ODF shrinks, Timber subsidy ignored, Ranch sues Forest Service

Update on Current Policy News Affecting Forest Business & Timber Supply
by Rex Storm, Forest Policy Manager
Oregon Association of Loggers

ODF Spending Shrinks: At the OR Dept. of Forestry, severe budget cuts affected spending in the past year, forcing personnel layoffs and deep service reductions in ODF’s key programs: private forests, state forests and fire protection.  Overall, the state forests 2010 fiscal budget took a $10 million cut, and private forests biennial budget reflected a $6 million general fund reduction, along with additional reductions in corresponding timber harvest tax revenues.  The fire protection 2010 fiscal budget recently had to take a $4 million cut, which shrinks its firefighting capability.

Lawmakers Frustrated Over Timber Subsidy: Lawmakers in a US House Resources Committee hearing in July were frustrated with President Barack Obama for breaking his promises to fix the county timber payments program, and increase federal timber sales.  Western congressmen at the hearing asked the US Forest Service and BLM to follow through on promises Obama made in 2008 to improve harvest and federal subsidy payments that end Sept. 2011.  The county timber payment program provides $100 million/year to Oregon federal timber counties.

Ranch Sues Forest Service: White Butte Ranch, of Wheeler County, has filed suit seeking $600,000 from the US Forest Service, as compensation for fire damages.  A 2008 Ochoco National Forest prescribed burn escaped from the Bridge Creek Wilderness, and spread onto the ranch’s neighboring property.  The wildfire cost the ranch for damaged timber, reforestation, dead cattle, firefighting, and other losses that comprise a government ‘take’ of private property.  Historically, private property owners have not won compensation for escaped federal wildfires.

Counties Propose BLM Land Sale: The Association of O&C Counties in Sept. announced a legislative proposal, addressing BLM federal forest management in Western Oregon.  The proposed ‘Federal Forest Counties & Schools Stabilization Act’ (FFCSSA) would make two major changes to BLM forestlands in West OR: 1) preserve 1.2 million acres of forest; and 2) sell 1.2 million acres of the more roaded forestland.  Land sale proceeds would fund ten-years of safety net payments to counties nationally, and a permanent trust to benefit Oregon’s 18 O&C Counties.  Industry representatives are skeptical of this likely-to-be controversial proposal.  Details can be found online at: www.FFCSSA.org

Region’s Forests Face Beetle Damage: Trees in aging federal forests across OR & WA are at greater risk for spruce and mountain pine beetle infestations, according to a new study by the US Forest Service.  Due to warming temperatures in the West, and aging overcrowded conditions that reduce health of federal and state forests, increased bark beetle-caused tree mortality is projected in the coming decades.  Particularly threatened are Oregon’s coastal fog belt where spruce occurs, and interior mixed conifer public forests, where lodgepole and ponderosa pines occur.

CO Fire Clears Record Number of Homes: Colorado’s Four Mile Canyon wildfire destroyed 170 homes and 6,180 acres of suburban woodland, located 12 miles NW of Boulder.  Authorities ordered 3,500 residents to evacuate the west side of Boulder, a city of 100,000 and home of Univ. of CO.  The human-caused fire is one of Colorado’s most destructive fires ever—including the 2002 Hayman Fire, which destroyed 133 homes and 138,000 acres.

Warrenton Sawmill Readies to Reopen: Hampton Affiliates’ announced its newly-acquired Warrenton sawmill should reopen in late spring, depending on market conditions.  Hampton closed the mill after its purchase from Weyerhaeuser Co. last December, laying-off 94 employees.  The shutdown allowed for extensive upgrades to increase capacity, improve production and long-term mill competitiveness.  Hampton operates sawmills in Tillamook and Willamina, owns OR timberlands, and has timber operations in WA and British Columbia.

Swanson Shuts Glendale Sawmill:
The Swanson Group announced indefinite closure of its Glendale sawmill and output reduction at its Roseburg studmill, laying-off a total of 90 employees.  Officials said Glendale would shut when the log deck is consumed, and may never reopen.  Their plywood plant remains in operation.  The Roseburg mill is curtailed to a 20-hour week.  The cutbacks are blamed on the federal government, including housing slump mismanagement, unbridled Canadian lumber imports, and failure of BLM and national forests to provide a sustainable timber sale volume.

Weyco Closes LVL Plant: Weyerhaeuser Co. announced the immediate and long-term closure of its Albany LVL plant on 9/1, resulting in the loss of 70 jobs.  Last summer, 75 workers were laid-off when Weyco shutdown its Albany trucking facility.  The company has been shedding businesses for the past several years, as it focuses on core timber and real estate assets —with the firm’s planned conversion to a real estate investment trust in 2011.  In Oregon, Weyco owns over 1 million acres of forestland, four sawmills, a plywood plant, and several engineered wood plants.

