Lawsuits derail local timber sales, OR trumps WA in complaince, more

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

BLM Withdraws Timber Sales: The Bureau of Land Management in January unilaterally cancelled two timber sales on the Medford and Coos Bay Districts, totaling 20.9 million bdft. The Chew Choo and Remote Control sales were auctioned in 2006 and 1998 respectively—but the BLM failed to award either to purchasing mills, due to a barrage of legal appeals, Washington, DC withdrawal of the BLM’s forest plan, and fickle policies of federal fish & wildlife regulating agencies. The BLM warned that more sales on the Medford, Roseburg and Coos Bay districts are in jeopardy of cancellation due to litigation problems.

Weak Compliance Threatens More Rules in WA:
Here’s proof that good compliance with Oregon’s forest practices regulations can help deter against future more stringent rulemaking. Declining compliance has prompted the WA Dept of Natural Resources to explore tougher and more costly regulations on forest operations in that state. A review of 427 operations from 2006-08 found 21% of the road-related activities and 22% of streamside & wetland projects in non-compliance. Contrasted with Oregon, the last full compliance audit of Oregon’s Forest Practices Act—and annual operations compliance since then—has shown an average non-compliance rate of only 2-3%.

Smoke about Federal Regulation Reform: President Obama’s recent executive order to remove “outdated” federal regulations is a baffling about-face, given that his administration presided over new regulatory burdens on banking, health care, environment, and employment. The US Business Roundtable reports that thousands of federal regulations discourage investment in business expansion and job-creation because they are too costly. Even if a handful of regulations are improved, it won’t help much unless the Obama administration’s recent barrage of regulations are overturned.

New State Forester: Doug Decker, a 24-year Oregon Dept. of Forestry (ODF) veteran, was appointed State Forester by Oregon’s Board of Forestry. Board chair John Blackwell said, “Doug is an excellent communicator and understands the challenges facing the Oregon Dept. of Forestry. He has the skills to bring ODF into better alignment with a multitude of stakeholders.” Oregon’s forest industry looks forward to working with Decker to advance important policies that allow forest business and forestland owners to succeed in growing and harvesting forest products across the state.

Forest Cluster Group Seeks Economic Development: A coalition of at least 20 Oregon forest industry organizations and agencies met in January to begin a new effort aimed at improving the business climate for the statewide forest sector. The ‘Oregon Forest Cluster Working Group’ has begun to identify and prioritize specific actions that would help address barriers and opportunities to sustain the forest industry. AOL staff is participating in the work group, assuring that actions address problems, including forest sector loss of infrastructure, and gridlock in federal forest management.

County Payment Extension Proposed: President Obama’s proposed 2012 federal budget would continue funding the timber county safety net ‘Secure Rural Schools,’ set to sunset Nov. 2011. Oregon’s share of the $328 million/year nationwide would be $101 million—a 10% drop from current entitlement payments. The proposal reportedly is unlikely to pass the US House. Since the early 1990s, the so-called temporary aid to counties was to replace lost federal timber sale revenues in 41 states. Federal timber sales prior to 1990 provided over $250 million to Oregon counties.

Luoto Named to Chair SFI Board: In January, SFI Inc., North America’s largest forest certification system appointed Oregon logger, Robert A. (Bob) Luoto, to be Chairman of its 18-member Board of Directors. SFI Inc. is a non-profit that operates the Sustainable Forestry Initiative®, a North American forest & forest product certification program that certifies over 181 million acres, 251 participating firms, and 2,338 facilities. Bob has served on SFI’s Board for three years, representing professional loggers and the American Loggers Council. Owner of Cross & Crown Inc. based in Carlton, OR, and an active AOL member for over 30 years. Luoto earned a political science degree from WA St. Univ. before choosing the family logging business over law school in the 1970s.

Hancock Buys WA Land: Boston-based Hancock Timber Resource Group purchased from Weyerhaeuser Co. 82,000 acres of timberland in southwest Washington for $200 million. The land in coastal Pacific and Grays Harbor counties is dominated by hemlock-spruce timber, and reportedly no-longer fits Weyco’s long-term Douglas fir strategy. Hancock manages 5.3 million acres of timberland in the US, Brazil, Canada, NZ and Aust. Weyerhaeuser, the region’s largest private forest owner, has 2 million acres of timberland in WA & OR, and employs 3,800 at 20 locations.

Pellet Plant Opens in John Day: In January, Ochoco Lumber Co. started operations to make wood pellets, at a new plant built adjacent to its Malheur Lumber sawmill in John Day. The plant was built despite an oversupply of US pellet production, which shut down three other Oregon pellet plants last year. The operation adds several jobs to Grant County, where unemployment exceeds 14%. The project was subsidized with a $4.9 million federal stimulus grant, and $50 million in federal new market tax credits allocated by Ecotrust.

Timber Purchasers Meet with USFS: In December, forest industry representatives met in Portland with US Forest Service managers from across Oregon & WA. Convened by American Forest Resources Council (AOL is a member), AOL participated in discussions about ongoing and planned Forest Service timber sale programs for each national forest in the two states. AOL again raised a number of serious issues and opportunities where the FS could improve timber sale volume and programs. AOL staff also participates in the Federal Timber Purchaser Committee in its periodic meetings about USFS timber sale contracting matters.

National Forest Planning Rule Proposed: US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell released a 94-page draft planning rule for managing 155 national forests. The result of a multiyear effort—that drew more than 40 public meetings and 26,000 comments—the rule would govern the revision of national forest management plans nationwide. The rule will update a 1982 planning rule, which the FS has twice failed in attempts to update—due to environmentalist lawsuits and courts. A public comment period on the draft rule ends May 16, after a March 25th public input meeting is held in Portland. AOL and forest industry representatives will continue providing input into the rulemaking.

State Budget Proposed: Governor Kitzhaber’s first “Governor’s Recommended Budget”, was unveiled February 1st. In January there were many unprecedented meetings between Legislative leaders and the Governor. The challenge for Governor Kitzhaber will be to stay strong in the face of stormy opposition. Although the budget reduces spending by $3 billion from the last biennium, Oregon dept. of Forestry’s proposed budget would actually increase General Fund by 8%, or $3.5 million above the 2009-‘11 amount.

Forestry Strategic Plan to be Updated in 2011: Oregon’s Board of Forestry every 8-years updates its strategic plan that guides the Board’s policymaking. The Oregon Dept. of Forestry requested public comment about the upcoming update, ‘Forestry Program for Oregon, Draft 2011’ (FPFO). Late in 2010, AOL submitted seven targeted suggestions to improve the final FPFO. These suggestions include: expand the traded good value derived from underutilized Oregon forests; greater timber supply to bolster forest infrastructure; and addressing federal forest mismanagement.

Elliott State Forest Plan: In December, AOL submitted written input to urge improvement of the Elliott State Forest Draft Forest Plan. Although the OR Dept. of Forestry proposes to increase harvest in 2012 from the current 27 million bf/year to 40 million, we urged ODF to elevate timber harvest to no less than 56 million bf per year. ODF intends to complete and implement its Elliott forest plan revision in January 2012, subject to approval by the State land Board and Board of Forestry.

Congress Reviews Regulations: The US House of Representatives leadership has directed several committees to examine federal government regulations to eliminate those that are too costly, harm business, or stifle economic growth. Republican lawmakers contend that egregious rules under the Environmental Protection Agency urgently need reform. Expensive, senseless, job-costing federal regulations block federal forest managers from harvesting even burned, dead trees, obstruct federal forest management, and squeeze Oregon’s timber supply.

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