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Walden: Put Forest Fix in Farm Bill

August 8, 2018

Congressman Greg Walden,

Representative Greg Walden (R-Hood River)  spoke in southern Oregon — where communities have faced unhealthy air quality from surrounding wildfires — to call for forest management reforms in the upcoming Farm Bill.  Walden secured sweeping improvements to federal forest policy in the 2018 Farm Bill that passed the House in June and today urged for those needed changes to be included in the Senate passed version of the legislation. Walden sent a letter to the lawmakers who will negotiate the differences between the House and Senate versions of the 2018 Farm Bill, which reads:

“The West is burning. Lives have been tragically lost. Homes and other property have been destroyed. Smoke is choking our skies, leaving residents of southern Oregon and elsewhere with the worst air quality in the nation. It does not have to be this way. As you finalize the Farm Bill in 2018, I urge you to include the important forest management tools included in the House bill to make needed steps toward preventing these fires into the future.

“Years of poor management have left our federal forests overgrown and at risk of these unnaturally catastrophic fires. John Bailey, a professor at Oregon State University, testified last fall before the Energy and Commerce Committee that in some parts of eastern Oregon we have nearly 1,000 trees per acre on land that historically had 20 trees per acre. Across the West, these overstocked tree stands fuel the catastrophic fires we see each summer. Active management that thins out these forest stands and removes this fuel reduces the threat of fire, smoke, and other emissions. A recent study in California by The Nature Conservancy, Forest Service, and others found that fuels projects can reduce the size and intensity of fire up to 70 percent. These projects also reduce carbon emissions from the fire by up to 85 percent.

“Unfortunately, red tape and litigation from outside special interest groups hampers land managers’ ability to implement these needed forest management projects. The forestry title in the House passed Farm Bill builds on the forestry provisions we passed into law earlier this year and provides needed tools to reduce this red tape and streamline forest management projects to get more work done in the woods. When fire does strike, we ensure that the Forest Service and BLM can remove the burned, dead trees while they still have value and replant to restore our forests for the next generation. Just like what happens on private lands across Oregon.

“Communities across the West should not have to face the increasing threat of wildfire and choke on smoke each summer because of mismanagement of our public lands. We can do better. The forestry provisions in the House passed Farm Bill would help improve management and prevent fire in Oregon and across the West. I strongly urge you to include them in the final 2018 Farm Bill.”

Representative Walden continues to lead the effort in Congress to improve forest management to reduce the risk of wildfire and put people back to work in the woods.

Walden secured significant reforms to federal forest policy in the government funding measure that was signed into law in March, such as:

– Streamlined authorities for rapid implementation for wildfire resiliency and hazardous fuels reduction projects.
– Progress to fix fire borrowing, to help end the vicious cycle of depleting resources for fire prevention to pay for fire suppression, which increases the risk of catastrophic wildfires year after year.
– Expanded Healthy Forest Restoration Act authority for fuel and fire break projects.
– Gives the Forest Service and BLM the ability to offer stewardship contracts with a 20-year term.
– Expands “Good Neighbor Policy” to allow states to help with road maintenance, culverts, and other similar projects on Forest Service land.

The additional reforms Walden secured in the Farm Bill that passed the House include:

Streamlined and expedited authorities for projects, including:

– Critical response for insect and disease infestation, watershed protection, hazardous fuels reduction, and forest restoration projects;
– Cleaning up after a fire and requiring replanting of our forests;
– Early successional wildlife habitat development; and

Collaborative projects.

The House of Representative also agreed with Walden’s plan to protect a central Oregon community from wildfire, unanimously passing the Crooked River Ranch Wildfire Protection Act (H.R. 2075) earlier this month.

Crooked River Ranch is an unincorporated community of about 5,500 residents in Jefferson County. The lands adjacent to the community are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and are classified as a Wilderness Study Area (WSA).

These lands are in the highest risk category for exposure to devastating wildfire due to overstocked juniper stands under the federally mandated and locally promulgated Jefferson County Community Wildfire Protection Plan. The current WSA classification prevents mechanical fire prevention activities within these overstocked juniper stands.

Walden’s bill would adjust the boundaries of the WSAs in order to better facilitate fire prevention activities on public lands and the adjacent private property.

The Crooked River Ranch Fire Protection Act will allow much-needed management of the excess fire fuels that surround Crooked River Ranch, reducing the danger of wildfire for the community who lives there.

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Discuss this article

Tim Smith August 8, 2018

I am sorry but we have heard this same rhetoric for well over 20 years, yet it continues to get worse every year. A complete change of political mindset has to take place. Instead of creating projects which are short term in nature and suck up tax dollars we need to forge ahead with long term industry building programs that put tax dollars in the kitty rather than take them out. As far a stewardship programs go I wrote this letter to our LEO’s and copied Walden and the agencies some time back.

