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A U.S. Forest Service proposal to conduct a massive salvage-logging operation in Oregon’s Siskiyou National Forest has come up against a surprising critic — the U.S. EPA.

While the Bush administration has advertised the plan as a necessary measure to protect the future health of the forest — which was hit by the Biscuit fire, the largest wildfire in the nation in 2002 — an EPA environmental impact statement released last week said the plan could cause severe environmental harm and violate the Clean Water Act.

The Forest Service’s draft outlines seven salvage-logging alternatives, with particular emphasis on one that would set in motion the biggest federal salvage-logging operation in decades — more than half a billion board feet of timber in some 29,000 acres of forest. More than 12,000 acres of this area are inventoried as “roadless,” with terrain so rugged and steep that trees would have to be yanked out by helicopter.

“We don’t have a problem with logging volume,” said Dave Powers, an EPA Region 10 official who worked on the review. “We have concerns about the impacts from logging. The plan would increase erosion and sediment delivery in six of the watersheds in the forest that have existing water quality problems [and are] listed as impaired waters.”

Powers added that the Forest Service’s own reports show that these waters and surrounding ecosystems would be damaged.

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The plan could also violate the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has expressed concern that the logging project would disturb the habitat of species such as the threatened northern spotted owl.

The disagreement over the salvage-logging proposal is the latest battle in the ongoing war over the Bush administration’s controversial Healthy Forests plan. The Siskiyou National Forest project has been touted by the administration as a paradigmatic example of its contention that forest thinning is the best strategy to prevent catastrophic blazes.

According to Rolf Skar, campaign coordinator for the Siskiyou Project, an Oregon conservation group, the plan is so destructive and absurd that the Forest Service must have known it would go nowhere. “My guess is they want a train wreck and they’ll make a political spectacle out of it,” he said. “Oregon is a swing state, so maybe they’re just trying to make the statement to Oregonians that they plan to create a new wave of job opportunities.”