Bush just wiped out 1/2 of NW environmental regulations in ONE DAY
Tuesday is a day that anyone who loves the forest of the Northwest should long remember. In one day Bush eliminated 2 KEY, MAJOR environmental regulations in the Northwest: The Aquatic Conservation Strategy and the Survey and Manage rare species protections. The Northwest Forest Plan - the Clinton era environmental protections that have just barely kept the forests from catastrophy - can now be called dead.
3 Articles from the Corporate Media - look for more anaylsis in the coming weeks at www.cascadiarising.org.
Key rules are eased to boost logging
The Northwest Forest Plan no longer will require surveys for rare species, and guidelines for salmon streams are revised
The Bush administration Tuesday made two major changes to the Northwest Forest Plan that substantially could increase old-growth logging on vast stretches of public land in Oregon, Washington and Northern California.
The government dropped a rule requiring forest managers to look for rare plants and animals before logging, and it reworded rules protecting salmon-bearing streams.
The changes eliminate obstacles that have kept logging well below what the Northwest Forest Plan intended when it was the subject of agonizing negotiations a decade ago. Conservation groups and the timber industry characterized the changes as "significant" -- but for different reasons.
"They are destroying the safety net for wildlife that depend upon old-growth forests," Regna Merritt, executive director of the Oregon Natural Resources Council, said Tuesday.
The changes would allow "some flexibility that we haven't had in recent years," said Robbie Robinson, president of Starfire Lumber in Cottage Grove.
Language added late in the drafting of the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan required U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management employees to survey for about 300 rare plants and animals before an old-growth timber sale could proceed.
The requirement, known as the "survey and manage" rule, offered protection for species not listed under the Endangered Species Act. That included such plants and animals as mosses, slugs and the red tree vole, one of the most controversial. But the timber industry challenged the rule in court by arguing that the surveys were expensive and took years to complete.
Last spring the federal government said it would reconsider its survey and manage rule as part of an agreement settling the industry's lawsuit.
"There's nothing in the law that requires such special protection for species that aren't listed," said Chris West, vice president of the American Forest Resource Council, a Portland-based timber industry group.
"There's no need to spend millions and millions of dollars having people crawling around on their hands and knees looking for these species anymore," West said.
Cost, staff time
Cost and staff time were among the reasons the federal government dropped the survey and manage rule. The Forest Service and the BLM estimate they will save $16 million a year, dollars that could be used for forest restoration, fuels treatment and timber harvest as prescribed under the Northwest Forest Plan.
The government will continue to monitor some sensitive old-growth species under other programs, said Rex Holloway, a Forest Service spokesman.
In the past, if forest managers found evidence of the rare species, protections such as buffer zones had to be put in place. The rules sometimes left small blocks of old growth standing within areas designated for logging. Now forest managers and biologists will look for rare species in a timber sale area and, if they find them, they will have to make a decision about whether protection is important, Holloway said.
Merritt of the Oregon Natural Resources Council has her doubts.
"They had a look-before-you-log principle, and now they're returning to blind-cutting of old growth," she said.
The survey and manage change affects 5.5 million acres of old-growth forests and is not subject to administrative appeal by citizens. But Merritt predicted it would be challenged in court, casting uncertainty about when the region would see an increase in old-growth logging.
The Northwest Forest Plan originally promised timber companies 1.1 billion board feet of harvest a year. That number eventually was revised down to 805 million board feet. But Northwest timber sales consistently have fallen short largely because of challenges made possible under the survey and manage rules.
In 2001, the Forest Service and BLM offered 116 million board feet. Most of what is offered is sold and eventually cut.
Last year, the agencies offered 475 million board feet, and this year they expect to offer about 500 million board feet, Holloway said.
Without the survey and manage rule, federal forest managers expect timber harvest could increase by 70 million board feet a year, topping out at 775 million board feet.
Conservationists also were dismayed about a clarification the administration announced to another part of the Northwest Forest Plan designed to guard watershed and aquatic health.
