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BLM plan focuses on environment and recreation

from the Roseburg News-Review

The Bureau of Land Management has finalized its latest plans for Western Oregon’s forests with a plan that emphasizes environmental protections and outdoor recreation.

The 2,000-plus-page compendium outlines how 2.6 million acres of forests are protected or harvested, and succeeds the hotly debated Northwest Forest Plan of 1995 that many blame for the economic downfall of timber-reliant communities.

The Association of O&C Counties representing those communities in southwestern Oregon promptly said it plans to file a lawsuit, claiming the timber harvests offered fall well below the logging levels promised by a federal law.

“Today the BLM is no longer a partner with the counties,” said Tim Freeman, a Douglas County commissioner and secretary of the association. “They do what they do with zero concern for how it affects county services and the people who depend on those county services.”

The association, which represents 17 of the 18 counties that have O&C lands, said the plan will lead to further struggles for those counties whose main jobs generator, the timber industry, has been greatly reduced by environmental protections.

Like other timber-dependent counties, Jackson County took a major hit from logging cutbacks on federal land. Timber revenue shared with Jackson County peaked at $17.2 million in the 1989-90 fiscal year, according to County Administrator Danny Jordan.

For the fiscal year that ended on June 30, the county budgeted $1.65 million in O&C timber payments, said Senior Deputy County Administrator Harvey Bragg. It has budgeted $2 million in O&C timber payments for the current fiscal year that started July 1, Bragg said.

The new BLM plan, called the Resource Management Plan, was four years in the making. In materials released Friday, bureau officials highlight its potential to better protect wildlife — like the much maligned northern spotted owl — waterways and old-growth forests.

It also claims a rise in outdoor recreation will benefit local communities. For example, bureau officials say 554 new jobs and nearly $15 million annually could be piped into Roseburg by way of outdoor recreation. Recreational visits, they said, will grow 40 to 70 percent by 2036.

“That increase in recreation will help Oregon communities,” said Sarah Levy.

A draft of the plan was released in April, which was jeered alike by pro-timber groups who said it offered too little for harvest, as well as environmental groups who contended the plan didn’t go far enough to protect fish and wildlife.

“I think Oregonians are a diverse group and I think there are folks on both sides of the spectrum who may find things that they like about it and things that they don’t like about it,” said Sarah Levy, a spokesperson for the bureau. “We’re proud of being able to provide a balanced take on BLM lands in Western Oregon.”

The plan claims 37 percent more timber will be available for harvest than the 1995 plan, raising the total from 203 million board feet per year to 278 million. The bureau said harvest values would increase to $51 million annually if the harvest meets that higher goal.

Timber groups claim that figure will hover closer to 205 million board feet, the bureau’s minimum requirement.

Under the new plan, 74 percent of reserved land will protect fish, water and wildlife. In the reserved land, the bureau also hopes to better protect old growth trees that are of “highest value” to the northern spotted owl.

The new plan also helps the bureau use newer technology and sciences, according to Levy. For example, the new plan incorporates advances in satellite-based mapping that weren’t around when the Northwest Forest Plan was implemented 20 years ago.

An interactive map will also be published online for the public to look at land use allocations “in their own backyard.”

“The leaps that we’ve made in mapping have just been tremendous in the last 20 years,” Levy said. “I think the data and our plan is better for it.”