Timber: Few fires, lawsuit updates, protest damages

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

2009 Fire Season Remains Calm: With a few weeks left in this year’s forest fire season, state-protected forests have had a below-average season.  As of Sept. 21st, a total of 866 fires had burned 7,298 acres on “state-protected forestlands” (private/state/BLM).  The ten-year average for the same period is 968 fires and 25,787 acres.  This success has resulted from aggressive efforts to stop most fires when they’re small, limited late-summer lightning, fewer recreational or rural user starts, and ongoing prevention by industrial operators.  Let’s close the season in a fire safe manner!

Contract Firefighting Bombers Lack Replacement: For decades, aerial tankers have been the West’s best firefighting tool, rapidly dropping retardant to snuff forest fires.  Over the years, low federal contract rates were insufficient to cover the replacement cost (depreciation) of an aging air tanker fleet run by aviation contractors.  Now, with over half the agency’s aged contract bombers grounded, the remaining nineteen 40-60 year-old tankers will be grounded by 2012.  The USDA inspector general reported that a history of inadequate funding has failed replace aging aircraft—and future firefighting becomes more costly and ineffective without the contract air tankers.  Much the same situation occurs in the contract logging industry—years of low contract rates have failed to cover asset depreciation, sapping contractors of vital capital and weakening the logging sector.

State Forest Plan Revision to Assure Volume: At it’s Sept. meeting, the Oregon Board of Forestry agreed to begin rulemaking to revise the NW Oregon State Forest Management Plan—assuring slightly improved timber sale volume.  The unanimous approval confirms the Board’s June decision to raise harvest volume to 196 million bdft/year, reduce long-term complex forest structure area down to 30-50%, and not require a federal Habitat Conservation Plan.  The Board also began a process to redefine state forest “greatest permanent value, to assure future harvest volumes are achieved.  OR Dept. of Forestry should complete a new plan by April 2010, and implement increased timber sale volume in 2012.  Without the revision, state forest harvest would soon fall to 144 million/yr.

State Forest Decision Challenged: A “petition for reconsideration” has been filed by nine environmental organizations, challenging the OR Board of Forestry’s June decision to revise the NW Oregon State Forest Plan.   The Board’s decision tentatively agreed to raise the annual harvest volume 6% for the Tillamook & Clatsop State Forests, from the current 184 million to 196 million bdft/year.  The proposed boost is far below the 282 million promised when the Board adopted the plan in 2001.  The enviro petitioners seek less harvest, and more complex forest structure.

Board Hears that Forests Always Changing: The OR Board of Forestry held a Sept. workshop to discuss the latest science about forest management linkages to natural change in ecosystems.  Today’s science shows always-changing forests due to periodic disturbances, such as wildfires, pest or disease, storms and floods.  At the workshop, Board members and forest managers acknowledged how future Oregon forest policies must focus on keeping private and state forests actively-managed through non-regulatory incentives to encourage modern harvest and regeneration.

BLM Director Confirmed:
In August, the US Senate confirmed two appointments that direct the Bureau of Land Management.  Bob Abbey was confirmed as BLM Director, and Wilma Lewis becomes US Interior Dept. Asst. Secretary for Land & Minerals.  Lewis will supervise Abbey, as well as other federal energy and mineral resources.  BLM Director Abbey has 32 years of state & federal agency experience and was Nevada BLM Director.  Abbey oversees 10,800 employees with a $1.8 billion budget, and manages 258 million acres—including 4 million acres of western OR forest.

Industry Challenges BLM Plan Withdrawal: In Sept., Oregon’s timber industry filed a lawsuit in US District Court, challenging Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s July decision to “withdraw” the Bureau of Land Management’s 2008 Western Oregon Forest Plan Revision (WOPR).  Industry plaintiffs (Douglas Timber Operators, Swanson Group, Seneca Timber, C&D Lumber, Carpenters Union) say the withdrawal violates federal laws and court rulings.  Until court resolution, the BLM continues its current 204 million bdft/year timber offering, whereas the WOPR called for 502 million.

Industry Challenges Owl Plan Withdrawal:  In Aug., the forest industry (American Forest Resources Council, which AOL is a member) filed another legal challenge of Secretary Salazar’s July decision to also withdraw the 2008 n. spotted owl recovery plan and habitat designation.  AFRC will fight this political meddling in an ongoing Washington, DC District Court case filed by AFRC, which earlier had challenged the owl plan.  Without a better owl recovery plan, future westside BLM and national forest timber sales would continue to be hobbled by bureaucratic gridlock and lawsuits.

