Appeasement Doesn’t Work: Wyden O&C Bill Analysis, Pt 2

Margaret Goodwin_thb

by Margaret Goodwin

In Part 1, The “Ecological Forestry” Mandate, we reviewed the scope and purpose of the O&C lands, and assessed how the Wyden bill would impact timber production and local economies.

Reduction in Forest Roads on All O&C Lands

Another provision in Wyden’s bill that affects the Forestry emphasis areas is the mandate to reduce the total quantity of road miles “to the maximum extent practicable.” This mandate specifically applies both to the Forestry emphasis areas and the Conservation emphasis areas. It is to be achieved by decommissioning existing roads and mandating that any new roads built for a specific project are removed when the project is complete.

Roads in our forests are important for two reasons. They help prevent wildfires by providing firebreaks and access for firefighting equipment, and they also provide recreational access. Furthermore, if every new timber sale requires new roads to be built and then removed, it will be much less efficient and much more costly than using existing roads and extending them as necessary for new projects.

Lands Withdrawn under Various Designations

Right up front, Wyden’s bill sets aside about half of the O&C Lands as “Conservation emphasis areas” to be managed for, among other things, “climate stabilization” and “aesthetic, spiritual, and cultural heritage values.” On these lands, trees can only be cut for the purposes of improving forest health, and where the cutting, sale, or removal of timber is incidental to the management activity. These lands are also withdrawn from any mineral exploration, extraction, claims, or patents.

But the Conservation emphasis areas are not the only lands withdrawn from timber or mineral production. This bill also includes such controversial provisions as:

  • Expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument
  • Establishment of 118,800 acres of O&C lands as National Recreation Areas “to provide for the protection, preservation, and enhancement of recreational, ecological, scenic, cultural, watershed, and fish and wildlife values”
  • A Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail Protection Corridor that includes all BLM lands within 1/4 mile on either side of the Pacific Crest Trail, as well as any “recreational, scenic, historical, wildlife, water, or other resources associated with the Pacific Crest Trail”
  • A variety of “Special Management Units,” Primitive Backcountry Special Management Areas,” and “Special Environmental Zones”

All of these lands would be managed similarly to the Conservation emphasis areas, but with additional restrictions. For example, the use of off-road vehicles would be restricted to roads designated by the Secretary of the Interior. (What part of the expression “off-road” doesn’t Wyden understand?)

Fraudulent Wilderness and Wild & Scenic Designations

Finally, this bill designates 86,640 acres of O&C lands as Wilderness and 177 miles of creeks as Wild & Scenic Rivers. This adds up to about 5% of the O&C lands. These lands would not only be permanently withdrawn from any timber or mineral production, but all roads in these areas would be decommissioned, cutting these lands off from any recreational pursuits that require vehicle access. They would be left undisturbed and unmanaged to become fuel for the next big wildfire, like the 2002 Biscuit Fire that burned up most of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.

And what’s totally deceitful is that most of these lands don’t even meet the federal criteria for these designations. In 2007, the BLM listed all of the O&C lands that meet the federal criteria for Wilderness and Wild & Scenic River designations. 90% of the lands this bill designates as Wilderness do not meet the criteria for Wilderness. Almost 80% of the creeks this bill designates as Wild & Scenic Rivers do not meet the criteria for the Wild & Scenic Rivers designation.

Environmental activists have been lobbying for these areas to be set aside for a long time. This bill would violate the federal government’s own established criteria to appease these special interest groups at the expense of jobs, local government services, and economic stability for the counties where these lands are located.

Will “Streamlined Procedures” Increase Timber Harvests?

Wyden has claimed that this bill would increase timber harvests, providing additional funding for local governments and contributing to local economies. It’s very difficult to imagine how this bill could possibly do that, given that every provision in it either removes O&C lands from production altogether or establishes new and rigorous restrictions on forest management in the remaining “Forestry emphasis” areas.

Presumably, Wyden is referring to the section if the bill titled “Streamlined Procedures.” This section states the BLM will prepare one comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement for moist forest areas and one for dry forest areas every ten years, which will cover all projects on these lands over the ten-year period. Instead of requiring an EIS for each timber sale, the bill requires a consistency document determining that the scope of work of the project is consistent with the original analysis and assumptions in the Record of Decision, and that no extraordinary conditions exist.

This is purportedly intended to reduce the number of opportunities for spurious litigation that have shut down most timber sales on O&C lands under the Northwest Forest Plan. However, the Environmental Impact Statements can still be challenged in court, and the litigation can drag on for years, as can the appeals process even if the EIS is upheld in court.

The last large-scale EIS the BLM prepared, for the Western Oregon Plan Revision, was 1,996 pages and took four and a half years to prepare. It was challenged by environmental activist groups and eventually tossed out by newly appointed Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar. Wyden’s bill gives the BLM only eighteen months from the passage of the bill to issue Records of Decision on the Final Environmental Impact Statements for both the moist forest and dry forest areas. That’s a very compressed timeframe, considering the scope of the work, and the results of that haste are likely to be vulnerable to challenges.

Even if both comprehensive plans survive the inevitable legal challenges, the consistency documents for each timber sale can also be challenged by claiming that the work to be performed is not consistent with the Record of Decision on the Final EIS. Environmental activist organizations have lots of experience litigating against the BLM, and they receive millions of dollars each year from the taxpayers to cover their legal costs under the Equal Access to Justice Act.

Wyden may be assuming that environmental activist groups will refrain from legal challenges because of the stringent restrictions imposed by the “ecological forestry” mandate in his bill. But, just last month, Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands filed a lawsuit against the White Castle timber sale, a pilot project implementing this same “ecological forestry” methodology.

No matter how much land is withdrawn from production, or how exacting the forestry restrictions on the remaining lands, environmental activists will continue to pursue their goal of no timber harvests at all. Wyden’s bill will not appease them. On the contrary, it will just get them that much closer to their goal. Instead of litigating timber sales on all of the O&C lands, they’ll have less than half as much land to litigate over, leaving them twice the resources to expend on litigating over what’s left.