Senator Wyden Forest Bill and why no one likes it

Senator Wyden’s “Oregon Forest Restoration and Old Growth Protection Act,” more aptly called the “Little-management and Forest Fire Destruction of Old Growth Act”
By Rick Sohn,
Umpqua Coquille LLC

It’s no wonder neither the environmental groups nor the timber industry are happy with Senator Wyden’s proposed federal legislation.  Some say that if no one likes a bill, it must be ok.  More often, if no one likes it, there are serious flaws to fix.  Senator Wyden’s proposed bill creates a new management roadblock for all Oregon federal lands, including BLM lands, discussed recently in the February column.

Senator Wyden’s proposed bill would do away with both regeneration harvests and the harvest of grade wood.  No longer would the BLM be allowed the full range of site-specific harvest options to efficiently treat the land and generate revenues for county receipts.  Only young age thinnings would be allowed.  Young age thinnings can generate some volume, and restore forest health, but are costly and inefficient.  Compared to a regeneration harvest, many times the number of acres must be disturbed to achieve the same volume of harvest, yet generate little, if any, revenue.  Worse, these thinnings are only allowed in limited forest areas, which shrink over time.

Another revenue-generating strategy is also precluded with the proposed Wyden bill.  With so much resource, the Federal lands have the opportunity to concentrate on growing and harvesting quality trees.    No other land managers can afford to grow quality. There is the opportunity to focus on all age classes.  Return to the treasury could come from the harvest of quality wood.  Uneven age management will sustain quality wood and maintain the sought-after extensive wildlife habitat.  Over half the purchasers in Western Oregon have a demand for this quality and/or the species mix that short rotation forestry will not provide.  The public also demands these wood products.

There has been little analysis of the numbers by others, because it is difficult to get past the initial presumptions about management under the Senator’s proposed bill.  For example, management standards set by Congress cannot be revised without an Act of Congress, literally, and the currently confusing language would increase litigation and delay any management, yet again.

But, for the sake of discussion, what if it was implemented?  Here is how it would play out.   The table below looks just at how the BLM’s Oregon and California Railroad (O&C) lands managed by two BLM districts, Roseburg and Coos Bay, would fare.

Effect of Wyden Bill on manageability of BLM O&C Lands

Current law requires that these lands be managed on a sustained yield basis to provide a source of timber and recreation, protect watersheds and contribute to local economic stability.  Half of the revenues from timber sales go directly to the O & C counties.

This table shows that after 20 years, Senator Wyden’s bill decreases the acreage under management, and does not achieve sustained yield.  The BLM WOPR increases management as the forest grows and we get more information on wildlife species.  Furthermore, BLM plans can be revised as conditions change.  Senator Wyden’s bill has no mechanism of revision, as currently written, for adaptive management.

Senator Wyden and his staff claim the bill aids forest health, but it’s actually harmful because, as the table shows, Less than half of the O&C forest acres can be managed to prevent the buildup of fuels as the forest grows.     And the O&C acreage represents the best of four management scenarios under Senator Wyden’s bill because the upper age of management is 160 years, compared to 120 years on much of the Forest Service lands in Western Oregon.

Of the 2.9 billion board feet of growth on Oregon’s Federal lands each year, only about 7% is harvested.  The rest builds up fuel in the forest, including 20% which DIES and becomes dead standing fuel, every year.  (For more information, see Oregon Forest Facts and Figures, 2009, produced by Oregon Forest Resources Institute.

The federal agencies, the Forest Service and the BLM, have multidisciplinary staffs of trained scientists working to put out the best, site-specific plans, all factors considered.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has recognized the important role of the trained scientists, rather than the courts, in guiding recent decisions.  Senator Wyden’s effort to write forest management guidelines in stone from Washington, D.C. should stop.

The proposed bill makes matters worse, not better.  We urge the Senator to work with all citizens and interest groups, including the counties, Indian tribes, conservationists, the timber industry and the managing agencies to craft a bill that will truly improve the health of Oregon’s federal forest lands.

To share your views with Senator Wyden, and read the proposed bill go to

Thanks to the Roseburg and Coos Bay BLM offices for providing data for this report.
© Copyright Rick Sohn, #2-5 Umpqua Coquille LLC.
Email  [email protected]

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