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Lawsuits Target Controversial Forest Plan For Western Oregon

Just days after the Bureau of Land Management finalized two forestry plans for Oregon, conservation and timber interests have each filed lawsuits in federal court.

The Western Oregon plans will govern how forests are managed for the coming decades – including what land will be logged and what will be set aside to protect water quality and endangered species habitat.

The BLM touts its new plan as a balanced approach for managing about two million acres of western Oregon forests known as O&C Lands because they were formerly owned by the Oregon and California Railroad. The federal agency says the plans will increase logging and timber receipts to counties while improving forest habitat for wildlife and fish.

But timber and environmental groups don’t buy it, and now it will be up to the courts to decide.

In their lawsuit, eight conservation groups accuse the BLM of violating federal environmental law and backtracking on watershed protections.

The complaint says the agency’s new plans “drastically change the science-based management of BLM forest lands in southwest Oregon.” Currently the forests are governed by the Northwest Forest Plan.

The timber industry lawsuit, headed by the American Forest Resource Council, asserts the forests were originally set aside for logging in the Oregon and California Railroad Act of 1937. The complaint says the harvest promised in the latest plan – 278 million board feet annually - does not meet that obligation.

The suit asks the court to force the “BLM to offer at least 500 million board feet of timber sales from O&C timberlands annually” until the agency adopts a plan that comply with the O&C Act.

The timber group also wants the court to rule that the original 1937 law should supersede any environmental law that came after – including the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act.

The timber industry suit was filed in district court in Washington, D.C. The environmental suit will go before a district court in Eugene.

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O&C Lands in Western Oregon are currently administered by the federal Bureau of Land Management.
O&C Lands in Western Oregon are currently administered by the federal Bureau of Land Management.

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.