Senator Wyden’s O&C plan will bankrupt counties


by Jack Swift


It follows that, with the judicial decision upholding the primary utilization mandate of the 1937 O&C Act, the environmental movement’s response would be to repeal the act. This should surprise no one. The repeal and its replacement scheme have been in the works for years. Those who oppose timber production had to have a fall back plan once the inevitable litigation took place.

That the attack would be predicated upon what the environmentalists call “science” should be no surprise either. Their favorite and most effective ploy is to advance their agenda behind the charade of what they call “science.” Their “science” is a farce built upon a sand hill of false facts and irrelevant projections.

Senator Wyden’s “Oregon & California Land Grant Act of 2013″ would amend and effectively destroy the mandates of the 1937 Act by doing away with half of the roughly 2.1 million acres dedicated to sustained yield timber production and would establish new mandates for the remainder. The Senator tells us this is necessary to resolve the legal impasses that prevent a “return to the unsustainable logging levels of a bygone era.” This is, of course, false fact number one.

According to data published by the Association of O&C Counties, these lands had an inventory of 44 million board feet of merchantable timber in the late 1930s when the law was enacted. During the roughly sixty years intervening between the Act and the adoption of the Northwest Forest Management Plan, more than 45 billion board feet were harvested. At that point, thanks to managed regeneration, the lands supported a standing inventory of some 60 billion board feet. That experience established that the 2.1 million acres could and would sustain harvests at a level of 1.2 billion board feet per year in perpetuity.

This data tracks exactly the BLM’s own reports. Their WOPR “Plan Revision News” Newsletter #9 indicated a standing inventory in 1950 of 50 billion board feet, a harvest over the ensuing 50 years of 45 billion board feet, and a resultant standing inventory in 2000 of 70 billion board feet.

To avoid the “sustainable” production mandate of the law, our Governor, when he addressed Congress on the issue in April told them that we are now dealing with a “broadened sustainability criteria.” He feels that FLPMA and the ESA have amended the 1937 Act as to the meaning of “shall be managed, except as provided in section 1181c of this title, for permanent forest production, and the timber thereon shall be sold, cut, and removed in conformity with the principal (sic) of sustained yield . . . .”  This might be an acceptable position unless one also considers the rest of the sentence, “for the purpose of providing a permanent source of timber supply, protecting watersheds, regulating stream flow, and contributing to the economic stability of local communities and industries and providing recreational facilities” which are the very concerns addressed in FLPMA and the ESA. The historic fact is that the 1937 Act was a conservation effort that introduced the concepts later expanded by FLPMA and ESA to all federal lands.

Wyden boasts that his scheme aims at “doubling timber harvests over the next 10 years compared to the last 10 years.” He explains that harvests during the recent decade “have averaged 149.5 million board feet per year.” So he apparently believes that 300 million board feet per year will suit our needs nicely. Note that his represents 1/3 of the 900 million per year that was historically produced and 1/4 of the 1.2 billion board feet per year proven to be sustainable. Even considering the fact that he would reduce the producing acreage by half, his management scheme for the remainder falls far short of what is sustainable.

This would be irrelevant projection number one. When it comes to revenue generation, doubling nothing is still nothing.

Without directly attacking all that is wrong with Wyden’s House Built on a Slime Foundation, it would seem adequate to point to two additional fundamental defects.

Initially, there is the goal Wyden espouses to “permanently protect old growth trees, ensure habitat for sensitive species, and put in place strong safeguards for drinking water and fish.” In the abstract, this is a lofty goal and highly desirable.

Wyden, however, forgets that this objective is well addressed in the management of Oregon forests. We have lands set aside for wilderness. We have national monuments. We have Wild and Scenic Rivers. We have Wild and Scenic Corridors and we have the vast array of National Forests. Why is it so hard to conceptualize that 10% of our forest capacity should be set aside for production?

Finally, one has to question why it is necessary for Senator Wyden to re-invent the wheel? For fifty years the 1937 Act worked perfectly until the environmentalists took exception. Either they are opposed to production altogether or they are opposed to the methods of production. Since Wyden speaks in terms of restoring production to some level, one would have to take him at his word and conclude he is not against production as such. The answer can only be that environmentalists do not like regeneration forestry. And, in response to the question “Will this bill allow clear cuts?”, Wyden is emphatic, “No. End of story.”

The value of clear cuts in terms of the health of the forest is the material for another critique. Suffice it to say that it is clear that the only reason for turning the whole system of forestry management upside down is to do away with clear cuts. Does it make any sense to bankrupt counties, to destroy economies, and to put an entire forest at risk for the sole purpose of satisfying the aesthetic preferences of a minority?

Jack Swift is the Vice Chairman of the Southern Oregon Resource Alliance