Reinstated logging plan could help Oregon's economy

By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI

Capital Press

A plan to increase logging on 2.5 million acres of public land in Western Oregon was unlawfully withdrawn by the Obama administration, according to a federal judge.

The Western Oregon Plan Revisions, known as WOPR, would have boosted yearly logging levels from about 200 million board feet to 500 million board feet on Bureau of Land Management property in the state.

The Interior Department approved the WOPR in late 2008 under the Bush administration, but the agency retracted the plan several months after President Barack Obama took office in 2009.

The agency said the plan's approval was based on "legal error" because the BLM had not consulted with other federal agencies about its potential effect on threatened and endangered species.

Douglas Timber Operators, a group representing the forest products industry, filed a legal complaint alleging the withdrawal violated administrative laws that require public participation in federal decision-making.

U.S. District Judge John Bates agreed with the plaintiffs and vacated the agency's withdrawal of the plan, ruling that the Interior Department lacked authority to retract the WOPR without following notice and comment procedures.

Capital Press was unable to reach an agency spokesperson as of press time.

Bob Ragon, executive director of Douglas Timber Operators, said the decision effectively reinstates WOPR, though it's still up to the Interior Department whether to approve actual timber sales under the plan.

The judge has given the agency an opportunity to let the plan stand, which would help revive the state's economy, said Ragon. "They'd be silly not to take it."

The Interior Department may decide to engage in the rule-making process to restore the previous land management plan for the area, established in 1994, he said.

Ragon said that would be unfortunate, given that the agency spent five years and millions of dollars developing WOPR.

Though the WOPR would more than double logging on affected BLM land, that level is well below the 1.2 billion board feet generated in the area each year, Ragon said. "They're cutting less than 50 percent of the annual growth."

The Pacific Rivers Council, an environmental group, opposed the plan because road building and logging would be allowed too close to riparian areas, harming fish, said John Kober, its executive director. The group voluntarily intervened as a defendant in the lawsuit.

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