Timber counties uncertain about new BLM logging plan

Jeff Barnard / The Associated Press /


Published Jul 1, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

GRANTS PASS — Nothing came to symbolize the difficulty of bringing back the good old days of logging in Oregon like the Bush administration’s plan to boost timber production on 3,750 square miles of federal land in 18 counties, an area about three times the size of Rhode Island.

Big promises of logs and revenue for timber counties won the Western Oregon Plan Revision the nickname of “The Whopper,” spoken affectionately by timber interests and contemptuously by conservationists. But after five years of planning, it all came crashing down. Unable to pass muster under the Endangered Species Act, it was withdrawn by the Obama administration in 2009.

Now, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is working on a kinder and gentler approach. Though some people are calling it “Whopper Junior,” the BLM pointedly is not. In a preliminary planning document released this month, the BLM’s state director, Jerome Perez, said the new approach will be based on what the public wants, science, the law and on the goals of healthy forests, not board feet of timber.

“These 2.5 million acres have an important role to the social, economic and ecological wellbeing of Western Oregon, as well as to the greater American public,” he wrote. “In an effort to try to change the dialogue, besides changing how we engage the public, I want to focus our discussions around outcomes, not outputs.”

The BLM says it will finish the new plan by fall 2015. It has been asking tribes, conservation groups, counties and the timber industry what they want from the lands. The agency has hired a facilitator to make sure they keep in close touch with fish and wildlife scientists at other agencies.

With the details still to be worked out, conservationists warily welcomed the new plan. But the timber industry and some county officials worry the new plan won’t allow the amount of timber production they think is necessary to improve the financial health of Oregon’s timber country, some of whose counties are near bankruptcy.

“It is difficult. There is a lot of history. And it’s a complex issue,” said Mark Brown, a conservation biologist who is managing the project for BLM.