Published: Saturday, March 24, 2012, 6:30 AM
Guest Columnist for the Oregonian
By Michael C. Blumm
Rep. Peter DeFazio is a visionary concerning the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, especially its transportation system. And he is, for the most part, a dependable environmental steward. But his bill, co-sponsored with Congressmen Kurt Schrader and Greg Walden, that would authorize “selective logging” of western Oregon forests would be catastrophic for water quality, recreation and salmon strongholds.
DeFazio told the Portland City Club on March 9 that his bill would prevent a number of Oregon counties from insolvency while protecting old-growth forests. He claimed that the forest wars of the past three decades “started with a fight over old growth and it’s going to end with preservation of old growth.”
DeFazio’s statement masks the effect that the bill would have on 1.5 million acres of Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lands. Though the bill would protect roughly half of the western Oregon federal forests from excessive logging, those lands are already protected by the existing federal Northwest Forest Plan.
On the other hand, the “timber trust” the bill would establish for the remaining half of the lands, including some inventoried roadless areas, would effectively privatize them, exempting them from federal environmental laws and regulating them under only the state Forest Practices Act. That state statute is one of the chief reasons why Oregon’s streams regularly fail to meet water quality standards set under the Clean Water Act.
The state just lost a federal suit over water quality standards, and the DeFazio bill would make things significantly worse by authorizing widespread clearcutting on the timber trust lands, requiring them to produce “maximum sustained revenues in perpetuity.” The effect would be to eviscerate buffer zones and reserves established by the Northwest Forest Plan. Expect clearcutting every 40-50 years.
The timber trust land board the bill would establish would be controlled by members of the timber industry and the counties, with only one member of the public on the seven-member board. This unbalanced board epitomizes the timber dominance of the DeFazio bill.
The path to sustainable forestry and sustainable county revenues cannot include this effort to turn the turn the clock back to an era in which we ignored the water quality and species effects of industrial timber harvesting. Instead, whatever timber is harvested must be consistent with water quality standards and the habitat necessary to sustain healthy species, including cold water fish like salmon.
Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley’s recent successful efforts to pass a year-long extension of the county payments program in the Senate gives hope that a more balanced approach to avoiding county insolvency can be constructed. Such an approach could include ecosystem services payments for the drinking water and recreation that sustainable forestry provides as well as increased local taxes, such as Curry County is now considering, and a tax on raw log exports from private lands that benefit from the state’s current lax forest practices and produce no log-processing jobs.
There is no reason why county solvency has to be achieved by returning to the days of industrial timber harvesting and the privatization of federal public lands. Protecting Oregon’s salmon streams needs to be the bedrock of any viable path forward.
Michael C. Blumm is Jeffrey Bain faculty scholar and professor of law at Lewis & Clark Law School.