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Bureau's delay in species surveys challenged

The BLM said less than 1 percent of the land that falls within Northwest Forest Plan jurisdiction would be disturbed during the one-year delay   

April 6, 1999
Web posted at: 2:45 PM EST

A recent joint U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management decision to amend the Northwest Forest Plan is being challenged by 13 conservation groups that say the change will allow the BLM to finalize timber sales in western Oregon and northwest California without doing species surveys.

"They made a promise to protect species by doing surveys back in 1994 and they've known about it all along, but they've delayed and delayed and delayed and we are not going to let them get away with ignoring their responsibility to protect our ancient forests and the species that depend on them," said Doug Heiken, of the Oregon Natural Resources Council.

The Northwest Forest Plan allows for enough logging that many species are still at risk under the plan. To mitigate for these species, the authors of the plan required the BLM to survey for certain species and protect their habitat before doing timber sales. The plan was approved in 1994 but the plan gave the BLM a four-year phase-in period before all the surveys were required.

In its finding of "no significant impact," the BLM said the decision to delay the surveys another year was based on an assessment done by species experts that shows it would not cause a substantial increase in risk to the 32 species covered in the forest plan. In its finding, the BLM also said less than one percent of the land that falls within the Northwest Forest Plan jurisdiction would be disturbed during that time.

The BLM likened the risk of the one-year delay to the four years without surveys, 1996-98, that was already accepted in the original survey schedule of the Northwest Forest Plan Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

A Forest Service document on the decision to the delay the species surveys said it is needed to achieve the two primary goals of the Northwest Forest Plan providing sustainable timber harvests and maintaining and restorying healthy old-growth ecosystems and habitat for populations of native fish, widlife and plants.

Surveys for some species are technically infeasible, according to the Forest Service, and the inability to complete surveys would postpone or preclude a major portion of planned management action, which was not anticipated by the Northwest Forest Plan.

Delaying the species surveys will all allow timber harvests and prescribed burns to take place, according to the Forest Service, without substantially increasing the risk to any protection buffer species.

Many of the species required to be surveyed are things like wildflowers, moss, lichen, mushrooms, and snails. These species, according to the conservation groups, are very important to maintaining the whole forest ecosystem.

"The president's forest plan is based upon ecosystem management and the recognition that all creatures are essential to maintaining the health of the forest ecosystem," said Heiken. "It's not just the spotted owl, it's not just the salmon, it's the whole forest and all creatures great and small that make up the forests that we love.".

The groups also charged that the BLM tried to exclude the public from the plan amendment process by conducting an abbreviated environmental review and by making the decision to amend the forest plan not appealable.

"We read the rules and they clearly require the BLM to prepare a full environmental impact statement and include the public in these processes. The BLM is simply trying to intimidate the public and prevent citizens from enforcing the law and protecting their public forest," said Heiken.

The conservation groups involved in the action are the Oregon Natural Resources Council Action, Oregon Natural Resources Council Fund, American Lands Alliance, Santiam Watershed Guardians, Umpqua Valley Audubon, Cascadia Wildlands Project, Cascadia Forest Alliance, Umpqua Watersheds Inc., Headwaters, Bark, California Wilderness Coalition, Mount Hood Stewardship Council and the Klamath Forest Alliance.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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BLM decision
BLM: Northwest Forest Plan site
The Northwest Forest Plan
Oregon Natural Resources Council
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