GRANTS PASS, Ore. — A federal judge ruled Thursday the Obama administration has to go through a public comment period before it can yank a controversial plan to double the amount of logging allowed on some federal forests in Western Oregon.
The ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia stops Interior Secretary Ken Salazar from withdrawing the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Western Oregon Plan Revision.
It remains unclear whether Salazar will let the plan stand or go through the public process to withdraw it.
Interior spokesman Matt Lee-Ashley said the agency was reviewing the ruling.
Salazar pulled the plan in 2009, saying it was illegal because the Bush administration, which put it into effect, had failed to have it reviewed for endangered species impacts.
Judge John D. Bates wrote that Salazar did not have inherent authority to withdraw the decision without calling for public comment.
Bob Ragon of Douglas Timber Operators, which filed the lawsuit, said the Obama administration should put the entire plan through that review step before making a decision.
"The secretary withdrew it because he says it's illegal," Ragon said from Roseburg. "Let's test it. Let's see what the agencies have to say about it."
The logging plan was the Bush administration's last-ditch attempt to make good on a promise to the timber industry to increase logging on national forests, where timber harvests had been cut more than 80 percent to protect habitat for salmon and the northern spotted owl.
Rural timber counties that depend on a share of federal logging revenues and mills starving for logs were counting on the plan to help overcome the cutbacks, but conservation groups opposed it, saying it would cut growth forests that salmon and spotted owls depend on for habitat.
Sean Stevens of Oregon Wild said from Portland the conservation group supported the idea of more public participation in government decisions but hoped the ruling would not derail the progress that has been made in finding common ground between timber interests and conservation groups since the plan was withdrawn.
BLM is working on three pilot projects in southwestern Oregon designed to show that logging can improve fish and wildlife habitat, restore healthy forests, reduce wildfire danger and produce timber.