Logging Bill Fails to See Forest through the Trees

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), March 15, 2012 | Go to article overview

Logging Bill Fails to See Forest through the Trees


Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Steve Holmes

Three of our Oregon congressmen are proposing a bill to place the majority of federal Bureau of Land Management public lands in Western Oregon in a trust controlled by timber companies and rural politicians. With this move, they are buying into myths that have worked their way into our public discourse.

One myth is that logging on O&C lands once again can sustain the level of revenue to counties that it provided in the last century, when the old growth was logged off. Another myth is that the public's say in management of public lands should be limited severely. Yet another is that environmental protection has to be compromised so Oregon counties don't go bankrupt.

For five decades, counties with O&C lands got used to the level of federal payments that the rapid liquidation of old growth stands provided. Only 5 percent of the original old growth was left on O&C lands by the time concern for the spotted owl surfaced in 1989 and logging was curtailed.

Timber payments would have decreased dramatically regardless as the very last of the old trees were shipped to the mills. Instead, Congress sympathetically set subsidy payments for 12 additional years at the level that had been provided by rapid old growth logging.

This subsidy is on its way out. The most recent share of this subsidy for Oregon counties was $100 million. Our congressmen have led us to believe that their plan will replace this amount.

I recently met with Travis Joseph, an aide to Rep. Peter DeFazio who specializes in forestry issues. Joseph estimated that it would be possible for their plan to replace only about 15 percent of the $100 million.

That may be an accurate estimate if "the trust" can come close to managing these lands sustainably. There is no way the much smaller young trees that have grown back from logging can provide the kind of revenue the huge old trees did on a sustained basis.

An old growth tree typically has thousands of board feet of lumber, while a 40- to 50-year-old tree might have a few hundred. To replace the full $100 million per year, this plan would have to clear-cut all timber production lands controlled by the trust. After just a few years at that rate, there would be nothing left to cut.

By Joseph's estimate, the BLM currently provides counties with $7 million per year. The BLM has an environmentally sound thinning program on previously managed stands that has wide public acceptance. …

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