By Anne Regan, Policy Intern
Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has been pushing a bill aiming to increase logging on federal forests in western Oregon — and no one is particularly happy about it.
A post-election work session with Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (D- La.) and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will take place on Nov. 13 that will include Wyden’s latest version of the bill, “Oregon and California Land Act of 2014,” along with “numerous public land bills” that have had subcommittee hearings.
The earlier version of the Oregon and California Land Grant Act of 2013 (S. 1784), first introduced in December 2013, aimed to bolster revenue for struggling lumber counties in Oregon without causing harm to sensitive lands, protecting forests and endangered wildlife, while also focusing on revenue from federal harvests. However, it more than doubles logging in western Oregon’s O&C lands — lands set aside for timber production by the O&C Act of 1937 — sparking instant opposition from environmental groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, National Audubon Society, and Oregon Wild.
However, the new draft, that was introduced this past August, makes two main changes.
First, it adds 250,000 acres of public domain lands, managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, to the 2.1 million acres the earlier bill dealt with. These 2.1 million acres would be roughly split in two under this proposal, with half facing increased logging and the other half dedicated to conservation. The newly added public domain lands would face a similar split.
This will result in an increase of timber harvest of 300 million to 375 million board feet per year, roughly double the current amount.
The second change introduces a tax cut costing the federal government about $50 million a year on capital gains for certain timber companies. Wyden intends to move this through the Senate Finance Committee that he chairs.
Many national and Oregon-based environmental groups oppose any significant increase in logging on federal lands due to concerns of destruction of natural habitat for endangered species and the degradation of water quality. Groups such as Oregon Wild argue that this bill will deplete the “old growth reserve” envisioned in the Northwest Forest Plan, a timber compromise reached in the 1990s, despite the fact that Wyden’s bill would allow only trees younger than 120 years old to be cut.
Pro-timber advocates are incredulous to Wyden’s bill as well, because Wyden has not provided a firm estimate on the annual revenues that counties would receive under the bill. Timber companies want further increases to the areas where timber harvest could occur in Wyden’s bill as well as amendments that would make it harder for environmental groups to stall or stop timber sales by filing lawsuits.
Wyden acknowledges that pro-timber groups, such as the Association of O&C are seeking a higher volume, and he claims that they are making a demand that is politically impossible to meet. He also recognizes that this bill requires two initial large-scale environmental impact studies, which environmental groups could legally challenge. But once established, the studies remain valid for all timber sales statewide for a decade, thereby limiting environmentalists’ ability to litigate. He wants both sides to be limited.
“What I’ve always done is isolate the extremes,” Wyden told the Portland Tribune editorial board. “We’ve got industry people who want to take the cut back to fantasy levels, which is not constructive. We’ve got environmental people … who were picketing me over the timber payments law.”
American Forests recognizes the balance this bill is attempting to reach and the importance of stabilizing the local economies that are hurt from the dramatic decrease in federal government subsidies for public services within these counties. American Forests also acknowledges the consequences of over-logging and other unsustainable forestry practices. We support actions that call for independent analyses of his proposal, which include a plan that would ensure dependable and sustainable levels of logging that protect the forests of the Pacific Northwest, including the breath-taking Tillamook State Forest in Oregon and the vast Tahoe National Forest straddling the crest of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California.