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October 2005

Last Chance Adventure: Oregon’s Umpqua National Forest

Can you see the forest through the trees? Join a bittersweet trek through an old-growth wilderness in its final days.

Documents released in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the public-interest law firm Earthjustice show that timber industry lobbyists and administration officials corresponded and met in person to work out a series of “fixes” to the plan that would enable the industry to expand production. In January of 2004, seemingly ignoring water quality, wildlife, and fisheries issues, the administration announced an overhaul of the Aquatic Conservation Strategy and eliminated so-called “Survey and Manage” provisions–two sets of guidelines that often served as the basis of environmentalists’ lawsuits. Loggers no longer needed to avoid locations that harbored rare plants and animals, or to comply with existing water-quality standards.

After the 2004 election, the Bush administration continued to dismantle the web of forest protections it had inherited from previous administrations. In December of 2004, a rewritten National Forest Management Act was implemented. The new regulations mirrored industry recommendations, eliminating many environmental reviews and restricting public participation. A so-called Healthy Forests Initiative–a name loaded with as much unintended irony as the Clear Skies Initiative–allowed for increased backcountry logging, far from homes, under the guise of protecting communities from forest fires.

Thus far, logging output on federal lands in Oregon has risen by 32 percent from 2000 to 2004, with about 80 percent of that increase coming from forests at least 80 years old.

“But the cumulative effects of these administrative changes are only now starting to gain momentum,” says Rolf Sklar of the Siskiyou Wild Rivers Campaign. “When they take hold, we will see a dramatic rise in logging on federal land.”

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