After decades of warring over Oregon's national forests, representatives from Oregon's timber industry and conservation groups joined U.S. Senator Ron Wyden today to introduce legislation (S.2895) that will promote active management of 8.3 million acres in six national forests east of the Cascades. The agreement would resolve decades of bitter disputes over harvest levels and watershed and old growth protection, and lead to a significant and sustainable increase in harvest in at-risk forests all across central and eastern Oregon.
At a press conference this morning, leading environmentalists and timber executives stood together with Wyden and released to the public the product of their eight months of negotiations: the "Oregon Eastside Forests Restoration, Old Growth Protection and Jobs Act." Wyden introduced the bill in the Senate shortly after the news conference.
"Oregonians rightly wondered if this day would ever come, but thanks to the good faith and extraordinary perseverance of these fine men and women, timber and environmental interests are today standing side by side to move beyond decades of confrontation and improve forests and create jobs," Wyden said. "The road ahead to enacting this bill may be difficult, but when longtime adversaries demonstrate that they can sit together and find common ground, there is hope for a better tomorrow for Oregon."
"Industry and conservationists have found common ground on old-growth forest protection and scientifically sound restoration thinning projects, and now we look forward to working with Senator Wyden to turn this agreement into law," said Andy Kerr, who represented conservation groups in negotiations over the legislation.
"Senator Wyden's legislation is an important part of an overall effort to restore the health of our Eastside forests while preserving the logging and milling capacity needed to do the work on the ground," said Tom Partin, AFRC President. "Senator Wyden's personal commitment to aggressively pursue increased federal forest management funding and provide needed oversight to ensure on-the-ground mechanical treatments are accomplished in our federal forests were important factors in our participation and are essential to the viability of the legislation and rural communities east of the Cascades."
Wyden, who chairs the Senate's Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests also stressed the importance of increasing funding for the Forest Service's management activities and said he would use his subcommittee chairmanship to conduct continuous oversight of the agency's implementation of the legislation.
"There is no better way to restore our forests and jobs in some of the hardest-hit counties in our state than to increase the Forest Service budget for forest restoration," added Wyden. "It will be a top priority for me, and a frequent topic in my subcommittee."
Today's agreement is the culmination of more than a year and a half of work by Wyden with members of Oregon's timber and conservation communities who responded to his June 2008 call to come together to end the long-standing forest stalemate. Those working with Wyden include: the American Forest Resource Council and John Shelk, owner of Ochoco Lumber headquartered in Prineville, Andy Kerr, Oregon Wild, The Nature Conservancy, Pacific Rivers Council, The National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, Defenders of Wildlife, and Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.
Wyden's legislation would require the Forest Service to identify areas of the forests that most urgently need restoration and would produce timber to support local mills, local jobs and rural infrastructure. The landscape scale projects of no less than 25,000 acres in each national forest each year would be developed over three years in collaboration with groups that include industry and conservation representatives and with an eastside scientific panel created by the legislation.
While the Forest Service is conducting this assessment of priority areas, administrative appeals -- which are often used to block proposed timber sales -- would be prohibited, and the Forest Service would be directed to treat a minimum number of acres during those three years. The first year would require at least 80,000 acres to be treated, the second year 100,000, and the final year 120,000.
Wyden's legislation also establishes protections for large trees and directs the Forest Service to develop experimental projects to protect trees above 150 years of age, (with some scientific and administrative exceptions being made for species, age and emergencies.) The results of these projects will be used to consider future protections based on age rather than size.
Other provisions in the act would permanently enact existing watershed protections on the eastside and limit permanent and temporary roads, while seeking a net reduction in roads.
Posted on 12/16/09 |