Several environmental groups sent Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar a message today. Surprise: It wasn’t a thank-you note for his visit to Oregon Monday.
Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands today filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, claiming the Spencer Creek Timber Sale in southern Oregon will destroy old-growth forest and habitat for the federally protected Northern spotted owl.
The timber sale is approved for Bureau of Land Management forest in the Klamath Falls area, and the environmental groups say the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did a “faulty” assessment of how the logging project would impact the owl’s survival.
The timing of the filing appears to be deliberately paired with Secretary Salazar’s roundtable discussion in Roseburg, which ended with a commitment from environmentalists, timber companies and local government officials to meet again and consider a new approach to logging BLM land in western Oregon.
“With Secretary Salazar in Oregon to contemplate the future of our forests, we want him to hear loud and clear that his agency should get itself out of the old-growth logging business,” said George Sexton who reviewed the Spencer Creek Timber Sale for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “The BLM in southern Oregon is a roadblock to progress right now.”
The Spencer Creek Timber Sale was prepared in the wake of the Western Oregon Plan Revisions (WOPR), a Bush administration proposal that called for an increase in old-growth logging on BLM lands in western Oregon. Recognizing that the plan was legally indefensible, Secretary Salazar withdrew the WOPR in July of 2009.
According to the Western Environmental Law Center, which filed the lawsuit today on behalf of three environmental groups, environmentalists had hoped that the cancellation of the WOPR would be a wake-up call to the BLM to steer clear of old-growth timber sales.
But the Spencer Creek timber sale was proposed after the WOPR was withdrawn. Opponents of the sale say it will allow logging of 1,084 acres of prime owl habitat and harm the owl’s ability to survive locally. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, however, found there would be no significant impact to the owl from this particular timber sale.
“The agency admits that this timber sale will harm owls locally, but dismisses the habitat lost when compared to the entire territory of owls in the Pacific Northwest,” said Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles. “It’s classic death-by-a-thousand cuts reasoning, and it’s why we’re continuing to lose our old-growth forests.”
The environmental groups argue some federal agencies have had a harder time adapting to new forest management goals in the Northwest Forest Plan, specifically noting that the U.S. Forest Service has done a better job transitioning to non-controversial restoration-based timber thinning projects while the BLM “has struggled to modernize.”
That may be why Oregon Wild’s Andy Kerr asked Salazar yesterday to transfer the BLM’s Oregon and California Railroad forestland in western Oregon to the Forest Service. Of course Salazar’s Department of the Interior oversees the BLM and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service but not the Forest Service, which is couched under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kerr’s request was met with a quick rap from Salazar: “Don’t go to disagreements,” he said. “Go to agreements.”
I put a call into the Fish and Wildlife Service to get their reaction to this lawsuit and some more information on the Spencer Creek timber sale. I also have some extra sound bites and background from yesterday’s roundtable that I’ll post soon.