GRANTS PASS, Ore. – The Obama administration has been given more time to decide whether it wants to defend the lawsuits challenging Bush administration plans to boost logging on federal forests in Western Oregon.
In papers filed in the various federal court cases, administration lawyers say many key policymaker positions at the U.S. Department of Interior have yet to be filled.
Among them is the director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, whose Western Oregon Plan Revision is the focus of the lawsuits.
Conservation groups and the timber industry have sued BLM and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over their failure to consult on endangered species issues on the Western Oregon Plan Revision.
The new deadline is July 20. BLM also agreed not to go forward with any specific logging projects until that time.
“We don’t have any problem giving the new administration the time it needs to make an intelligent decision,” said Andy Stahl, director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, a conservation group that brought one of the lawsuits. “We think that the answer is an easy one to come to. But they don’t have the people in place to make the calls.”
The Western Oregon Plan Revision was the Bush administration’s last big effort to boost logging in the Northwest to increase timber supplies for mills and federal payments for timber-dependent counties.
The counties get a 50-percent share of revenues from what are known as O&C Lands managed by BLM.
Fish and Wildlife e-mails indicate BLM backed off at the last minute on plans to consult over whether the overall plan threatened the survival of endangered species and instead decided to consult over individual timber sales, allowing the Bush administration to get the plan finished before leaving office.
Since taking office, President Obama has distanced himself from several Bush administration policies on the environment, and administration lawyers notified a federal judge earlier this year they would not defend lawsuits challenging a Bush administration plan that eased protections for the northern spotted owl, a threatened species.
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