Bush will overhaul Northwest Forest Plan
The Bush administration thinks the Clinton-bred forestry plan that
has governed -- and limited -- Northwest logging since 1994 is a
failure and needs overhaul or replacement.
Dale Bosworth, Bush's chief of the U.S. Forest Service, told The
Oregonian that the Northwest Forest Plan's cumbersome and costly
procedures have held logging far short of projected levels and
rendered the Forest Service ineffective.
"I don't think the public in general sees us as an organization that
can do what we said we're going to do -- not because we have bad
people, but because we have good people tied up in an impossible
situation," Bosworth said.
It is the first clear sign that the Bush administration is taking
action to rework the Northwest Forest Plan, which has left loggers
idle and frustrated with laborious surveys for rare forest species
and environmental lawsuits that seek to protect the old growth trees
that the plan aims to cut.
"It tells us the problems are recognized at the highest levels, where
the previous administration wouldn't admit their plan was broken,"
said Chris West of the American Forest Resource Council, an industry
group that has long pushed for revisions.
Bosworth said he has instructed regional heads of the Forest Service,
U.S. Bureau of Land Management and other agencies to recommend
updates to the plan. Some changes could be made within agencies,
while others may require altering or replacing the decision issued by
the Clinton administration in 1994, he said.
The decision was signed by the secretaries of Interior and
Agriculture at the time and could be altered by Bush Interior
Secretary Gale Norton and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. No
specific steps have been decided on, Bosworth said.
"Everything we're looking at is within the administration's
discretion," he said.
Bosworth said there is no deadline for fixing the forest plan but
said the Bush administration has made it a priority.
"We're anxious to get moving," he said.
The Northwest Forest Plan, approved by the Clinton administration
following a 1993 forest summit in Portland, was the first attempt to
manage a broad ecosystem across an entire region. It set aside
millions of acres of federal forests for protection of the threatened
northern spotted owl and other wildlife while permitting logging of
nearly 1 billion board feet of federal timber each year.
That was about a quarter of the wood that came off federal lands in
the Northwest during the logging boom of the late 1980s.
But forest agencies have never come close to the 1 billion target,
since downscaled to about 800 million board feet. Lawsuits and
appeals by environmental groups, court orders and procedural demands
kept logging at less than 200 million board feet last year.
The Pacific Northwest region of the Forest Service produced 50
million board feet, about one-tenth of what the Northwest Forest Plan
called for, Regional Forester Harv Forsgren said.
"We don't feel like we've achieved the balance we need to," Forsgren
Costs of the plan -- such as $26 million a year for surveys of
lichen, fungi and other little-known species -- are "not sustainable"
by federal land agencies, while procedural burdens have agencies
managing paperwork instead of forests, he said.
The provisions have straightjacketed the plan so it cannot adjust to
changing conditions and knowledge, as its authors had intended, he
"We've built in too much process," Forsgren said.
Environmental groups have used the well-intentioned provisions as
handholds to slow or stop projects such as timber sales, Bosworth
But Doug Heiken of the Oregon Natural Resources Council said the
Northwest Forest Plan barely does enough to protect wildlife as it
is. It's mired in lawsuits and delays because federal foresters have
continued to log old growth timber -- as allowed by the plan -- in
the face of increasing public opposition, he said.
The plan targeted some old growth for logging to maintain a flow of
federal timber, while reserving other forests for imperiled wildlife
such as the spotted owl.
Heiken said it has become clear that less logging is "legally
acceptable" than the plan had estimated.
"They're not getting the cut out because they're going after the most
controversial forests," he said. "There's plenty of work out there to
be done, in terms of restoration, that people can agree on."
However, Bosworth said it would be "a cop out" for the Forest Service
to simply avoid controversial projects.
"There aren't many things we do that are not controversial," he said.
You can reach Michael Milstein at 503-294-7689 or by e-mail at