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It turns out that mid-valley residents interested in weighing on the Northwest Forest Plan will have a shot to do that.

The Forest Service announced earlier this week plans to hold additional “listening sessions” on the controversial plan in the wake of three earlier sessions, held in Portland, Seattle and Redding, California. When those first three sessions were announced, the Forest Service took criticism from a variety of people (including some members of Congress) who said the agency needed to hold similar events in other locations.

Hence Tuesday’s announcement that the Forest Service is planning a session from 6 to 8 p.m. April 27 at Oregon State University’s LaSells Stewart Center, 875 S.W. 26th St. That session is hosted by the Siuslaw National Forest.

We haven’t seen an announcement yet about plans to hold similar sessions on the Willamette National Forest, but we expect that Linn County residents will get a similar opportunity. The plan is for all 19 national forests and seven Bureau of Land Management units affected by the Northwest Forest Plan to host a listening session. Our guess is that the Willamette session would be held in either Springfield (where the forest has its headquarters) or Eugene.

While we’re gratified that the Forest Service plans to expand its listening sessions to areas closer to home than Portland or Seattle or Redding, we still think the agency should hold one of these sessions in east Linn County, an area that has been devastated economically by the cutbacks in logging on national forests. Forest officials likely will hear a somewhat different story in, say, Sweet Home, than they’ll hear in Corvallis. And voices in Sweet Home have just as much right to be heard.

These sessions are part of what is certain to be a drawn-out process to revise the Northwest Forest Plan, which has guided management decisions by the Forest Service and the BLM in this area since 1994. Designed to protect the northern spotted owl and other threatened species that rely on old growth forests, the plan sharply reduced logging on federal lands throughout the region — cutbacks that gutted the economies of timber towns.

Some of those timber towns have figured out ways to bounce back economically: Lebanon comes to mind. Others still are struggling.

In making the announcement about the Corvallis session, Jerry Ingersoll, the supervisor of the Siuslaw National Forest, noted widespread interest in efforts to revise and update the Northwest Forest Plan: “Any proposal to even begin tinkering around the edges raises people’s interest, as it should,” he said.

And he noted that the plan has supporters and detractors: “Of course, there are different opinions, and there always have been,” he said. “It’s our job to listen, and that’s why these are listening sessions.”

It helps, of course, if you seek out areas where you might hear those different opinions. The Forest Service took a step in the right direction this week. Now, it needs to keep moving in that direction. (mm)

Mike McInally is editor of the Albany Democrat-Herald and the Corvallis Gazette-Times. He can be reached at 541-905-4282.

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