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BLM Plans For Western Oregon Forests Finalized

The Bureau of Land Management on Friday finalized two plans to manage more than 2 million acres of public land in western Oregon. These forests, once owned by the Oregon and California Railroad, have been particularly controversial because counties have traditionally relied on them for logging income to fund local services.

“Our goal here, really in these decisions, I would say, is sustainable and predictable outcome for these western Oregon lands,” BLM Deputy Director Steve Ellis said while announcing the plans.

One plan is designed to cover the wet forests of the Coast Range and Cascades. The other is tailored to the ecological needs of the inland dry forests of Southern Oregon.

Despite this, it seems very few are happy, and legal challenges are likely.

The BLM received nearly 50 formal protests from individuals, environmental groups, Oregon counties and timber industry groups but determined none warranted changes to the proposals.

Environmental groups say it strips away stream protections established more than 20 years ago. The Northwest Forest Plan’s Aquatic Conservation Strategy required managers to look at multiple factors in determining and protecting the health of Oregon’s waterways. This new plan will streamline that strategy, focusing on fish and water quality only.

The environmental group Oregon Wild calls this approach “risky” and “untested.” The BLM said the new strategy is scientifically sound.

More broadly, the agency has previously indicated it believes the new plans will be easier to defend in legal challenges, providing more consistent protections and harvest levels.

The BLM’s finalized plans estimate an annual timber harvest of 278 million board feet — a level the agency said will double the current harvest value.

But counties and timber industry representatives say the allowed timber harvest is still too low. They’re looking to Congress to override the BLM and up the cut. Plans that have circulated in the House and Senate would all force more cutting on the public land.

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Jes Burns is a reporter for OPB's Science & Environment unit. Jes has a degree in English literature from Duke University and a master's degree from the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communications.