A year ago today, the Bureau of Land Management's controversial logging plan for southern Oregon was cut off at the root. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar canceled the Western Oregon Plan Revision, or WOPR, on a tele-conference with reporters.
Ken Salazar: "Despite five years of hard work by local and tribal communities and stakeholders, and the dedicated men and women of the BLM and Fish and Wildlife Service, the late actions of the previous administration leave us no practical choice but to withdraw the records of decision for the Western Oregon Plan."
Salazar then promised a new effort to address timber industry demand and sensitive habitat. A year later, nothing has materialized.
Rob Manning has more on what happened inside the Interior Department leading up to the decision to drop the WOPR, and what the future may hold.
The Western Oregon Plan Revision was meant to govern a checkerboard of federal forests in the southern coast range. The BLM's deputy state director Mike Haske says the land is meant for timber production -- after laws like the Endangered Species Act are accommodated.
Mike Haske: "So once we satisfy the needs for those laws, then we look at what's left of our land base, and then we apply our different management prescriptions to determine our allowable cut."
Haske says his agency tried to balance environmental laws with a 1937 law mandate to produce timber on these lands. The Bush Administration had agreed to create the WOPR in part, because of a timber industry lawsuit.
On a hike through BLM lands a year and a half ago -- months before the WOPR was dropped environmental groups were preparing to challenge the plan in court.
Sean Stevens with Oregon Wild, predicted the plan would die.
Sean Stevens: "You know, the Bush Administration with all these things has kind of been beating its head against a wall called science."
Just days before the Bush Administration left, it published the final WOPR. Lawsuits flew from both sides -- with the timber industry saying the plan's 500 million board feet of promised timber wasn't enough.
When the Obama Administration took over the Interior Department, officials found a snarl of lawsuits over the WOPR and the Northern Spotted Owl. They also had to address fallout from allegations that Interior Department decisions had been politically manipulated.
After six months, the Obama Administration dropped the WOPR.
Through Freedom of Information Act requests, OPB found documents that reveal what was going on in those six months between the BLM and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Though the two agencies are both within the Department of Interior, they have different roles when it comes to land use and protecting wildlife.
OPB found a sometimes-heated debate between Fish and Wildlife and the BLM over WOPR, and its potential effect on the Northern Spotted Owl.
Fish and Wildlife state supervisor Paul Henson says there was one overarching worry.
Paul Henson: "That it was increasing timber harvest levels with impacts to spotted owls in areas that were occupied spotted owl habitat. And we knew that there would be a certain amount of 'take' or adverse effects on spotted owls that we were trying to minimize."
The most fundamental conflict was about how to determine the age of groves of trees. It's a big issue, because threatened owls prefer old-growth habitat. But large, old trees also tend to make the most profitable timber.
E-mails and other documents show Fish and Wildlife officials believed the BLM had undercounted 20% of what's essentially old-growth forest.
But Fish & Widlife's Paul Henson says differences of opinion are common.
Paul Henson: "Ecology is kind of messy. You get three biologists out there maybe they all went to OSU School of Forestry -- they'll still have three somewhat different perspectives on 'what is old growth'."
Under the Bush Administration, BLM concluded that it didn't need to consult with other agencies about the WOPR as a whole, but rather to take up issues on a project-by-project basis. Haske, who helped supervise the WOPR then and who is working out the kinks now, says that small-scale information was not what other agencies wanted.
Mike Haske: "We got into this Catch-22 again. They needed a lot of information that our land-use plans -- they're not designed to do that. It's project-level information."
Going forward: There's a whole lot of legal uncertainty around the roughly 2-million acres of BLM land in southwestern Oregon. Fish and Wildlife is planning to release a new draft recovery plan for the Northern Spotted Owl.
And, there's still no plan to replace the WOPR. A task force has been working on recommendations on how to manage the BLM lands, balancing the need for timber and for wildlife habitat protection.
Several sources told OPB that the recommendations are ready but Interior officials have been too distracted by the Gulf oil spill to publish them.
That explanation doesn't impress Tom Partin, with the American Forest Resource Council.
Tom Partin: "Basically, we've been without a plan for a year now. It's impacted the forests, it's impacted our local communities, it's impacted our industry. And we need some help. In fact, I think we need as much help as the Gulf Coast people do. We've got an emergency on our hands."
Partin's frustration isn't lost on the BLM's Mike Haske. He says the WOPR lands in southwest Oregon have an obligation to generate revenue.
Mike Haske: "I believe that we owe the counties some stability whatever that is, so that they have something to plan against. The issue of jobs, the issue of timber sale receipts as the law is currently structured, is critically important to them, and it's critically important to us."
Officials like Haske and Paul Henson at Fish and Wildlife are hoping that better science may help move things along. Dozens of scientists are working on new analyses that anticipate how wide swaths of forest might age over time.
New plans for the spotted owl, and possibly a new logging plan for southern Oregon may be the first tests for that research.
The original version of this story OPB incorrectly named one plaintiff in a lawsuit to reinstate the plan. The lawsuit was filed by timber companies and wood products workers, but not by the timber lobbying group American Forest Resource Council. OPB regrets the error.