Will Wyden's Bill Help Forests?
By Felice Pace
July 7, 2008
The federal logging bill proposed by Oregon's Ron Wyden (A welcome Wyden forest plan, 6/22 edition) will not reduce the risk from wildfire or "restore" federal forests. That's because the bill would rely on the traditional timber sale contract to "thin" federal forest.
The US Forest Service timber sale contract is a great tool if the task is getting logs to the mills. But it is a very poor tool if the task is to restore our forests - reducing the risk to people, communities and wildlife from catastrophic wildfire. Here's why:
In order for a federal timber sale to attract buyers, the timber companies must be able to make money on the sale. But most federal forests are remote and steep. This means high logging and log hauling costs. As a result, in order to create a timber sale that will actually attract buyers, Forest Service planners must either log the larger trees or they must reduce the forest canopy radically by having loggers removing most of the trees. But when you remove that much canopy shade small trees and brush sprout and grow prolifically. Within 5 years or so the risk of catastrophic wildfire has dramatically increased. Immediately after logging the open canopy results in forest fuels drying sooner – the result of increased sunlight and wind. And economic considerations often cause Forest Service planners to forgo requiring the purchaser to remove or burn the slash - that is, the limbs and small trees left on the forest floor after logging. The increased wildfire risk will persist for 30 or more years until slash decomposes and trees grow enough to form a closed canopy and once again shade out highly flammable brush.
Ron Wyden's logging bill would deliver federal logs to the mills and end Old Growth logging on federal forests in Oregon. But it would increase rather than decrease wildfire threat to people and communities near federal forests. If Ron Wyden or anyone else really wants to reduce the risk to people and communities from wildfires, they will appropriate the funds necessary to hire forest workers directly, have them do what is needed on the ground and then sell any resulting commercial logs separately. These would be great jobs for young people!
A Welcome Wyden Forest PlanThe Oregon senator outlines a promising new approach to protect old growth while boosting sustainable logging
June 22, 2008
Environmental extremists may never buy it. Maybe timber industry die-hards won't either.
But reasonable people in the middle of the Northwest forest wars will find considerable promise in the creative plan proposed last week by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. He outlined a compelling set of ideas aimed at restoring Oregon's overgrown forests and permanently protecting old-growth trees while saving the wood-products industry.
All this has been tried before, of course, and for two decades the results have been disastrous. Dozens of sawmills that depend on federal timber have ceased operating, rural communities have been ruined and forest health has declined during unending legal warfare over failed government policy.
Wyden's proposal, however, offers a fresh approach and new hope. Moderates on all sides of the timber battles should seize upon it as a promising framework for saving Oregon's fire-threatened forests while promoting sustainable logging.
Conservationists should find plenty to like in the plan, which is not yet in the form of a bill. Foremost, it takes old-growth logging and clear-cutting off the table, and it provides for independent federal observers to monitor harvesting to make sure old-growth trees are protected.
The timber industry would gain much from the plan, too. It would allow enough logging through forest-thinning operations to vastly increase the amount of timber being taken out of Oregon forests.
Forest scientists and agency managers should welcome the plan's heavy emphasis on restoration. Millions of acres of Oregon's federal forests are overgrown and at dangerous risk of disease and wildfires.
One key to Wyden's plan is its call for local collaborative groups that would design logging and forest restoration projects. Also critically important is the plan's provision for exempting projects from environmental reviews and time-wasting legal appeals, if the work meets certain standards.
Historically, such exemptions have been anathema to logging opponents. Thus it was encouraging last week when a number of respected environmental groups signaled tentative interest in the senator's ideas.
Some refining of his plan will no doubt take place before Wyden crafts it into a bill, probably next year, after the election. Adversaries on all sides of the forest fight should see this as an enormous opportunity and work with him to help get it right.
Will they? Therein lies the beauty of Wyden's proposal. It calls the question, forcing longtime adversaries to show whether they really mean what they've been saying.
Have environmental warriors been sincere in saying they support sustainable logging if old growth is spared and forests are restored? Have timber companies been honest in saying they support old-growth protection and restorative thinning as long as a larger, sustainable harvest can be achieved?
We're about to find out.
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