Fire case tossed, Judge slams BLM, more…

by Rex Storm, Forest Policy Manager
Associated Oregon Loggers

BLM Ordered to Increase Timber Sale: On June 26, the DC federal district court ordered the BLM to sell the volume amount specified in its 1995 forest plans, and stop using a flawed computer model to predict exaggerated owl use in its forests. Although the ruling orders the BLM Medford and Roseburg Districts to increase annual timber sale by 54 million bdft, another 2011 case before the same judge was filed by the forest industry, and AFRC (AOL is a Member), which seeks to require the BLM to sell more timber in compliance with the O&C Act on all western Oregon districts.

Judge Tosses Fire Case: In July, a Plumas County Judge dismissed the state of California’s lawsuit seeking $8 million in state firefighting damages from timber sale purchaser Sierra Pacific Industries, sought for the 2007 Moonlight Fire. Cal. Dept. of Forestry failed to prove that SPI caused the fire. This ruling contrasted with an earlier case brought by the US Forest Service against SPI for the same fire, where a federal judge ordered SPI in 2012 to pay the government an outlandish $150 million (approx.) for resource damages and firefighting—about 40 times the damaged land appraised value.

Fire Salvage Plans Begin: With thousands of acres of private, BLM and national forest land burned in this summer’s wildfires across southwest and eastern Oregon, landowners have begun plans for salvage logging and reforestation to restore the damaged landscapes. Of note, in SW Oregon there is over 80,000 acres of burned forests in the Roseburg and Medford BLM districts, Umpqua Nat. Forest, industrial forests, and small private woodlands. Small BLM salvage sales of downed fire line timber could be offered this fall. The most immediate logging will begin on private forestlands.

Congress Advances Federal Forest Bill: The US House Resources Committee on July 31st approved HR. 1526, Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act. The bill would make needed reforms for the US Forest Service harvesting half its annual timber growth. Additional provisions divide 2.5 million acres of Western Oregon BLM forestland in into two parcels: half managed under a timber yield trust authority; and half allocated to the Forest Service for habitat. The bill is slated for a House vote in September, prior to an uncertain fate in the Democrat-majority US Senate.

Congress Hearing on Wildfires & Forests: Amid an active fire season across the West, the House Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands in July held a hearing focusing on the need for increased federal forest management to address forest health and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. All witnesses agreed that more harvesting and restoration is needed on federal forests to reduce fires. Remedies were discussed that would treat more acres to prevent increased future catastrophic wildfires that destroy millions of acres, take more lives, and destroy communities.

State Funds Eastside Forestry: A first-in-the-nation effort, the Oregon Legislature and Governor passed a bill (SB. 5521) to help fund US Forest Service timber sale planning. As part of its 2013-15 biennial budget, industry supported the Legislature-approved $2.885 million in lottery-funded bonds to help national forest timber sale planning and collaboration in eastern Oregon. Funds will be administered by OR Dept. of Forestry and OR Watershed Enhancement Board, to help fund increased scale & pace of forest health harvests and streamlined new business models.

Land Board Considers State Forest Sale: Forced by a lawsuit and court injunction to harvest less than 15 million bdft/year, the Oregon Land Board may instead sell 2,714 acres in the Elliott State Forest to raise money for the Common School Fund. The lawsuit, filed by environmental groups who claim logging harms the marbled murrelet sea bird, has blocked the current forest plan that directs 40 million bdft/yr timber sale from the Elliott, located east of Reedsport. With future timber revenue in doubt, the Board is considering selling three isolated parcels to generate school funds.

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