By TOM JAMES , Associated Press
SEATTLE (AP) — Federal and state funds totaling $1 million have been set aside to study a new endangered species protection plan in Oregon forests, a decade after a similar effort stalled amid controversy.
The money is earmarked to pay for the first step in laying out new rules for protecting endangered species in 630,000 acres of state-owned forest land west of the Cascades, including large tracts on the state's northern coast.
The plan would consider species including the spotted owl and marbled murrelet, and set guidelines for timber harvesting and recreational use. Officials hope the study phase will take about a year, followed by a year to craft the rules themselves, and a final year of review, said Cindy Kolomechuk, leader of the project at the Oregon Department of Forestry.
Formally called Habitat Conservation Plans, the plans facilitate logging on lands where threatened species are found, essentially authorizing negative impacts in exchange for enhancing other protections.
Previous efforts have sparked controversy in the state. A plan laying out protections in the Elliot State Forest, in southwestern Oregon, became mired after disagreement over marbled murrelet rules. And an attempt to create a broader plan ended in 2008 without guidelines being adopted, amid controversy over balancing protections against logging revenues.
The conflicts reflect deeper tensions in the state, where businesses with ties to an historic logging industry have found themselves pitted against environmental groups.
Preservation efforts potentially have a new dimension amid a national focus on climate change, said Bob Van Dyk, of the Wild Salmon Center, a Portland conservation group.
"These are soggy, long-lived forests," Van Dyk said. "They sequester enormous amounts of carbon."
The forestry department announced the funding for the study Monday.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contributed $750,000 with the remainder coming from the state.