MY VOICE: Wyden’s bill not a compromise

By Robert Brown February 05, 2014 07:54 am
The Dec. 23, 2013, Observer’s editorial addressing Sen. Ron Wyden’s proposed forest bill for Oregon and California land lacked an accurate, historical overview of the importance of federal lands on Oregon’s rural economy. 

Managing federal forest land in Oregon for multiple uses is critical since 58 percent of these lands are owned by the federal government. It should be noted that the Wyden bill only addresses O&C forest land — less than 10 percent of the federal forest land base in Oregon — not national forest lands.

The Wyden bill in reality promises conservation set-asides with little hope for immediate economic relief for Oregon’s O&C counties in need of essential revenues. This legislation, if passed, is simply another attempt to appease environmental interests with no immediate likelihood of increased timber harvests.

Having reviewed a summary of the Wyden bill, the following are some of the many arguments that support my assertion that it offers no new direction or assurances on increasing harvest levels and maintaining a sustainable forestland base. 

• The issue of managing all federal forest lands, not just O&C, sadly, is not addressed in the bill. Forests can be managed for multiple uses including timber harvest. The bill is truly smoke and mirrors when it allocates roughly half of the more than 2 millions acres to conservation emphasis areas where timber harvest would be prohibited. New conservation sites, according to the bill, would include a long list of sites, including more old-growth set-asides, wilderness expansion, botanical areas and backcountry areas. This reaffirms both Sen. Wyden’s and Sen. Jeff Merkley’s voting records regarding managing federal lands. It should be noted that conservation set-asides would become permanent if the bill were signed by the president and could not be appealed. This would not be the case for timber sales in the rest of the O&C managed areas that most likely would be
appealed. 

• Complicating the issue is the creation of two forest zones — dry and moist. The bill calls for writing separate Environmental Impact Statements for each designation. It further states that the completion of the EIS process would be shortened from 3.6 years, a current average, according to the bill, to 18 months. My experience working in the EIS process was that federal environmental law compliance reviews cannot be streamlined. I believe the EIS process would be cumbersome, lengthy and expensive. Both documents would be appealable at the final EIS stage. This means we would have 50 percent in conservation set-asides immediately under the bill but no guarantee of increased harvest levels.

• What would happen if forest fires destroy trees, including old growth set-asides in either the conservation or harvest zones? Would the bill require conservation acres be replaced from land within the harvest zones? Can old growth trees killed by fire in moist and dry areas be harvested? And if there is no management of national forests adjacent to the O&C lands, won’t this be inviting an increased risk to scattered O&C managed lands?

• A doubling of the current harvest levels would only increase levels to 300 million board feet from the 2012 level of 148 million board feet.

• The bill proposes sending $4 million generated from timber harvest back to the U.S. Treasury each year to prevent an increase in the federal budget. Don’t Oregon counties need this money more than Uncle Sam? 

This bill promises conservation set-asides with little hope for immediate economic relief for Oregon O&C counties in need of essential revenue. Why has it taken so long to address this serious problem? 

This is not a political party issue as the Observer notes; this is a rural community dilemma that our elected state and federal representatives have chosen to ignore.  

My Voice

Robert Brown, 66, of Cove is a retired state employee who worked for the Oregon Department of Transportation and Oregon Department of Forestry. My Voice columns should be 500 to 700 words. Submissions should include a portrait-type photograph of the author. Authors also should include their full name, age, occupation and relevant organizational memberships. 

We edit submissions for brevity, grammar, taste and legal reasons. We reject those published elsewhere.

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