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Obama administration scraps Bush logging plan

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — The Obama administration is withdrawing the Bush administration’s last attempt at increasing logging in Northwest forests occupied by northern spotted owls and salmon.

Assistant Interior Secretary Ned Farquhar told a conference call of attorneys Thursday that they had determined the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s decision not to consult federal biologists over the logging’s effects on spotted owls and salmon violated the Endangered Species Act.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was scheduled to discuss the decision in a teleconference with reporters.

BLM had sought to increase timber production in Western Oregon and increase revenues for rural Oregon counties still hurting from logging cutbacks in the 1990s to protect fish and wildlife.

The plan depended on scaled-back protections for the spotted owl. Interior lawyers told a federal judge last April they will not defend the Bush administration’s plan for taking the owl off the threatened species list.

The BLM plan called for logging five times the timber it sold last year, which amounts to about half of what was logged before the previous Northwest Forest Plan dramatically cut logging.

The Northwest Forest Plan came after lawsuits from conservation groups shut down logging in old growth forests of Oregon, Washington and Northern California to protect habitat for the spotted owl.

The Bush administration agreed to produce a new spotted owl recovery plan and review the critical habitat designation under terms of the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the timber industry.

Andy Stahl, director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, said Thursday’s decision reverses President George W. Bush’s “backward step in protection of Oregon fish and wildlife habitat.” Stahl is a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits challenging the BLM’s Western Oregon Plan Revision.

“This restores the situation before Bush embarked upon this silly exercise,” he said.

Parties to the conference call said the Department of Interior will seek dismissal of the four lawsuits challenging the BLM’s Western Oregon Plan Revision.