The government made it clear that individual timber sales will not be required to meet all of the objectives set out under its Aquatic Conservation Strategy. Instead, federal agencies will monitor entire watersheds ranging from 30 to 150 square miles in size.
Holloway said rules requiring green buffer zones, in some cases as wide as 300 feet on each side of a stream, would remain in place.
Glen Spain, Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, has filed lawsuits in the past in an attempt to force federal agencies to follow the strategy on each logging site. Tuesday's rewording, he said, "institutionalizes scientific ignorance."
"Before they had to look at impacts of timber harvests and operations on salmon," Spain said. "Now they don't have to look at anything on a site-by-site basis. The impacts will still happen. They're just not going to look for them."
Spain said his group, the largest organization of fishing families on the West Coast, intends to challenge the change.
It's official: Rules eased on old-growth logging
OLYMPIAN STAFF, NEWS SERVICES
The Bush administration Tuesday eased restrictions on logging old-growth forests in the Northwest, finalizing a previously announced change that means forest managers no longer have to look for rare plants and animals before logging.
Instead, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management will rely on information provided by Washington, Oregon and California in deciding whether to allow logging, prescribed burns and trail- or campground-building, said Forest Service spokesman Rex Holloway.
Environmentalists decried the change, saying it would double logging on federal land in the region and have disastrous consequences for rare species.
"The Bush administration is making it much easier to harvest old growth," said Emily Platt, executive director of the Olympia-based Gifford Pinchot Task Force. "This could send us back to the timber wars of the late 1980s and early 1990s."
Most old-growth forest in the region -- 86 percent -- remains protected, Holloway said.
The rules change applies only to old growth and other forests designated for logging under the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan.
"We feel fairly confident that remaining old growth will provide sufficient habitat for the remaining species," Holloway said. "And there are still riparian reserves, there are buffers along streams, and even when we're harvesting we still have to leave 15 or 16 green trees per acre, so there is some habitat for some of these species."
The rule changes were long overdue and might help boost logging to harvest levels contemplated when the Northwest Forest Plan was adopted by the Clinton administration 10 years ago next month, said Chris West, vice president of the American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry group based in Portland.
The forestry plan designed to end gridlock on the region's national forests suggested 1 billion board-feet of timber could still be harvested from federal forestland each year when, in fact, harvest levels have hovered around 300 million to 400 million board-feet annually, West said.
The change was prompted by a timber industry lawsuit and is intended to boost logging on 24 million acres of public land in Washington, Oregon and Northern California. The timber industry had complained for years that the so-called "survey and manage" rules -- which require study of the potential effects of logging on about 300 plant and animal species -- are overly intrusive and can take years to complete.
In addition, the administration Tuesday announced a change to another part of the Northwest Forest Plan, known as the Aquatic Conservation Strategy. That part outlines goals for watershed protection; the change clarifies that the agencies will no longer evaluate individual projects on whether they help achieve those goals, but only on whether the agencies meet those goals on a broader, watershed-wide basis.
"The root of our problems is that we have an anti-environment president who sits in the White House," said Regna Merritt, executive director of Oregon Natural Resources Council Action in Portland. "They are changing the rules and ignoring the science in a way that is simply illegal. They're going to eliminate protections for threatened salmon and leave 47 species at high risk of extinction. The idea of looking before you log was the way we could prevent hundreds of species from going extinct."
Timber industry official West charged forest activists with playing election-year politics at the expense of sound federal forest policy.
The "survey and manage" rules had been used to protect small blocks of old growth still standing within areas designated for logging, known as matrix lands. Matrix lands amount to 1.1 million acres in the three-state region.
Dale Hom, Forest Service supervisor for the Olympic National Forest, downplayed the ruling's effect on the Olympic, where forest restoration projects have supplanted large timber sales in recent years.
"I don't expect a major change in what we're doing on the ground," he said.
