Area residents will have the opportunity to advise the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on what to include in management plans for its Western Oregon forestland.

Area residents will have the opportunity to advise the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on what to include in management plans for its Western Oregon forestland.

The BLM wants the public to weigh in on issues it feels the agency needs to address in new resource management plans being developed for the Medford District as well as for the other five districts in Western Oregon and the Klamath Falls Resource Area.

In what is known as a public scoping period, suggestions will be taken through June 11 as the agency begins what is expected to be a three-year process in revising management plans for much of its 2.6 milllion acres of land in Western Oregon. The scoping period began on Friday.

"We're rewriting the current resource management plans for the six Western Oregon districts and the Klamath Falls Resource Area," explained Medford District spokesman Jim Whittington.

"There is a new bunch of information out now, including the northern spotted owl recovery plan, the pilot projects, invasive weed stuff, biomass information," he said. "It seems like a good time to get the planning started."

The new plans would replace the previous Western Oregon Plan Revisions, which have been through more court cases than a habitual criminal.

In the last case, U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis Hubel in Portland recommended last fall that it be vacated. Known as the WOPR — pronounced "whopper" — that plan had been completed without the required evaluation of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists on its impacts on threatened and endangered species, the judge ruled.

Hubel's decision was the result of a lawsuit brought by the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Ashland and eight other plaintiffs, including Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and the Institute for Fisheries Resources.

Completed in late 2008, the WOPR itself was the result of a 2003 legal settlement between the Bush administration and the Portland-based American Forest Resource Council. It would have allowed some 500 million board feet of timber to be sold from the more than 2.1 million acres of BLM lands in western Oregon that are former Oregon and California Railroad Co. lands. But lawsuits and economic issues prevented the annual harvest from anything close to those levels.

In 2009, WOPR was administratively withdrawn by the Obama administration, which concluded the plan was not legally defensible because it failed to comply with the Endangered Species Act. However, a federal court judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that the withdrawal was invalid, resulting in the reinstatement of the original WOPR. That prompted the opponents to refile their lawsuit. In the case ruled on by Hubel, BLM lawyers agreed that WOPR illegally ignored federal ESA requirements.

Despite all the legal wrangling, the WOPR is not a thing of the past, Whittington said.

"Right now, we are under WOPR and the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan," he said. "That makes it very tough for our planning. Neither one incorporates the new information we have."

The new plans may include six district plans and one large environmental impact statement or six plans with an EIS for each plan, he said.

"It could be a combination," he said. "People can suggest alternatives we might want to analyze, areas that can be considered for special designation. They can suggest any issue or chunk of ground they want addressed in the planning."

Public meetings to further discuss the planning will be held in mid-April.

After the scoping period ends June 11, the agency will develop alternatives, he said, adding that will then be followed by a public comment period.

"Then we will come out with a draft EIS," he said, adding, "We don't expect to wrap this up until sometime in 2015."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.