Thursday, July 16, 2009

Withdrawing the WOPR

Interior Secretary Salazar withdrew the Western Oregon Plan Revision (WOPR) today. The Department of Interior news release begins: "Because the previous Administration failed to follow established administrative procedure before leaving office, its plan to intensify logging in western Oregon – known as the Western Oregon Plan Revisions (WOPR) – is legally indefensible and must be withdrawn."

The WOPR was adopted by the Bush administration in late 2008 to dramatically increase the amount of logging that would be allowed under the Northwest Forest Plan. The Northwest Forest Plan grew out of the extraordinarily contentious spotted owl controversy during the Clinton administration. Environmental groups fiercely opposed the WOPR. In creating the WOPR, the Bush adminstration disregarded Endangered Species Act consultation requirements (for posts on another Bush administration consultation action see here).

Withdrawing the WOPR is a significant step in favor of environmental protection on the part of the Obama administration because it supports preservation of the spotted owl, Pacific salmon, and the remaining old-growth forest of Oregon. Further, the administration is seeking to vacate a 2008 critical habitat revision for the spotted owl. The moves are particularly notable endorsements of environmental protection considering the strong condemnation to be expected from timber-dependent communities that have been hard-hit by the logging reductions of the 1990s and the current economic recession.

At least equally important, the WOPR and the critical habitat revision were tainted by the involvement of Julie MacDonald, the Bush-era Deputy Assistant Secretary found to have been "heavily involved in . . . reshaping scientific reports" despite her lack of a scientific background, among other things. Further, the WOPR's allowence of increased logging was in contrast to the majority of the 30,000 comments received and over 250 formal protests submitted.

Salazar's announcement included a promise to engage the community and follow legal process requirements in developing a new plan revision. This aspect of the announcement, at least, is welcomed by even timber industry representatives, some of whom joined a lawsuit based on concern that the WOPR was vulnerable to legal challenge. It is also yet another welcome change from the prior administration.



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