Kitzhaber’s biomass fable

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Forest Policy Briefs
by Rex Storm, Forest Policy Manager
Associated Oregon Loggers

Governor’s Biomass Fable: Oregon Governor Kitzhaber told reporters that wood pellets were a solution to reviving Oregon’s moribund rural economy. He talked about his vision of forest communities replacing their dwindling wood product-based (sawlog) industry with an industry making wood pellets and gathering biomass to make electricity. The Governor says wood pellets cost “about the same” as natural gas. Industry is trying to convince the Governor that his naïve vision of expanded biomass power opportunities could only occur under increased public sawlog harvest that produced surplus mill residuals… a reality the Governor has failed to embrace.

Road Runoff Lawsuit Takes Bad Turn: In May, the US Ninth Circuit Court rejected two legal efforts by Oregon forest sector defendants to reconsider an adverse decision by a 3-judge Ninth Circuit panel in the Clean Water Act lawsuit, NEDC vs. Brown. In a May 23rd letter to the EPA, 44 Congressmen asked the agency to reaffirm the 35-year silviculture & logging exemption from point-source federal Clean Water Act permitting. The letter sets the stage for a legislative remedy that would amend the federal Clean Water Act and its regulations. Stay tuned for more legal action necessary to derail potential federal government impacts on state & private forest road policies.

Judge Rejects Green Lawsuit about Forest Research: An environmental lawsuit that attempted to stop forestry research in the Deschutes National Forest’s 2,554-acre Pringle Falls Experimental Forest was denied by a federal judge. In May, the judge refused to stop a US Forest Service timber sale that would harvest 70% of trees larger than six inches in diameter in an experimental unit. The Forest Service is simply trying to demonstrate different thinning methods necessary to promote forest health and prevent damage from unwanted wildfire and insects in pine forests.

Rep. Walden Hosts Forest Roundtable: Eastern Oregon’s US Congressman Greg Walden (R) convened a forestry roundtable discussion June 10 in John Day. The purpose was to introduce new US Forest Service NW Regional Forester Kent Connaughton to issues affecting rural timber & ranching economies in Eastern Oregon, where the landscape is dominated by federal lands. Walden modeled this roundtable from a previous roundtable, held in Union County several years ago to introduce then new Regional Forester, Mary Wagner. A panel of local business folks spoke about broken federal policies to Connaughton, Rep. Walden, and three Blue Mountain forest supervisors.

Foresters Critical of Planning Rule: AOL was among over a hundred forest resource user organizations that submitted critical written comment regarding the US Forest Service proposed Planning Rule. Comment letters by AOL and American Forest Resources Council both identified and rejected dozens of fatal flaws in the proposed Rule. The Society of American Foresters letter said, “The Rule represents the last opportunity… to retain or expand manufacturing… If these manufacturing centers fail, so will the Forest Service.” “…this revision is inadequate to enable the Forest Service to effectively manage the national forests.”

Congressmen Ask for Rule Rewrite: In June, Representatives Greg Walden (R-OR) was joined by 60 other bipartisan members in sending a letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack and Forest Service Chief Tidwell. The letter strongly demanded that the US Forest Service redraft its proposed Planning Rule to reduce process, to better address economic & timber management, and to eliminate many proposed provisions that would invite litigation. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) also signed the letter. Although Rep. DeFazio (D-OR) has 5 national forests in his district, he failed to endorse this important letter.

Sawmills Vote on Marketing Campaign: US sawmills voted from May 23 – June 10, on whether to tax themselves to create a softwood lumber advertising program targeting North American consumers. The so-called “Check-Off Program” would promote use of lumber products, as well as improving American acceptance of wood as a superior renewable product derived from sound forest harvest. Because the proposed program would enlist an assessment on every US lumber mill, it must comply with federal antitrust law, and be conducted under federal trade commission rules. The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service conducted the sawmill referendum, with a majority passing vote required to implement the assessments and “Check-Off Program”.

