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Environmental, timber interests wary of spotted owl plan

Southern Oregon environmental and timber industry representatives were lukewarm to a northern spotted owl plan released Thursday.

Dominick DellaSala, a forest ecologist who is the lead scientist at the Ashland-based Geos Institute, a conservation group, called the plan a small step forward when a large leap was needed.

"We need to take a step back and realize what is going on is that we have overcut these forests," said DellaSala who was a member of the 2006 spotted owl recovery team of scientists the Fish and Wildlife Service put together.

"You've gotta take the mature and old-growth forests off the table — the real issue is still not getting addressed," he said.

He called for a focus on restoration forestry to protect clean water, fish and wildlife and old-growth ecosystems while providing jobs for rural communities.

"If we continue to have this battle around spotted owls, we're not seeing the forest for the trees," he said.

But Tom Partin, president of the Portland-based American Forest Resource Council, a timber group, had other concerns.

The plan will lead to further reductions in sustainable timber harvests in the Northwest without helping the spotted owl, he warned.

"The spotted owl will not recover unless decisive action is taken to control the barred owl," he said in a prepared statement. "Unfortunately, the plan offers nothing more than studies and protocols while proposing massive new restrictions on both federal and private lands."

Thinning "plantation forests" on public land as proposed by the BLM and Forest Service won't provide jobs for rural, timber-based communities, he said.

"The BLM will soon be out of plantation forests it can thin to provide even the inadequate level of harvest volume that has become the norm in recent years," Partin said, adding the BLM's Medford District is struggling to provide approximately one-third of the annual timber volume promised under the Clinton Northwest Forest Plan.

"This recovery plan will likely lead to further drastic reductions in available timber supply at a time when many rural Northwest communities face 15 to 20 percent unemployment and the remaining mills are hanging on by a thread," he concluded.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.