Administration uninterested in defending plan
By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
The federal government wants to give in on environmentalist demands in a lawsuit over a controversial timber management plan for some public lands in Western Oregon.
Earlier this year, Pacific Rivers Council and other environmental groups filed a legal complaint against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over a plan that would have doubled logging in the region.
The BLM has now responded to that lawsuit by admitting its adoption of the Western Oregon Plan Revisions, or WOPR, in 2008 violated the Endangered Species Act.
The agency has asked the judge in that case to vacate the WOPR and remand the plan to the agency for changes.
In the coming months, BLM will begin revising and amending the WOPR, though the final outcome will depend on recovery plans for the threatened spotted owl, the agency said in a court filing.
The American Forest Resource Council, a timber trade group, sees the BLM's latest move as cynical, said Ann Forest Burns, its vice president.
"It's an outrageous thing for the government to have done," she said.
The WOPR was developed under the Bush administration, but the Obama administration withdrew the plan shortly after taking office. Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled that decision violated administrative law.
The BLM's admission that WOPR violated the Endangered Species Act is basically its attempt to get another federal judge to once again vacate the plan -- an action the agency couldn't take without following public notice-and-comment procedures, Burns said.
"We are highly hopeful the judge won't go along with this," she said.
Capital Press was unable to reach an attorney representing BLM.
John Kober, executive director of Pacific Rivers Council, said he doesn't like to predict court outcomes, but he would be surprised if the judge made BLM carry on with the litigation even if the agency doesn't want to defend itself.
Kober said he hopes the BLM will now be able to fix the "fundamental flaws" in the plan, which his group believes will harm fish and water quality.
"It's kind of finger pointing at this point," he said. "We need to get down to the problems with the WOPR."