Why Wyden’s Bill Doesn’t “Double” Timber Harvests

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healthy-forests-healthy-communitiesHealthy Forest, Healthy Communities

Sen. Ron Wyden recently announced the reintroduction of his O&C federal forest legislation, pledging once again to “double” timber harvests as a way to create desperately-needed jobs in rural Oregon.  However, a recent report commissioned by Oregon’s affected counties indicates that the Wyden plan would actually reduce harvest levels.

Sen. Wyden is doubling-down on his O&C plan, even though it lacks the support of Oregon’s O&C counties, the forest products industry and the House members who have long been engaged in the issue. The only support for Wyden’s bill came from the Portland and Washington D.C. environmental groups that helped write the legislation.

Oregon’s key O&C stakeholders do not support Wyden’s bill merely because it falls short of the bipartisan O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Act that was twice approved by the U.S. House in the previous congress. Instead, the opposition was due to the fact that the Wyden plan does not increase timber harvests, would not provide certainty against excessive litigation, and would not generate revenues for counties.  In fact, Wyden’s bill doesn’t “double” timber harvests at all.

Unlike the O&C Trust Act, the Wyden plan never received an independent analysis to ensure the policies matched the rhetoric. However, a detailed report commissioned by the Association of O&C Counties paints a clearer picture of the plan’s impacts if it becomes law. The report, authored by Chris Cadwell, who recently retired after 30 years as a senior analyst for the BLM, highlights the faulty assumptions behind both the Wyden plan and the “analysis” of harvest projections the BLM developed under Wyden’s direction. The report’s key finding was that Wyden’s plan would have resulted in long-term sustained harvests of only 85 to 171 million board feet (mmbf) per year. This is a reduction, not the “doubling” of timber harvests that Wyden promised:

“Using more realistic assumptions to produce estimates, the more likely long-term sustained yield under the Bill would range from a low of about 85 MMBF per year to a high of about 171 MMBF per year. Even the high end of this range under the Bill is below current harvest levels and is below the level that is most likely to result from the BLM’s plan revisions now underway.” Click here to read the full report.

Among the findings in the report:

  • The BLM made unrealistic assumptions and ignored regulatory restrictions under both Wyden’s plan and current federal law.
  • The BLM also failed to consult other federal agencies, including the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, to conclude if timber harvests could actually occur in areas classified as critical spotted owl habitat since the legislation did nothing to streamline current restrictions under the Endangered Species Act.
  • The legislation required uncertain and overly restrictive “ecological forestry” prescriptions that would greatly reduce opportunities for forest management on the mere 28 percent of the forests that remained open to harvests.
  • The plan provides no meaningful relief from the complex web of federal laws, creating more bureaucratic headaches and costs while creating more opportunities for fringe environmental attorneys.

The Wyden plan, if signed into law, will not generate the revenues O&C counties need to provide services and restore public safety agencies. It also fails to alleviate the endless cycle of unemployment and poverty that grips many rural communities.  Achieving a permanent and effective O&C solution will require the leadership of Oregon’s congressional delegation. It is time to end the political posturing by agreeing to compromise legislation providing adequate timber harvest volumes, county revenues, and certainty of harvest on Western Oregon’s O&C forests.  But if the policy in a plan doesn’t match the rhetoric, it’s no solution at all.