Voluntary Owl Safe Harbor Agreement: Federal and state agencies formalized an offer to private forest landowners who voluntarily agree to enhance northern spotted owl habitat for 50-years.  Coordinated by OR Dept. of Forestry (ODF) and US Fish & Wildlife Service, this Oregon-only ‘Safe Harbor Agreement’ opportunity is available to landowners with under 5,000 acres.  A written stewardship agreement between the landowner and ODF would specify owl benefits, such as: extended rotation, developing habitat, or habitat maintenance.  More information at: www.oregon.gov/odf

Another Owl Recovery Plan: The US Fish & Wildlife Service in September released another proposed draft recovery plan for the northern spotted owl, which has been a listed under the federal Endangered Species Act since 1990.  This second plan follows the Obama administration withdrawal of the prior recovery plan prepared during the Bush administration.  This new plan is just another political decision having little to no benefit for the owl or its predation, and it does nothing to address declining federal forest health and habitat losses to fires, insects and storms.

Spotted Owl Legal Victory: Oregon’s forest industry won a substantial victory in its case against the US Secretary of Interior, who earlier this year had arbitrarily rescinded an improved 2008 Critical Habitat Designation for the n. spotted owl.  Federal District Court Judge Sullivan ordered the Interior Secretary to reinstate the better ’08 critical habitat designation.  AFRC (AOL is a member) and its allies filed the lawsuit, for the purpose of reinstating the better ’08 critical habitat designation.  Industry intends to work with the US Fish & Wildlife Service to reform the critical habitat map.

Railroad Secures Coquille Line: The Port of Coos Bay announced that it has acquired from Union Pacific a 22-mile rail line between North Bend and Coquille.  Until the railroad was shut in 2007, the 22-miles were leased by Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad to run its 110-mile line between Eugene, Coos Bay and Coquille.  The Port plans to open the entire Coos line by mid-2011, using up to $12.9 million in federal & state stimulus funds to make needed railroad repairs.  The railroad would provide important market access for several forest product plants and other area commercial shippers.

Weyco Leaves Rail Business: Weyerhaeuser Co. is selling six railroads that operate on about 160 miles of track to Patriot Rail Corp. of Boca Raton, FL.  The rail lines are in Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and 39 miles in southwest WA.  The six railroads handle about 60,000 carloads of freight annually, and they employ about 120 people.

Judge Rejects Fire Retardant: For the second time in recent years, a federal judge ruled that the US Forest Service use of firefighting retardant dropped from airplanes violates the federal Endangered Species Act.  The red-colored retardant is a mix of water and a mild fertilizer; but the environmental litigants claim that species could somehow be harmed.  The judge refused to enjoin current retardant use, instead requiring the USFS to do even more analysis.

Large Retardant Phase-Out: The fleet of US Forest Service “large” retardant airplanes contracted to attack wildfires has dwindled from 44 in 2005 to just 17 nationwide today.  Due for retirement in 2012, the USFS plans to eliminate all 17 bombers due to a $2.5 billion replacement price tag.  Without the large multi-engine bombers, the FS will then use heavy lift helicopters and single-engine airplanes to fight fires.  Some lawmakers and industry folks insist that some bombers must be replaced.

USFS Landscape Projects: In June, US Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announced a new advisory committee to evaluate Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) proposals.  The committee will select landscape-scale restoration projects designed to benefit local economies.  The new law authorizes $40 million/year for these projects, but Congress only appropriated $10 million in fiscal 2010.  Three CFLR Projects were submitted in Oregon: Deschutes Skyline Landscape Project; Lakeview Federal Stewardship (Fremont-Winema NF); and Malheur NF Project.

USDA Ducks Poor National Forest Health: Seemingly to distract public attention from the severely deteriorating condition of the nation’s national forests, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a US Forest Service report that raises the specter of housing development now threatening private forests.  Vilsack said the Obama administration will produce recommendations to make private forest preservation more profitable, reducing pressures to sell it for development.  Reportedly, 57 million private forested acres are threatened by development in the next 20 years.

Enterprise USFS Office Fire: Federal fire investigators announced in a press release that spontaneous combustion of staining materials is the probable cause of the July 11 fire that destroyed the 20-year-old building that housed the US Forest Service visitors center and district ranger station in Enterprise.  Wallowa-Whitman National Forest officials stated that the building’s loss was not arson.  Temporary USFS offices are relocated at the local Chamber of Commerce, a former Joseph school, and former Wallowa Hospital.

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