by Nick Cady, Legal Director
Last week Senator Wyden held a hearing on his O&C bill, a bill aimed at doubling logging in Western Oregon by suspending foundation environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act and mandating clearcutting on one million acres of public forest lands. Cascadia had been following the progress of this bill closely as it would have completely dismantled Clinton’s Northwest Forest Plan, the compromise in place since 1994 that has guided management of our Northwest forests.
To help put pressure on Wyden’s fellow legislators in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Francis and I journeyed to Washington DC and with the assistance of Steve Holmer from the American Bird Conservancy, arranged a series of meetings to express our concerns with the bill. Our days were crammed full of back to back meetings, and we got into a rhythm delivering our message.
First we wanted to discount the scientific pretext that Wyden had attempted to give the bill. Wyden had been working with Drs. Norm Johnson and Jerry Franklin in developing this new logging plan, and was using the affiliation of these scientists to give the new logging a “scientific” justification, that Oregon needed more young post-fire forest. Drs. Johnson and Franklin had argued that their style of clearcutting, called “variable retention regeneration harvest,” would be similar to young post-fire forest.
To those unfamiliar with the landscape in Oregon, this might seem a reasonable proposal, so Francis and I relayed to these out-of-state senators the reality of the situation on the ground. The truth is, about half of Oregon’s timbered lands are privately owned and clearcut every 40 years. Therefore, young post-clearcut forest abounds in Oregon. Drs. Johnson and Franklin conveniently neglected this significant factor from their equation. Additionally, following the numerous fires in Oregon this past summer and over the past decade, there is currently a great deal of post-fire habitat across the landscape. But instead of preserving this habitat, the BLM is currently in the process of trying to “salvage log” and replant these areas. It becomes plainly clear from the situation on the ground, that this young post-fire habitat justification is merely a pretense for aggressive clearcutting on public land.
Francis and I also sought to dispel another mischaracterization that Wyden focused on so prominently in his hearing. That was the use of the word “gridlock.” Senator Wyden portrayed a haunting picture, where “every tree had its own lawyer” and that Oregon’s public lands were not producing any timber. The Senator also described Francis and myself as “no-cut” “fanatics.” We pointed out in our meetings that this was untrue. Our public lands in Oregon have been largely meeting and in some instances exceeding their timber targets for over five years. For the most part, the BLM and Forest Service have focused on restoratively thinning the hundreds of thousands of acres of plantations that had been created over a half century of rampant and unregulated clearcutting. Francis and I pointed out that our conservation organizations rarely challenge such sales, and that the BLM had offered 96% of their allocated harvest levels under the Northwest Forest Plan by largely thinning. These forests, as admitted by the BLM in front of Senator Wyden, had at a minimum another 20 years worth of thinning in them.
It became clear after both hearing the Department of Interior and Bureau of Land Management testify, that people largely perceived this bill as unworkable. In fact, the BLM thought that this bill would be entirely “unworkable.” The mandatory clearcutting levels in the bill were perceived as archaic and leading to controversy. The dismantling of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act was opposed by fellow democrats, the government agencies themselves, and the entire nationwide conservation community.
Despite all this opposition from Senate democrats, the BLM, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the entire conservation community, Senator Wyden is continuing to push this bill forward. He was just recently traveling through Southern Oregon in an attempt to build local support. However, he soon realized what we at Cascadia had discovered long ago, that rural Oregonians do not want clearcutting on public lands in their communities. These communities no longer strictly rely on timber jobs to persist, and the private timber industry is still booming in these areas. Our public lands provide clean drinking water for our communities. They attract tourists for the vast recreational opportunities. They also provide essential habitat for struggling salmon populations, and rapidly declining spotted owl and marbled murrelets populations.
Old forests are rare in Oregon. To satisfy corporate timber interests, our democratic Senator, Senator Ron Wyden is proposing to trade in what remains of our mature forests, which are about to become old growth, for clearcuts, undermining our nation’s core environmental laws along the way. We urge you to contact Senators Wyden and Merkley and tell them that this bill will harm the people they are supposed to represent, Oregonians.