Update: Forest stimulus lags, roadless ruling, Obama acts.

Update on Current Policy News Affecting Forest Business & Timber Supply
by Rex Storm, Forest Policy Manger
Associated Oregon Loggers

Forest Service Gets New Chief: In a surprising June announcement, USDA Ag Secretary Vilsack named Tom Tidwell as the new US Forest Service Chief. Tidwell is a highly-regarded 32-year career FS manager, who was Regional Forester in Missoula, MT. He has a solid reputation for making resource management happen, with experience in ID, NV, CA, MT, Washington, DC, and Utah—where he was Supervisor on the forest hosting 2002 Winter Olympics ski venues. Tom respects timber issues, and industry folks who know him say he’ll bring improved agency leadership. Although the FS has recently struggled to pay its huge firefighting bills and allocate billions in federal stimulus dollars, it’s unclear why Chief Gail Kimbell is stepping down. Oregon has 13.1 million acres of national forests, or 48% of forests statewide that urgently need better management.

Forest Service Morale Poor: A 2008 national survey of federal employees ranked the US Forest Service 206th out of 216 agencies. The USFS was a poor place to work, according to The Best Places to Work Report, published by the Partnership for Public Service and American University’s Institute for Study of Public Policy. Low morale was blamed on erosion of employee ability to do the work they were hired to do. Employees also ranked respect for senior leaders as very low. Prison guards reportedly enjoy their jobs more than FS employees.

Slow Release of Forest Service Federal Stimulus: Since the US Forest Service received a total of $1.15 billion in Federal Stimulus (American Recovery & Reinvestment Act) funding nationwide, the funds are slowly being allocated to USFS Regional offices. Only 10% of the funds were released March 9; then 21% of the funds were to be released May 5 & May 13. To date, less than 1/3 of the total funds have actually been cleared by high-level bureaucrats and approved for spending bythe Forest Service and OR Dept. of Forestry. ODF has tentatively been approved to receive $29 million for forest fuel hazard reduction, road improvements and watershed projects to be contracted. See the project list online at: www.fs.fed.us/arra/arra-releasedfsprojects-2009-5-14.pdf

Forest Service Nominee Withdraws: The Obama administration’s nominee to oversee the embattled US Forest Service withdrew his name from consideration in June. Homer Lee Wilkes was nominated May 5th as US Undersecretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources. Wilkes, current Mississippi State Conservationist, and 28-year veteran of the US Nat. Res. & Conservation Service, would have been the first undersecretary in decades to not have been a Forest Service expert. Reportedly, President Obama is considering Harris Sherman, director of Colorado Dept. of Natural Resources, for the Undersecretary job. Environmental groups oppose Sherman. Meanwhile, broken national forest policies have kept the FS aimless, starved for funding, and spending half its budget on firefighting.

Jones Added to OFRI Board: State Forester Marvin Brown appointed W. Ray Jones to the 11-person board of directors for Oregon Forest Resources Institute. Jones, VP of Resources for Stimson Lumber Co. in Portland, fills the remaining 2-years of the term left by Matt Donegan’s resignation. Jones’ position represents large producers, those companies paying harvest taxes on over 100 million bdft/year. OFRI was created by the Oregon Legislature in 1991 to improve public understanding about sound forest management.

Leiken Seeks DeFazio Seat: Springfield Mayor Sid Leiken, 47, announced in May he will run against Democrat US Rep. Peter DeFazio for Oregon’s 4th congressional district. A Roseburg and Lane County native, Leiken brings superior business and government experience to the table. He’s already promised to increase timber supply and jobs. During his time as mayor, Springfield gained $1.5 billion in new private investment, and added 1,000 new jobs by luring Sacred Heart Medical Center away from Eugene. The far-ranging southwest Oregon district is hungry for good leadership that DeFazio’s failed to deliver since 1986. Sid Leiken’s early start affords needed time to win recognition and fund raising.

Court Again Finds Clinton Roadless Rule Illegal: Wyoming federal district court judge Brimmer in June reaffirmed his 2008 ruling, which had placed a nationwide injunction to nullify the Clinton-era 2001 Roadless Rule. In the current decision, Brimmer rejected arguments by environmental groups and federal attorneys who sought to overturn his ‘08 decision. The judge found that the 2001 Clinton rule, by violating the law, has failed to protect the public interest. “Every day that the (Clinton) Roadless Rule remains in effect, our forests are placed in a position of further peril.”

Interim Directive on USFS Roadless: US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in late May signed an interim directive giving him sole authority over road and harvest projects in 60 million so-called “inventoried roadless” acres of national forests. Previously, such authority was held by the Forest Service Chief or Ag Undersecretary for Resources. The one-year “interim” directive gives the Obama administration time to create its own scheme for banning harvest from unroaded forests. Idaho & Colorado are exempt from the directive, because their governors developed roadless plans under provisions allowed by the Bush administration. Separate courts have nullified both the Bush and the 2001 Clinton-era roadless rules.

Pres. Obama Swiftly Undoes Bush Environmental Policy: During the first 120 days of the Obama administration, the President’s people reversed numerous good Bush administration policies, including: the n. spotted owl recovery plan; an Endangered Species Act upgrade allowing FS & BLM biologists to easily complete timber sale consultation; Pacific salmon recovery actions; planned offshore oil & gas drilling; planned Appalachian mining; Army Corps of Engineers levee building & river dredging. Furthermore, the President created 2 million acres of new Wilderness, appointed several questionable scientists to top policy posts, sped the largest dam removal in US history, and threatens to make the Clinton-era “Roadless Rule” permanent—locking-up 60 million acres of national forest as de facto Wilderness.

Owl Decline Not Due to Logging: The latest research study on the n. spotted owl points toward another cause—instead of forested habitat harvest—to blame for the owl’s population decline. In addition to the now-proven owl threats—wildfires, disease, and a predatory baard owl—the shrinking gene pool is contributing to its decline. When the owl was added to the endangered species list in 1990, it effectively stalled Northwest Region federal lands logging. Nearly two decades later, and despite virtually little federal logging, the owl number still drops 3.7%/year. Facing mounting evidence against their faulty logging-caused theories about the owl decline, wildlife biologists refuse to acknowledge their error and still blame logging today.

Owl Habitat Case Delayed: Federal District Court Judge Sullivan granted the US Fish & Wildlife Service added time (until July 30), to decide whether to voluntarily “remand” its August 13, 2008 critical habitat and recovery plan for the n. spotted owl. If no agreement can be reached with litigants, the government will either defend its plan or ask the court to void the plan. AFRC (which AOL is a member) and several industry firms had filed the lawsuit challenging the excessive habitat and plan. If the court orders a new owl recovery plan under a remand, the current plan would remain in effect until replaced. The new 2009 BLM Western OR Forest Plan relies on the owl plan.

Terminator Shoots Down Obama’s ESA Policy: CA Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) blasted a new federal plan that would further restrict land uses by claiming to benefit Central Valley chinook salmon and other threatened fish. “This federal biological opinion puts fish above the needs of…Californians and the health/security of the world’s eighth largest economy. The piling-on of one federal court decision after another in a species-by-species approach is killing our economy and undermining the integrity of the Endangered Species Act,” rightfully says the Governor. Schwarzenegger vowed to resolve the matter with US Interior Secretary Salazar.

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