6:25 AM PST on Sunday, January 4, 2009

By JEFF BARNARD, AP Environmental Writer GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Conservation groups that spent the past eight years battling the Bush administration over logging, wildlife and global warming are hoping for major changes from the Obama administration and a more strongly Democratic Congress.

Their green wish list includes more wilderness designations, legislation to stop old growth forest logging, ramping up protection of species on the brink of extinction, cutting back on government predator control, and adopting a comprehensive plan to address climate change.

“The challenge for the conservation community is to rise to the occasion,” said Steve Pedery, spokesman for Oregon Wild, a frequent plaintiff in lawsuits challenging Bush administration policies. “This is a fairly historic moment on conservation policy. It is not only the end of the Bush administration, but the greenest Congress and president in 40 years.

“Folks could spend the next four or eight years unraveling the things the Bush administration did in the order they did them, or they could try to move the country ahead on environmental policy and find areas of consensus.”

Andy Kerr, a conservation consultant, said it should be relatively easy for Obama to undo much of what Bush did on the environment, because it was done administratively, by changing rules and regulations, not legislatively.

Prime targets for administrative action are Bush administration polices that made it easier to log, mine and drill for oil in undeveloped sections of national forests known as roadless areas, easing Endangered Species Act requirements for federal agencies, and running up a backlog of candidates for threatened or endangered species designation.

“It would be prudent to assume there will be a Palin administration someday,” Kerr added, referring to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a conservative who was the Republican vice presidential nominee. “That’s why we need to act with Congress to permanently protect the forests.”

Recognizing widespread public support for thinning of crowded young stands susceptible to fire while protecting centuries-old forests that are the foundation of spotted owl and salmon habitat, Oregon Democrats Sen. Ron Wyden and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio are both working on old growth forest protection legislation.

“The devil will be in the details,” Pedery said. “The nature of any legislative effort is it’s a delicate balance.”

Oregon Wild also has its eye on new wilderness designations that would prohibit logging in some prime salmon habitat. Besides the Mount Hood wilderness bill languishing in Congress, it would like to see creation of a Kelsey-Whisky wilderness along the wild section of the Rogue River, and a Devils Staircase wilderness in the Coast Range north of the Umpqua River.

Big Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity are hoping that some of the 251 candidates for Endangered Species Act protection — including the Oregon spotted frog — will get the protections they have been waiting for, and for cutbacks in the numbers of wolves, coyotes, cougars and other predators killed in the name of livestock protection.

Dominick DellaSala, director of the National Center for Conservation Science & Policy, said he is hoping for a clear signal from the Obama administration that key appointments and policy decisions will be based on science.

“That has been lacking the last eight years,” DellaSala said. “Obama has made some great choices,” particularly Oregon State University marine biologist Jane Lubchenco as head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory director Steven Chu to be Energy secretary.

On global warming, DellaSala and others are calling for a national summit on climate change, which would address reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting old growth forests as a way of drawing carbon out of the atmosphere.

Though not part of a conservation group, Bob Dopelt, director of the Climate Leadership Initiative at the University of Oregon, said making progress on climate change will be difficult, because even the national environmental groups most interested in the issue have yet to come together on what steps to take.

One major question remains: whether to adopt a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gases, or impose a carbon tax, he noted. While cap-and-trade puts a lid on emissions, it demands a complex regulatory structure. A carbon tax would be easier to implement, and is enjoying growing support.

Dopelt said he thought states like Oregon would be quicker to act than Congress. Oregon is one of seven states to embrace the Western Climate Initiative, which sets a goal of reducing greenhouse gases by about 15 percent by 2020, but leaves to each state how to do it.

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