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All bark, no bite

This review will be a thumbs-down: Northwest Forest Plan doesn't work

The U.S. Forest Service has asked its former chief, Jack Ward Thomas, to review the Northwest Forest Plan he helped author a decade ago.

We can save everybody a lot of time on this with our own review: It ain't working.

That assessment is painfully obvious to everyone involved, including Thomas. But you can be sure that while people will agree that it's broken, they'll be far less likely to agree on how to fix it.

The Northwest Forest Plan was developed in 1993 and '94 after President Bill Clinton convened a forest conference in Portland in hopes of ending the legal gridlock that gripped the timber issue.

The resulting plan was greeted with a mixture of enthusiasm and suspicion on both sides. It seems those fears have been borne out.

— Not only did the timber industry give up 80 percent of its historical logging levels, but, largely because of legal challenges, only about 60 percent of what was left was harvested. In Southern Oregon, the numbers were even lower: In 2001, the Bureau of Land Management offered 56 million board feet of timber for harvest, while its allowable volume was 203 million board feet. In the same year, the Rogue River National Forest offered about 5 million board feet out of the 50 million allowed by the Northwest Forest Plan.

Environmental groups have their issues as well. They point to old growth trees that continue to be felled, watersheds that are not protected, species surveying and monitoring that is not being completed and mitigation efforts that are not being carried out by timber firms. Their concerns about the federal government are heightened almost weekly by plans to scale back on protections.

Thomas himself says the plan was flawed from the beginning, that there was little likelihood timber harvest levels would be reached and that common sense thinning has never occurred.

Thomas has been asked to focus on how the plan has worked in four Northern California forests. We suspect it's worked there much as it has worked here: not very well. Perhaps his report will add some common sense to the debate, for it certainly seems that common sense was one of the first casualties in this war.

It doesn't grow on trees Medford is blessed with inexpensive, plentiful water. Big Butte Springs is an almost inexhaustible source of water ' or seemingly so ' and over the years the Medford Water Commission has chosen to share its water with other communities.

But nothing is truly inexhaustible. Unfortunately, some customers of the Medford Water Commission use the water as if it were.

Water Commission officials report that figures for this year show there are some 150 customers who consistently use more than 100,000 gallons per month.

The Water Commission sends out notices when a customer's usage goes up dramatically, and adds a surcharge for chronic leaks that aren't fixed. The surcharge is three times the regular rate ' &

36;1.20 rather than rather than the usual 40 cents per 1,000 gallons.

Water Commission officials say that one problem with cracking down on water waste is that the water is cheap, and the surcharge might amount to an additional &

36;5 increase a month, hardly a deterrent to those who use excessive amounts.

Given that water is an increasingly precious commodity in the West, it seems obvious that the Water Commission should raise the tariff on those who use excessive amounts. It should set a reasonable basic level, and then soak those who use more than their fair share.