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Ruling guards old growth

By By PAUL FATTIG
Mail Tribune
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Timber specialists are scrambling to determine the impact on local federal timber sales following Monday’s federal court ruling reinstating survey and management requirements of old-growth species in the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan.

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Marsha J. Pechman in Seattle covers 144 timber sales totaling some 289 million board feet in Western Oregon and Washington and the northwestern corner of California.

About half of those sales include old-growth logging. The federal government estimated during the case that its projected economic loss from stopping the timber sales was about $2.7 million.

It is unknown how many of those timber sales are on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Medford District or the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

"A cursory look shows that a number of timber sales are compliant," said Karen Gillespie, spokeswoman for the BLM district. "We know we’ll be able to move forward on some. But we haven’t had time to do a final analysis."

The Forest Service is also assessing the impact of the ruling, said Julie Cox, spokeswoman for that agency’s Region 6 office in Portland.

Red tree voles and Siskiyou salamanders were among the more than 400 plant and animal old-growth species that scientists originally felt could be at risk if logging took place in their habitat. However, the Bush administration dropped those survey and management requirements early in 2004 as part of a legal settlement with the timber industry, prompting a lawsuit by environmental groups.

Pechman sided with the plaintiffs last August, although she didn’t announce her final decision until Monday.

"The agencies now have to look before they log," said George Sexton, conservation director for the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, one of the 10 plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

In Western Oregon, more than 80 percent of old-growth forests that existed a century ago have been cut, he said.

Old-growth trees are important for a variety of reasons, including preserving biological diversity, clean water and recreational opportunities, he said.

"When you have such a diminished amount of old growth, it puts all three of those values at risk," Sexton said.

"This is a huge victory for people who value wildlife and the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest," added Rolf Skar, campaign director of the Illinois Valley-based Siskiyou Regional Education Project.

"It’s time for the Bush administration to recognize that Northwesterners value our natural heritage and want to see it permanently protected," he added.

Other local groups involved in the case include Umpqua Watersheds and the Klamath Forest Alliance. They are represented by the Western Environmental Law Center and Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center.

While the ruling will affect old-growth timber sales, it won’t affect second-growth thinning projects, Sexton said, noting that logging the latter isn’t controversial.

He observed that a 1999 study determined there were 770,000 acres of replanted trees of five to 12 inches in diameter in Jackson and Josephine counties. Those small trees contain more than 5.7 billion board feet of timber.

"They need to address the oceans of clearcuts and fiber plantations they’ve already created," Sexton said, noting those sites would produce stable, permanent jobs while avoiding future legal battles.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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