Thursday, December 29, 2011

U.S. Can Support Enviros in Oregon Dispute

The Department of the Interior has not tried to evade federal court orders in a dispute over land-management plans for Oregon terrain that is home to the northern spotted owl. In the waning days of the Bush administration, the Interior Department adopted revisions to land-use management plans for 2.5 million acres in western Oregon inhabited by the owl, a designated threatened species. Compared to previous versions, the Western Oregon Plan Revisions allowed greater timber harvests on the Bureau of Land Management property. The department determined that it did not need to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service about the potential impact of the plan on the northern spotted owl because the revisions "would have no impact on listed species or critical habitat." As environmental groups challenged the action in court, President Barack Obama's newly instated secretary of the interior, Ken Salazar, said his predecessor's finding of "no impact" was a legal error, and he withdrew the revisions without a public notice or comment period. A group of timber companies and logging unions, led by Douglas Timber Operators, in turn sued the secretary, saying the plan withdrawal violated the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. A federal judge in Washington agreed and reinstated the revised plans, considering only whether Salazar abused his authority in withdrawing the plan without formal proceedings. The court did not look at whether it was erroneous for the previous administration to approve the revisions without making consultations under the Endangered Species Act. A conservation group, the Pacific Rivers Council, then filed suit in Oregon over the reinstated plans, taking up the Interior Department's Endangered Species Act claims...more

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