U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) unveiled a bill designed to boost logging on federal lands in Western Oregon. Wyden said the bill will create jobs and help rural economies struggling under increasingly stringent logging restrictions.
Forests Currently Expanding
The bill would double the timber harvest allowed on lands managed under the O&C Act of 1937. The O&C Act provided for timber harvesting on lands formerly owned by the Oregon & California Railroad.
Under current logging allotments, the O&C forests have expanded by 36 percent. Softwood inventory in the O&C forests has grown from 44 billion in 1937 to 60 billion board feet today.
Strong Environmental Support
In November, Wyden introduced the O&C Lands Act of 2013 with the enhanced logging allotments. The bill received strong support from conservationists and environmental groups, who emphasized the careful environmental protections contained in the bill. Logging companies must design harvests to be sustainable and mimic natural processes, and no clear-cutting is allowed. The bill also requires comprehensive environmental impact studies for proposed logging activities.
“This bill provides a chance for Oregon to find common ground that saves jobs, protects forests and sets a strong foundation for economic growth in our timber communities,” said Wyden in a press statement. “No bill or issue in Congress is more important to me than passing the O&C Lands Act into law and creating a long-term solution for rural Oregon.”
On his website, Wyden published endorsements from more than a dozen prominent environmentalists and forestry experts. Among those endorsing Wyden’s bill are Oregon State University Distinguished Professor of Forest Ecosystems Norm Johnson, University of Washington Professor of Ecosystem Analysis Jerry Franklin, Pew Charitable Trusts U.S. Public Lands Officer Nicole Cordan, Southern Oregon Reforestation Collaborative Coordinator George McKinley, Pacific Rivers Council Executive Director John Kober, and Wild Salmon Center President Guido Rahr.
Some Opposition Still Exists
Nevertheless, a few national environmental activist groups refuse to support any increase in the forest lands’ timber harvest. The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Center for Biological Diversity have joined forces to oppose the bill. The Center for Biological Diversity and Oregon Wild sent a letter to Wyden’s office claiming the bill “abandoned key environmental safeguards.”
“The answer always seems to clear-cutting away the old growth, or blocking even responsible timber harvests. And it’s my view that neither of these extremes are a long-term winner for our state,” Wyden said during February 6 Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearings.
“Our legislation ends the ‘stop everything’ approach that has paralyzed forest management and, at the same time, acknowledges that the days of billion-board-foot clear cuts are not coming back,” he explained.
Higher Harvest Is Sustainable
“For much of my career, I have worked to refine the policies governing where and how trees are harvested in Oregon,” states Johnson’s endorsement. “Recently, I worked closely with Senator Wyden and his staff to estimate potential harvest levels while meeting legislative goals of creating diverse, healthy forests and protecting the things Oregonians care about, like salmon, drinking water, and recreation. I concluded that implementing the forest management prescribed in the legislation would enable a sustainable timber harvest at higher levels than current short-term approaches, a long-sought goal for these lands.”
Johnson told Environment and Climate News the increased harvesting would promote sustainability while contributing to the economic well-being of surrounding counties.
“It’s a very complex and sophisticated proposal in terms of trying to balance all the different resource needs and all the values of the people,” he said.
“It’s a very serious attempt to address this problem in a very comprehensive way,” Johnson added.
“Rural communities in the Western United States have suffered for decades under federal policies designed to eliminate balanced use of federal lands and merely shut down all economic activity,” said Jay Lehr, science director for the Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News. “This bill will help restore some of that needed balance and see to it that lands in Oregon benefit Oregonians as well as East Coast environmental elites.”
Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.