GRANTS PASS -- The U.S. Bureau of Land Management withdrew a Bush administration-era timber sale designed to cut big old trees in southwestern Oregon because it couldn't meet new logging restrictions protecting spotted owls, the agency said.
The Chew Choo sale also no longer makes sense in a down lumber market, BLM spokesman Jim Whittington said.
Conservation groups said they hope the withdrawal means the federal agency is done trying to log large, old trees that are valuable habitat for the owls and salmon. The northern spotted owl is a threatened species.
'I think the BLM is trying to turn over a new leaf over how they go about producing wood fiber," said George Sexton, conservation director of Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands, which filed an administrative appeal of the sale over its effect on fire danger. 'Chew Choo is the old way of doing it. Hopefully they are moving to a more sustainable, collaborative way of doing it right now."
But the timber industry decried it as a failure of federal forest policy.
'If (Interior Secretary Ken Salazar) is sincere about trying to get timber going again for counties and local businesses down there, they've got to take on things with big problems," said Scott Horngren, an attorney for the American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry group in Portland. 'If they are not going to do that, you're just basically playing games."
The sale straddled the Rogue and Umpqua basins outside Glendale, in an area designated for logging by the Northwest Forest Plan. That was adopted in 1994 to settle legal battles over salmon and spotted owl habitat on federal forests.
A federal court ruling on a different timber sale forced the BLM to come up with a new way of evaluating the harm that logging causes northern spotted owls.
The Chew Choo sale couldn't pass that test without major modification. Faced with an administrative challenge from conservation groups and a lawsuit from the timber industry, the agency pulled the sale Monday.
Tough on Rough
A 1998 timber sale on the BLM's Coos Bay District was withdrawn for similar reasons, Whittington said.
The latest withdrawal was tough news for Rough & Ready Lumber Co. in O'Brien, which was counting on the logs to keep its mill operating.
'It does point out all the problems with Medford BLM, why their timber sale program has come to a complete halt," said President Link Phillippi. 'We are encouraged by the interest shown by Secretary Salazar and the Oregon delegation to figure out a solution."
He added that even at current depressed lumber prices, they would have been happy to pay what they bid for the sale in 2006.
The decision came as BLM works on two pilot projects designed to produce timber as a bi-product of thinning to reduce fire danger. Rep. Peter Defazio, D-Ore., and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., enlisted Salazar's help in finding ways to turn out timber on BLM lands.
Horngren said he did not expect their lawsuit over the owl evaluation method could reverse BLM's decision to pull the sale.