Conditions of Concern Regarding
Current Malheur National Forest Management Practices
February 18, 2018
The following conditions of concern and questions regarding management practices on the Malheur National Forest are brought forward here to hopefully shine a light on certain inconsistent or inappropriate practices in policy and in field operations. These practices show signs which appear to be beneficial to some operators to the detriment of other operators and to the local community.
These questionable practices will be listed knowing that there are overlapping and inter-tonguing areas where practices affect multiple types of operations and harvest objectives.
As a result of number 13 below we have volunteered to write down their concerns and present them widely so that changes may be made in these processes outlined below that will improve practices and give some equity to the timber industry in our area of the Malheur National Forest.
Stewardship Programs (SP), Stewardship Grants (SG) and Timber Sales
1. Stewardship revenues go to the General Fund and not to the local communities. A Recent stewardship program in Harney County harvested around 200 MM board feet of timber with No revenues going to the County.
2. There is no revenue sharing on biomass. A recent SP paid the contractor for the thinning of biomass and then the contractor owned the biomass to sell at a time of his choosing.
3. There is no stumpage charge for merchantable trees in the recent SP’s. The contractor essentially is getting paid twice for the work he is doing.
4. A recent large SP paid the contractor by equipment hour vs by loads or board feet of production. This system is a virtual invitation for billing abuse and is difficult if not impossible to audit.
5. SP sizes and time limitations are such that a small operator is at an extreme disadvantage or simply unable to bid on these. Timber sales can do the same kinds of things as SP’s but can be let out on a smaller scale, so more small operators will have a chance to successfully bid on them. In addition, the revenues from timber sales return back to the local county.
6. The practice of letting SG’s and contracts based on “best value” vs cost to the public, lends itself to highly subjective and often blatant cronyism or nepotism. The quality of the work can be controlled by proper oversight and sale requirements. Opening these contracts up to multiple operators both makes the costs more competitive and builds a larger contractor base and industry.
7. The letting of large, longer term SG’s to single larger contractors essentially gives them a monopoly on the mill. The mill will be dictated to by the large contractor so the smaller contractor may or may not ever see a mill contract for the duration of the large SP.
8. Recent SP’s have allowed the contractor to mark his own trees which again leads to the perception, if not reality, of abuse by the contractor. Again here, timber sales are marked by the agency and thus there is opportunity for oversight and audits of the harvest.
9. It has been stated that SP’s do not have to be advertised in the local media but only via the internet. Timber sales must be advertised in the local paper and other available media. Both SP’s and timber sales should be advertised the same in order for all to have fair notification.
10. On some SG’s and Timber sales the contractor is allowed to trade service work for timber. The agency then turns around and writes a 1099 for the entire stumpage and the contractor also gets a 1099 from the logs hauled to the mill. This is double taxation.
11. On a timber sale the agency marks the sale with no quality control on the marking team. Often there are trees marked with no stump shots. Missing one stump shot per 100 trees creates a huge potential liability for the contractor over the entire sale.
12. In some cases, non-merchantable (crooked, split or forked) trees are marked on the stump the same a good tree?
13. Maybe the most troubling of all this is that the industry has been weakened to the point where the remaining small loggers are afraid of reprisals against them if they raise complaints about unfair or negligent practices exercised by the regulating agency. Without the ability to trust that their concerns will be fairly treated they have, or perceive to have, no way to stand up for their valid rights as contractors!
Questions that need to be asked about Stewardship and Timber Sale programs
1. Why is there no revenue sharing on the biomass when the contractor is already paid to remove it?

2. What part do non-profits have in the revenue stream off a stewardship grant?

3. Who audits the SP performance and the stewardship program invoicing?

4. Why is it necessary to create long term stewardships when the chance to monopolize the mill contracts is so likely?

5. Why can’t timber sales contain the same service work and biomass conditions as a stewardship program?

6. Why is acreage often added to a timber sale in order to qualify it for a Stewardship Program?

7. Why is the agency allowed to tax the contractor for stumpage that the contractor already traded to the agency for service work?

8. Why is there a practice to advertise stewardship programs differently than timber sales?

9. Why is there insufficient quality control on timber sale marking by the agency?

10. Why is there often no stump differentiation between a good merchantable tree and a non-merch tree??
We believe the local counties, the USFS and the USBLM need to take a close look at these concerns and establish a process to correct or modify these programs so that the use of our forest resources is for the maximum benefit of the community, its working force and its people rather than a few select operators.

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