By Andrew Clevenger

The Bulletin

WASHINGTON — Eleven members of the House of Representatives asked the U.S. Forest Service Tuesday to hold additional listening sessions about possible revisions to the Northwest Forest Plan in forested communities as well as in big cities.

Last month, the Forest Service announced plans to hold listening sessions in Portland (March 17), Seattle (March 18) and Redding, California (March 25) as the beginning of the process of revising the Northwest Forest Plan, or NFP. The plan, which has been in effect since 1994, set federal policy for public lands with the goal of protecting the spotted owl, which was listed as threatened in 1990.

All five members of Oregon’s House delegation — Reps. Greg Walden, R-Hood River; Earl Blumenauer, D-Portland; Suzanne Bonamici, D-Beaverton; Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield; and Kurt Schrader, D-Canby — signed the letter. Five representatives from Washington — Democrats Suzan DelBene and Derek Kilmer and Republicans Jaime Herrera Beutler, Dan Newhouse and Dave Reichert — and California Republican Doug LaMalfa also joined in asking the Forest Service to hold more listening sessions throughout the Northwest, especially in rural communities.

Any changes to the NFP would have a profound impact on communities in the their districts, the members wrote.

“Holding only three listening sessions disadvantages our constituents in these rural communities. Many of our constituents would have to travel several hours and hundreds of miles to participate. The cost and time commitments involved would likely present an unacceptable hardship for many residents who would otherwise participate in these sessions,” the letter states.

The Forest Service could not provide its response to the letter Tuesday.

The NFP affects 24 million acres across Oregon, Washington and California on public lands overseen by the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service.

In recent years, it has come under sharp criticism from timber interests, particularly after federal officials acknowledged that the spotted owl population has continued to decline despite the sweeping federal efforts.

In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service introduced its revised recovery plan for the spotted owl, which proposed the forcible removal — dead or alive — of barred owls from habitat critical to the endangered bird, whose numbers had decreased to somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000, according to Fish and Wildlife Service estimates. Since 1985, the number of spotted owls has dropped by 40 percent, averaging nearly a 3 percent decrease each year. The bigger barred owls have moved into spotted owl areas, taking food and habitat.

“While incorporating the latest science and revising the Northwest Forest Plan is long overdue, the Forest Service should take all steps possible to ensure that the public has ample opportunities to participate,” the letter reads. “We urge you to hold additional listening sessions in a wider variety of locations to ensure that our constituents, both urban and rural, can have their voices heard and their input considered.”

— Reporter: 202-662-7456, aclevenger@bendbulletin.com

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