blm.gov/or/plans/wopr.

Comments also can be sent to Western Oregon Plan Revisions, P.O. Box 2965, Portland, OR 97208.

Every public comment will be published and an independent firm will make a report on those comments, BLM officials said.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or at pfattig@mailtribune.com