Hours of Service Trucking Rule Delayed: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced in late May that it will delay until October the release of its controversial proposed “Hours of Service” rules for interstate truck drivers. The final federal HOS rules, which could cut the amount of time that interstate and export-bound truckers can spend actually driving, would be delayed. The agency had been scheduled to publish the new rules in July. The trucking industry has long opposed this federal rule package.

Oregonian to Oregon Legislature: The Oregonian Newspaper in its May 31st editorial criticized the 2011 Oregon Legislature for its lack of action to address the state’s economic problems. With only a month remaining before the legislature’s adjournment, the editors identified nine topics needing action, including more federal timber supply. “Expand public-lands logging: There’s no sign of movement in Congress or the Obama administration to pry open public lands for more logging, forest health and biomass projects. Meanwhile, Oregon’s rural communities continue to suffer with double-digit unemployment.”

Arizona Wildfires Pollute Midwest: In June, Arizona and New Mexico’s forests and woodlands were assaulted by the Southwest’s worst wildfires in decades. At press time (6/9), uncontrolled wildfires had destroyed 620,000 acres of mostly federally-owned pine forest and scrub woodland—creating smoke health advisories across the region, and haze as far away as Iowa. Although the federal EPA dictates emission controls from every commercial engine & smokestack, the agency is naïve and careless about far greater pollution from uncontrolled federal wildfires—an apparent double standard.

Young Old Growth Timber Enjoined by Court: US Magistrate Judge Coffin placed an injunction on a Willamette National Forest timber sale, until the US Forest Service completes another environmental review. The judge blocked logging of the 140-acre Trapper TS, purchased by Seneca Sawmill Co. in 2003. Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands litigated the sale, claiming that the 120-150 year-old trees were “old growth” that must be preserved forever. The judge agreed with environmentalists that the FS was wrong to log and regenerate the forest by emulating wildfire.

Health Insurance Roulette: When the Democrat super-majority in Congress passed the comprehensive health care law in 2009, President Obama and Democrats promised Americans that their health insurance rates would not rise and that they could keep their current coverage. Business, insurance providers, and Republicans all argued unsuccessfully that both promises were false. Two years later, as a few of law’s costly measures incrementally begin to take affect, health insurance rates are skyrocketing and carriers are dropping customers. In June, Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon requested Oregon Insurance Division approval to raise its health rates by 20% to 34%.

Rare Clearcut on National Forest: Subject to further environmentalist appeal and litigation, the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest again approved expansion of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area—which would include clearcutting 71 acres of new ski runs, additional buildings, and parking. Environmental opponents previously litigated the project, and in 2007 lost at 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals. Undeterred, the Sierra Club promises to sue again for a litany of reasons, such as alleged impacts on endangered species, streams, landslides, climate change, and Ashland municipal water.

Taxpayer Dollars at Work…Twice: In May, a heavy helicopter was contracted to lift Douglas fir trees out of the Baskett Slough Wildlife Refuge, north of Dallas, OR. The federal project removed trees in an ecological effort to improve oak woodland. Paid with federal taxpayer dollars, those same trees were loaded, trucked, unloaded, and helicopter-lifted again for placement into streams a hundred miles away. The USFWS shrewdly “partnered” with the Portland Water Bureau, so that the scarce federal trees would be re-used to restore fish habitat at the Bull Run Municipal Watershed in the Mt. Hood National Forest. Portland’s water tastes better when the fish are happy. A true story.

This is Just ‘Mickey Mouse’: In May, Rainforest Action Network protestors, dressed as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, blocked the main entrances of The Walt Disney headquarters in Burbank, CA. Armed with a 35-foot banner that read, “Disney Destroying Indonesia’s Rainforests,” the trespassers harassed Disney for the paper used in Disney’s kids books, which supposedly contained wood fiber from endangered Indonesian rainforests. Four trespassers were arrested, including the mice. Apparently, nothing is sacred when it comes to protesting for Mother Earth.