Timber industry files lawsuit against WOPR dismissal

By Paul Fattig

For the Tidings

A lawsuit challenging the Obama administration's withdrawal of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Western Oregon Plan Revisions was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., by regional timber industry representatives and a labor union.

Withdrawing the plan violates federal law because the plan met all the legal requirements during the five years it took to complete, according to the plaintiffs.

"Just because there's been a change of administration doesn't justify tossing out five years of hard work by career employees of the BLM," said Bob Ragon, executive director of plaintiff Douglas Timber Operators, in a prepared statement. "If the Republican administration had tried to merely ignore the (1994) Northwest Forest Plan, which was implemented under then-President Bill Clinton, there would have been hell to pay. What is happening here is clearly illegal."

Other plaintiffs include Glendale-based Swanson Group Manufacturing, the Seneca Jones Timber Co. and C&D Lumber Co., both of Roseburg, and Carpenters Industrial Council.

In mid-July, the Obama administration axed the WOPR, which would have increased logging on BLM forests in Western Oregon to allow some 502 million board feet of annual timber harvest.

Created during the Bush administration, the WOPR was the result of an out-of-court settlement in a lawsuit brought by a timber industry group and the Association of O&C Counties.

The WOPR was scrapped because it failed to stand up to legal challenges under the Endangered Species Act, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said when announcing the decision. With the withdrawal of the WOPR, BLM forests in Western Oregon again will be managed under the Northwest Forest Plan, Salazar said. That plan had governed logging on BLM land in the region until the WOPR was completed in December 2008.

An effort will be made to replace the WOPR, although there is no timetable, Salazar added.

Ragon said the WOPR had met all the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedures Act. Five federal agencies, 10 state agencies, American Indian tribes and countless county governments had participated in the process, he said, adding the BLM also had some 29,500 public comments.

"The public has weighed in and the agency responded by making changes between the draft and the final plans," he said. "It is simply illegal to withdraw a valid plan that was adopted through the rule-making process. The decision was made merely to appease some environmental interests who oppose sustainable timber management on our federal lands."

Implementing the WOPR would create more than 9,000 jobs, he said, adding he hopes the lawsuit will cause the Obama administration to change its mind on the WOPR.

"Returning to forest policy gridlock of the past decade is bad for our economy and bad for our forests," Ragon said.

Joseph Vaile, campaign coordinator for the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, which spent two years fighting the WOPR, disagreed.

"I find it incredible that these timber companies, which regularly express their disdain for environmental laws, are now arguing in federal court that the agencies did not follow these laws to the letter," he said.

He noted that more than 90 percent of public comments were opposed to the WOPR.

"The WOPR would bring back old-growth clear-cutting on public land — hardly anyone wants to see that happen," he said. "Most everyone wants small-diameter thinning, fuels reduction and watershed restoration moving forward.

"Many timber companies are joining in the collaborative efforts to restore forests, but this lawsuit is certainly an impediment to moving forward with restoration-based management," he added.

Under the Northwest Forest Plan, the annual allowable timber harvest on the BLM's Medford District is 57 million board feet. However, yearly harvest in recent years generally has been below that figure.

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

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