The Olympic National Forest has sold about 8 million to 12 million board feet of timber per year since the late 1990s, and most of those sales have been commercial thinning operations in second-growth forests.
Feds ease rules about logging of old growth
Associated Press file
A DNA sample is taken from a red tree vole near Gilde, east of Roseburg, in 2000.
Environmentalists and timber-industry officials disagree about the impact on rare species.
March 24, 2004
Reed Wilson and Jeremy Hall pushed through knee-high sword ferns and vine maple dripping with moss in an old-growth forest a mile outside Mill City.
They stepped over fallen Douglas fir and hemlock covered in witch's butter, an orange fungus. Sunlight touched the forest floor as if it shone through window blinds.
It's here that Wilson and Hall pointed to the top of a 180-foot tree that four people, finger-to-finger, barely could wrap their arms around.
A red tree vole nest sat atop it.
Wilson scaled the tree, coming face-to-face with a flying squirrel before reaching the home of a red tree vole, a secretive, nocturnal mammal that looks like an oversize mouse.
His discovery in October 2002, verified by contractors hired by federal officials, led to the elimination of about 50 acres from the Turnridge timber sale to protect the rare mammal.
In finding the nest, Wilson was acting as a citizen surveyor for the survey-and-manage program under the Northwest Forest Plan, a management plan for federal forest lands.
But as of Tuesday, the survey-and-manage program is no more. The federal agencies running the program announced the removal of the program from the forest plan.
The decision is drawing sharply contrasting reactions.
Environmentalists are worried that hundreds of rare species and old growth will suffer.
Loggers, who filed a suit to end survey-and-manage, are hoping that the change will help them finally make headway in cutting timber in Oregon's forests, thus providing jobs and reviving the state's economy.
And federal agency officials insist that they will be able to meet the requirements under the law and save taxpayers money.
Survey-and-manage was added to the Northwest Forest Plan in 1994 as a way to protect hundreds of rare species that might not be protected in the plan's forest reserves and which are not listed on state or federal endangered-species lists. It had three parts:
# Protect sites where known rare species lived.
# Perform regional-level surveys to give an overview of species protection.
# Conduct surveys of rare species before ground-disturbing activities, such as timber harvests.
The species protected live in mature forests, generally 80 years and older and known as late successional forests.
The Northwest Forest Plan, developed partly as a response to the listing of the Northern spotted owl, requires that the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service not only protect and enhance species in old-growth forests but also provide timber to the logging industry.
"We are trying to restore the ability to implement all parts of the Northwest Forest Plan," said Ann Boeder of the Portland office of the Bureau of Land Management, which administers the Northwest Forest Plan along with the U.S. Forest Service. "There are dual goals for (timber harvest and species protection), and there is a balance you need to maintain. We have lost that balance."
The plan recommended that federal agencies sell about 805 million board feet of timber per year.
In 2002, 400 million board feet were sold, and last year, 473 million board feet were harvested. An average new house uses 15,000 board feet of timber.
BLM and the Forest Service expect to save $16 million per year with the removal of the survey-and-manage program.
"In terms of timber harvest, we are still looking at what is less than in the Northwest Forest Plan," Boeder said. "And that was considered predictable and sustainable when we adopted the plan."
The Northwest Forest Plan covers Western Oregon, Washington and Northern California. It covers 24 million acres of federal land in the three states. It covers 9.6 million acres in Oregon.
Within the plan, there are 8 million acres of mature forests. Of that, 6.86 million acres are protected in reserves and about 1 million acres are available for timber harvest.
"Eighty percent of all federal land in the Northwest Forest Plan are reserved in some form," Boeder said. "Eighty-six percent of late successional and old growth are protected from timber sales."
Jeremy Hall of the Oregon Natural Resources Council, a nonprofit environmental group, is frustrated that federal agencies are cutting late successional forests.
Hall said that older stands provide habitat for hundreds of rare species that prefer to live in older forests and may not survive among younger trees. Older forests also retain moisture better than their younger counterparts, preventing raging-hot fires, Hall said.
