BLM Forest Management Proposal Would Increase Timber Harvest

Article excerpt

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

More money for Lane County could come at the expense of habitat for at-risk species under a federal forest management plan proposed Thursday that could more than triple the annual timber harvest.

Bureau of Land Management officials said they want public feedback as they finalize a plan to best manage 2.1 million acres of public forests in Western Oregon. In Lane County, the BLM manages 285,000 acres, almost 10 percent of the county.

For the past 13 years, the Northwest Forest Plan has guided BLM timber production decisions. But three years ago, the agency settled a lawsuit that found it had failed to fulfill its financial obligations to Oregon counties under a law passed in 1937.

That law concerned public forests in 18 Oregon counties and directed that the lands be managed for permanent timber production to provide for the economic stability of local communities, while also protecting watersheds.

The 1994 Northwest Forest Plan - created to protect threatened species such as the northern spotted owl - permitted harvest of 205 million board feet annually on BLM lands, but actual timber harvest has averaged 134 million board feet.

In revising its management strategy to meet the terms of the legal settlement, the BLM considered three alternatives and on Thursday indicated its preference for the option that extracts the most timber.

That plan would produce an annual harvest of 727 million board feet of lumber. The counties would receive 50 percent of the revenue from those sales.

While the money would not match what the counties receive from the annual Secure Rural School payments - support mandated by Congress to make up for lost timber revenue in the 1990s - it would come close. Officials estimate counties would get $108 million annually. In 2005, the BLM's portion of the Secure Rural School's payment was $115 million.

That means a lot to counties facing the loss of Secure Rural Schools funds after this year. Lane County stands to get about $16.5 million annually under the proposal. The agency also estimates 3,442 new jobs and $136.5 million in wages annually statewide.

To get to that level of production, the BLM would reduce the size of reserves now set aside for at-risk species, clear-cut forests that aren't designated as critical habitat, reduce the size of buffers along streams that provide shade and bank stabilization, and allow post-fire salvage logging. …