Thinning projects make up bulk of BLM sales in Western Ore.

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) -- Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has announced a crop of timber sales for federal lands in Western Oregon intended to keep Oregon mills open while the Obama administration works on a new long-term forest management strategy.

Speaking on a teleconference, Salazar last week said 46 of the 62 U.S. Bureau of Land Management sales being offered for fiscal 2010 have already passed endangered species consultations and the rest were in the process, assuring they will not be tied up in years of litigation.

Salazar also announced a new climate of cooperation between BLM and the agencies reviewing timber sales for endangered species protection, and the creation of a task force to work on a long-term timber strategy. BLM Director Bob Abbey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Sam Hamilton will be visiting Oregon to work on it.

Last July, Salazar scrapped Bush administration plans to ease protections for the Northern spotted owl and double logging on BLM lands in Oregon, saying it could not stand up to challenges under the Endangered Species Act.

BLM had pushed through the Western Oregon Plan Revision, known as WOPR, without consulting over endangered species impacts. It covered 2.5 million acres of BLM forest land and was intended to also restore federal payments to timber counties that have lagged as logging was restricted to protect fish and wildlife. Timber harvests there have been running about 200 million board-feet a year.

The 62 sales announced by Salazar, amounting to 230 million board-feet, were all in the pipeline when WOPR was withdrawn. They had been developed under the rules of the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan to provide timber while WOPR was going into effect, said BLM Oregon spokeswoman Jody Weil.

About 85 percent of them are thinning projects, and most will come from the Eugene District and other northern regions, added BLM Oregon spokesman Michael Campbell.

Josh Laughlin, conservation director of Cascadia Wildlands, said in an e-mail that conservation groups could generally support the thinning projects, but the remaining clearcuts of older forests amount to a "poison pill" that will be met with strong opposition.

"If the Obama administration wants to avoid conflict and controversy, they should rein in BLM clearcutting, and instead of expanding timber targets they should focus on what is economically rational and scientifically defensible," Oregon Wild conservation director Steve Pedery said in a statement.

Tom Partin, president of the timber industry group American Forest Resource Council, said thinning sales would soon run out, and he looked forward to working with the Obama administration to develop a timber strategy that dealt with problems such as the threat of wildfire and a dependable supply of marketable logs.

"Many of these thinning sales are very small trees with low value," Partin said. "It is not really putting sales in the marketplace if these sales have no bid."

Oregon Democrats U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio praised the sales, saying they offered real timber, not false promises.

"What is being discussed today is less than what was promised under WOPR, but is a lot more than would have been received under these gridlocked policies that we would have had under years of litigation," Wyden said.

DeFazio said the volume was enough to keep mills operating while the nation climbs out of recession, which has killed the demand for lumber. He said he was offering legislation to give BLM the same flexibility the U.S. Forest Service has to allow timber buyers to get out from under high-priced sales when demand falls off, as it has now.

"While the projects announced today maintain the status quo in terms of the quantity of timber produced, they will provide badly needed jobs in the woods, in the mills and other forest-related employment," Gov. Ted Kulongoski said in a statement. "Moreover, these projects, because they are largely thinning projects, will make an important contribution to forest health."


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