updated 3/24/2004 10:59:23 AM ET 2004-03-24T15:59:23

The Bush administration on Tuesday went ahead with plans to ease restrictions on logging old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest, completing a rules change that will allow forest managers to begin logging without first looking for rare plants and animals.

Instead, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management will rely on information provided by Washington, Oregon and California to decide whether to allow logging, controlled forest fires, and trail- or campground-building, agency spokesman Rex Holloway said.

Environmentalists decried the change, saying it would double logging on federal land in the region and have disastrous consequences for rare species.

Regna Merritt, executive director of Oregon Natural Resources Council Action in Portland, Ore., said the decision ignored environmental science.

“The idea of looking before you log was that way we could prevent hundreds of species from going extinct,” she said.

Holloway said most old-growth forests in the region remain protected. The change applies only to old-growth and other forests designated for logging in 1994.

“We feel fairly confident that remaining old growth will provide sufficient habitat for the remaining species,” Holloway said.

The change was prompted by a timber industry lawsuit and is intended to increase logging on 24 million acres of public land.

The timber industry had complained for years that so-called “survey and manage” rules are intrusive and can take years to complete. Those rules require study of the potential effects of logging on about 300 plant and animal species.

The Northwest Forest Plan is online at www.fs.fed.us/r6/nwfp.htm.

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