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Oregon Editors Say

It's time for a new forest plan After a decade, let's find a better way to manage timber production

The (Roseburg) News-Review

Ten years ago, the Northwest Forest Plan was designed to protect critical habitat, yet guarantee a certain level of logging on federally managed forests. The protections went into effect, but the logging levels ' even though dramatically lower than before ' never materialized.

Now, the Bureau of Land Management, spurred by a lawsuit, is taking a new look at how it manages 2.5 million acres of timber lands in Oregon, including 406,500 in the Roseburg district.

Hopes are that it can ensure the long-term health of forests and streams, while at the same time offer a sustainable logging program much higher than the small amounts harvested today. This could be a significant factor in fueling local governments, as well as supporting Douglas County's primary industry.

Most of the heavily timbered acres are covered by the Oregon and California Lands Act of 1937. The land had first been given by the federal government to railroad companies to encourage development, but was taken back when terms were never met.

The act requires that the lands be managed for permanent forest production, protection of watersheds and stream flow, and to contribute toward the economic stability of local communities and recreation.

— Since the 18 counties that had O&C land within their boundaries lost tax income on land that would have become privately owned, the act provided that 50 percent of the income for timber sales be returned to the counties.

When timber production was cut dramatically over fears of habitat loss, the federal government agreed to pay counties in lieu of harvest. This is threatened now, because of a federal budget devastated by a war in Iraq and two massive hurricanes.

Federal land managers and the timber industry have been frustrated by the myriad rules under the Northwest Forest Plan that make any logging so difficult.

The BLM, which conducted a public meeting in Roseburg last week, is in the early stages of revamping its management plans. The process is the outcome of a lawsuit brought by timber industry organizations, charging that the BLM was not living up to the provisions of the O&C Act.

There's quite a challenge ahead. The BLM will have to meet an array of requirements and restrictions, including those under the Endangered Species Act.

Still, it's a welcome chance to do better than the Northwest Forest Plan. After a decade of lawsuits and inertia, it's time to search out a better way.