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December 19, 2013
Bill increases logging in Oregon

A much-anticipated bill by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) to amend the 1937 federal Oregon and California (O&C) Lands Act was introduced into Congress with the expected strong reactions that accompany proposals to conduct extensive logging in national forests.  The long bill has many provisions, but the central action would double timber harvests in 2.1 million acres of forests in 18 western Oregon counties.  According to Wyden, the expansion is necessary to promote employment in economically stressed areas. 

The amendments would roughly double the harvest on O&C lands compared to the last 10 years from about 150 million board feet per year to 300 to 350 million board feet per year for the next 20 years.  The Oregon Department of Forestry and Oregon Forest Resources Institute estimate that every million board feet of timber harvested supports or creates about 11 jobs.  Thus, the bill has the potential to create about 1,650 new jobs in O&C counties. 

Enviro reviews

Additionally, the bill would streamline the federal environmental reviews that must be conducted before harvesting can begin.  The bill would replace the requirement for environmental impact statements (EISs) for individual harvesting projects with two large-scale EISs, one each for dry and moist forests, covering 10 years of timber sales.  In addition, timelines for environmental and judicial reviews would be condensed, federal agencies would be required to better coordinate with one another during the environmental reviews, and upfront studies of areas would be required to prioritize treatments.

The bill also includes a host of provisions nominally intended to protect the environment.  These include:

  • Prohibitions against harvesting old growth stands in moist forests currently over 120 years old as well as any tree over 150 years old;
  • Permanent protection for nearly 1 million acres of conservation areas that would be managed for the benefit of old growth trees, native wildlife, recreation, and tourism; limitations on road building in the conservation areas and a ban on mining; and
  • A requirement that timber harvests improve habitat and forest health.

In addition, the bill lists four drinking water emphasis areas with extensive riparian reserves and additional lands designated for conservation to protect drinking water.

Not enough or too much

Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities, a business association based in Oregon, has stated that Wyden’s bill does not go far enough to fix the problems that have contributed to high unemployment and poverty in Oregon’s rural communities.  A better solution, according to Healthy Forests, is a bipartisan bill in the House, which would double the number of jobs potentially added by the Wyden legislation.

But the Wyden bill already calls for too much clearcutting and relaxation of environmental standards, claims the Sierra Club, which believes that Wyden has been under “tremendous pressure from extremist politicians and the logging industry to embrace clearcutting to fund county governments.” 

The Sierra Club adds that logging is a “relatively minor factor” in Oregon’s economic picture today, exceeded by the tourism and recreation-based industries.  “A recent analysis of likely job growth found employment in recreation-related industries in Oregon is expected to grow by 31 percent by 2020,” said the Sierra Club, “exceeding the expected      3 percent growth in logging and related industries.”

Wyden’s bill

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