12 Jun 2010, 9:17pm
Federal forest policy Politics and politicians
by admin

Wyden’s forest bill would stymie state’s timber industry

By Jim Huffman, Bend Bulletin guest columnist, 12 June 2010 [here]

Last Friday, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., held hearings in Bend on Senate Bill 2895, the Oregon Eastside Forests Restoration, Old Growth Protection and Jobs Act. On Wyden’s website, the bill is celebrated as a coming together of industry and conservation groups to “resolve decades of bitter disputes over harvest levels and watershed and old growth protection” in eastern Oregon. Three months of campaigning across the state have convinced me that the “east-side forest plan” would not end the long-running disputes, nor would it serve the interests of Oregonians, wherever they live.

The reality is that Oregon in general, and the east-side communities in particular, would gain little or nothing from the enactment of S 2895. The timber industry would continue to struggle, county coffers would remain empty, schools and public services would suffer, and everyone on the east side would remain at risk to wildfires from poorly managed public forests. A second reality is that Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., is the bill’s only co-sponsor, and there is no companion bill in the House. Even if the bill were to become law, implementation of it would be a long and uncertain path.

While environmentalists get most of what they want immediately, the forest restoration and job creation promised in the act would come only after Congress appropriated $50 million to fund Forest Service implementation, and after a scientific board of unspecified membership were convened and a collaborative decision-making process reached concrete management decisions.

There is little chance Congress would fund the $50 million outside of the normal appropriations process. Decades of inadequate funding for forest restoration and management evidence that such funding is unlikely. Even if the funds become available at the level promised, it would take 60 years to treat all of the now-diseased and -unmanaged forests. In the meantime, millions of acres of public and private land are at risk to wildfire because of the accumulated fuels littering the forests.

Collaborative decision-making sounds great in principle, but it is a sham to claim that this bill is the product of collaboration and naive to think that we can manage our forests through a process that gives every special interest an effective veto. Those who have been excluded can attest that the “east-side plan” is not the result of an open and transparent process. Rather than ending the timber wars, as Wyden claims, the plan brings us a step closer to ending the timber industry in eastern Oregon.

Even if the east-side plan were successfully implemented, it would do little to revive the struggling economies of Oregon east-side communities. Because the plan does not specify timber volume to be harvested, there is considerable uncertainty as to whether the supply would even sustain existing jobs at the east side’s eight surviving mills. Under the plan, there is no prospect for reopening any of the 15 shuttered mills, even though the east-side forests could sustainably supply far more timber than the plan allows. It is a cruel joke to call this proposed legislation a jobs act.

It is time for Congress and our U.S. senators to recognize that Oregon’s timber is a renewable resource and that Oregon is one of the best places on the planet to grow trees. If Americans do not take advantage of our own timber resources, we and others will consume wood products harvested in Canada, Russia and elsewhere. Often those harvests would be conducted with little or no concern for the environment. Under the east-side plan, we would continue to export both jobs and environmental destruction to other parts of the earth.

Wyden claims his plan allows us to have our cake and eat it too — to harvest timber, maintain healthy forests and preserve the environment. Indeed we can achieve all three objectives, but to do so while maintaining prosperous communities, we cannot continue to lock up the vast resources of our public lands. Oregon’s timber industry and its rural communities have been so beaten down by lawsuits and federal land management policies for two decades that they are now grasping at straws. They deserve and should demand more.

What Oregon and the nation need are a comprehensive review and modernization of laws governing the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. What we would get in Wyden’s east-side plan, should it pass and be implemented, would be a bandage that might only slow the bleeding. During Wyden’s 30 years in Congress, Oregon’s timber industry has been devastated, along with the health of our public forest lands and the schools and public services of our counties. Wyden’s east-side forest plan is a feeble effort if he is really interested in reviving the timber industry and creating jobs for eastern Oregonians.

Note: Jim Huffman, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, will face incumbent Ron Wyden in November.



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