Oregon's Heritage Forests at Risk
The Bush administration aimed to eliminate Northwest Forest Plan safeguards from two million acres of BLM land in Western Oregon, but by 2012 what was left of the WOPR may have had the final nail driven into its coffin.
UPDATE: 5.1.12: A new plan revision process is underway. Learn more and weigh in.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for more than 2 million acres of public land in western Oregon which has historically been covered by the environmental safeguards provided by the Northwest Forest Plan. Logging has severely affected much of this land, but the BLM still manages hundreds of thousands of acres of pristine and unspoiled old-growth "heritage forests."
Under the Bush administration, logging interests and the BLM worked together to put these heritage forests on the chopping block. The Bush administration settled a lawsuit brought by the logging industry, and agreed to remove BLM forestlands in western Oregon from the Northwest Forest Plan's old-growth reserve system.
Before the BLM could open these old-growth forests to logging, however, it was required to complete an open planning process and gather public input. Oregon Wild worked with a diverse coalition of hunters, anglers, conservationists, elected officials, and rural land owners to push for continued protection of these lands.
A Threat to Western Oregon's Heritage Forests
Read the latest news on WOPR and BLM forests.
In late 2008, just weeks before leaving office, the Bush administration and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released their final plan for over two million acres of western Oregon forestlands. The Western Oregon Plan Revision (WOPR for short) would have ramped up logging across the landscape and targeted some of our last old-growth forests.
This dangerous plan would also have degraded habitat for fish and wildlife and threatened the quality of our drinking water.
See Google Earth maps of areas threatened by WOPR, courtesy of the Coast Range Association.
Fortunately, the new administration saw through the plan and withdrew it in July 2009, stating that its legal flaws were insurmountable and pledging to move forward instead with ecologically-sound restoration projects.
What's Next for BLM Lands?
How much timber does the BLM cut down? Click here for a graph that shows how the BLM has been meeting its own timber targets.
The withdrawal of the WOPR was not the end of the story. Without the revised plans, BLM management returned to the framework of the Northwest Forest Plan, under which it can implement the common sense program of watershed restoration including protecting mature and old-growth forests and thinning dense young stands. The BLM has largely been focusing on this restoration thinning in recent years.
Post-WOPR, the Secretary of the Interior has initiated the development of a series of pilot projects in the Roseburg, Medford, and Coos Bay BLM Districts to test the forest management concepts of some prominent forest scientists. Oregon Wild is concerned some of these projects are focusing on more controversial practices like heavily logging mature forests and threatened species' habitat than on ecological restoration. See our comments on these projects here.
In the meantime, the battle over the legality of the WOPR continued. In the wake of the withdrawal, the timber industry filed a lawsuit saying the flawed plan didn't go far enough in ordering a return to full-tilt logging of our forests. In March 2011, a court ruled the procedure used to withdraw WOPR didn't follow the proper channels.
However, the Interior Department and BLM agreed not to implement the WOPR pending legal resolution. We may have gotten that. In September 2011, a judge ruled WOPR had bypassed scientific scrutiny required by law, and recommended it be permanently withdrawn. This may just be the last blow to be dealt to this flawed plan.
Update May 2012: A new plan revision process has begun. Learn more and weigh in here!