Damages Calculated for Protest Arrests: Oregon Dept. of Forestry officials announced that district attorneys would seek to recover the cost of arresting 27 protestors who blocked logging contractors from a Elliott State Forest timber sale in July.  About 100 Earth First! and Cascadia Rising Tide protestors blocked loggers from working the UmpCoos Ridge 2 timber sale, located east of Reedsport.  The arrested criminals with were charged with misdemeanor interference to agricultural operations.  Preliminary law enforcement cost estimate is calculated at $103,000.

Coos Bay Railroad Seeks to Reopen: The Port of Coos Bay began repairs needed to reopen its 110-mile Coos Bay rail line from Veneta to Coos Bay, formerly operated by Central OR & Pacific Rail.  The Port purchased the rail line in May from CORP, which closed the line in Sept. ‘07.  To restore service by late-2010, the Port must repair tunnels, bridges, signals and track.  The Port also seeks additional federal funds, and wants to lease the Coos to Coquille rail—still owned by Union Pacific—because that line serves major customers, Roseburg FP and G-P mills.

Weyco Sells Commercial Business: Weyerhaeuser Co. has sold yet another business segment—the “commercial” portion of its iLevel® engineered structural product line to a subsidiary of Atlas Holdings LLC—to be renamed ‘RedBuilt.’  Weyco sells four plants (located in Hillsboro & Stayton; Chino, CA; and Delaware, OH), plus 13 sales and engineering offices employing 230.  Atlas has 40 plants and 3,200 employees in North America and Europe.  Weyco keeps its “residential” structural framing businesses, iLevel® and TrusJoist®, with OR plants in Albany, Eugene and Sweet Home.

Forestry Coalition Recommends Revitalizing: The Western Forestry Leadership Coalition (WFLC), consisting of agency leaders, released a report urging a revitalization of the Western forestry sector economy.  The coalition cites 20-years of mill closures that strip the region’s ability to manage its forests.  The recommendations include: find new markets for small logs & biomass; strengthen economic goals; and improve forest policy to maintain global competitiveness.  Report summary available at: www.wflcweb.org/infomaterials/brochures_presentations.php

Willamette Supervisor Named:
Regional Forester Mary Wagner announced Meg Mitchell as the new Willamette National Forest Supervisor, following the retirement of Dallas Emch.  Mitchell has 20 years of US Forest Service experience, most recently as Supervisor of the Green Mountain Nat. Forest in Vermont.  She also worked in Washington, DC and Alaska.

Sherman Nominated as Ag Undersecretary:
In Sept., President Obama nominated Harris Sherman, as the US Dept. of Agriculture Undersecretary for Natural Resources.  The previous nominee, Homer Lee Wilkes declined the nomination in May.  If confirmed by the US Senate, Sherman would oversee the US Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service.  He is currently Colorado’s Dept. of Natural Resources director, and considered a moderate who supports resource management.

Ag Nominee Showed Balance in Colorado: Harris Sherman, the nominated US Ag Undersecretary over the Forest Service, oversaw Colorado’s state plan proposed for assigning roadless areas in Colorado’s national forests.  A positive indicator of Sherman’s ability to balance economic needs, enviros denounced Sherman’s Colorado roadless plan as weaker than the Clinton-era 2001 Roadless Rule.  The Colorado plan would release some areas for management, and in other unroaded areas allow temporary roads, fire prevention, salvage & fuel reduction, mining, and utilities.

Former Forest Service Chiefs Debate: A September presentation in Missoula brought together the last six former US Forest Service chiefs: Max Peterson (’79-87), Dale Robertson (‘87-93), Jack W. Thomas (‘93-96), Mike Dombeck (‘96-01), Dale Bosworth (‘01-07) and Gail Kimbell (’07-09).  The chiefs agreed that tomorrow’s Forest Service and its new Chief Tom Tidwell must show stronger leadership in federal forest management.  The older three ex-chiefs lamented a FS now frozen by analysis paralysis, conflicting laws & court rulings, indecision about roads, plus outlandish costs for planning & firefighting.

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