Plus, he said, there is almost no old growth left on private and state lands anymore. Hall thinks that there is enough timber — hundreds of millions of board feet — in younger stands.
"We are really looking at only a small amount of old growth left," Hall said. "We are fighting over the last scraps of old growth. How many more times are we going to be called out as being unfair? The Northwest Forest Plan was a compromise to begin with, and now survey-and-manage is being cut."
The survey-and-manage program originally listed more than 400 species from lichens and amphibians to fungi and mammals. Species were removed as their numbers were deemed viable.
Surveys are required for about 80 species before ground-disturbing activities, such as a timber harvest.
"Survey-and-manage helped to maintain a viable population of rare species that can't disperse to other areas," Hall said. "It is a safety net for all species great and small. We should give these critters the best chance to survive. That's why this survey-and-manage program is so important."
Hall added that survey-and-manage provided enough protection for rare species that environmentalists didn't think that it was necessary to push for the listing of species on federal or state endangered-species lists. Without the program, Hall expects more lawsuits about listing species.
"Survey-and-manage was a safeguard," he said. "Now a lot of private timber companies are more exposed to potential endangered-species-act listings because the best habitat on federal land is being destroyed. We just want protection for the late successional forests — survey-and-manage could go away as long as we have that protection."
BLM officials say they are certain that they can continue to protect rare species under other existing programs.
Of the 296 species currently protected under survey-and-manage, 152 species are covered under an existing program known as special status and sensitive species.
But private citizens won't have the level of involvement they had with survey-and-manage.
Wilson, who found the tree vole nest, is a jewelry maker in Corvallis. His interest in protecting old forests led him to learn to rope up and scale hundred-year old trees in search of rare species.
He said that the people hired by the federal agencies to survey for voles weren't doing a thorough job.
"That's one of the reasons a lot of citizens started to survey for red tree voles," Wilson said. "The feds were just walking through and looking for nests. It's the old-growth trees with defects that make the best habitat for cavity dwellers. The voles live in the hollow part at the top of a tree, hidden from view."
Without a program to survey for red tree voles, Wilson is worried that the species won't survive.
"The red tree vole is in decline as long as they continue to log old growth," he said.
But logging all forests, including old growth, is the only way to help a lagging timber industry, its employees and ultimately the state economy, said Dennis Frank, president of Frank Lumber Company in Mill City.
Last month, Frank Lumber bought the Turnridge timber sale for more than $1.3 million from BLM's Salem district.
"They are always coming up with some reason to cut down the size of the timber sale or eliminate the timber sale," Frank said. "In the last 10 years, it has been very difficult to obtain logs at a cost that you could break even with. It's been a long hard pull for the last 10 years."
Frank Lumber relies on BLM and state forest lands for 50 percent of its business. Frank said that BLM land has provided less wood per timber sale than a decade ago, partly because of programs such as survey-and-manage.
"Not much more than 10 years ago, there were 12 saw mills between Mehama and Detroit — now there are two," Frank said. "In Mill City, we now have hardly any business. We have one grocery store, a post office and a couple of restaurants. The town is absolutely devastated. The schools are in trouble, and they used to be the best funded. It's all because of the timber harvest."
Late successional forest: Forests with trees more than 80 years old.
Northwest Forest Plan: Management plan for federal forest lands, developed in response to the listing of the spotted owl.
Old growth: A component of late successional forests, usually with trees older than 120 years.
Red tree vole: Elusive, nocturnal mammal not listed on federal or state endangered species lists but considered rare.
Survey and manage: A safeguard measure included in the Northwest Forest Plan to protect rare species by surveying for them, sometimes before a ground-disturbing activity.
To learn more, call:
Bureau of Land Management, Salem district, (503) 375-5657
U.S. Forest Service, Willamette National Forest, (541) 225-6301
Oregon Natural Resources Council, (541) 344-0675
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