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JUDGE LIFTS BAN ON LOGGING IN OWL’S HABITAT

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A federal judge has lifted his 3-year-old ban on logging in national forests inhabited by the threatened spotted owl, but no one is predicting that many trees will begin falling soon.

U.S. District Judge William Dwyer ruled Monday that President Clinton's Northwest forest-management plan addressed the concerns raised by an environmental lawsuit that had prompted the 1991 injunction.The ban had virtually halted logging on millions of acres of government land in Northern California, Oregon and Washington.

The judge noted that his order does not constitute final approval of the Clinton plan, and he scheduled a Sept. 12 hearing for challenges to it by groups that filed the original complaint. The judge could ultimately reimpose the ban.

The government has promised to advertise timber sales 60 days in advance and to provide written notification to environmentalists 30 days in advance. That leaves scant time to cut any trees before the September hearings.

"It's nice to see the injunction's been lifted, yet with all the new lawsuits . . . it may be a short reprieve," said David Ford, a spokesman for the Western Forest Industries Association, which represents small timber operators.

"The announcement is almost irrelevant," said Jim Geisinger, president of the Northwest Forestry Association, an industry group in Portland, Ore.

Twelve of 13 environmentalists who filed the suit that led to the ban didn't oppose Monday's order.

"What we're looking forward to is the schedule Judge Dwyer has set to give us an opportunity to show that the Clinton plan still has some very serious defects in it," said Todd True, a lawyer for the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund.

Tens of thousands of logging jobs have been lost because of the ban and factors such as automation and Canadian lumber imports. The region's spotted owl population has increased from 3,000 breeding pairs in 1990 to between 3,000 and 3,500 pairs a year ago, according to the U.S. Forest Service.