A Sustainable, Science-Based Solution for Oregon’s O&C Lands

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The O&C Act of 2014 will chart a new course for Oregon’s approximately 2.4 million acres of O&C and Coos Bay Wagon Road lands, ending decades of uncertainty and broken forest policy. The bill will increase harvests and provide a steady supply of trees from federal O&C lands that will mean more jobs and new certainty for the mills and timber companies that rely on federal forests. At the same time, it will provide permanent protections across that landscape, providing jobs and investment from recreation, and security for hunting and fishing guides and outfitters who can count on the preservation of our wild treasures.

O&C IntroSenator Wyden introduces the O&C Act of 2013 with a broad coalition of support.

It sets aside roughly half of the O&C lands as forestry emphasis areas, which focus on producing sustainable timber harvests, while permanently protecting approximately half the O&C lands for a conservation emphasis. Creating a clear division in O&C lands will end the uncertainty and conflicting priorities that have contributed to federal management failure on these lands and produce wins for both sides of the historic timber war conflict.

It uses proven forestry science to produce sustainable harvests. The forestry principles used in this bill are based on the work of Drs. Norm Johnson and Jerry Franklin, two respected Northwest forestry scientists. Their principles, known as “ecological forestry” and built on forestry approaches used around the globe, will generate higher timber volumes and prevent industrial clearcuts. The bill treats the O&C’s moist forests, generally in western Oregon, differently from the O&C’s dry forests, mainly located in the southern part of the O&C lands.

This bill will roughly double the harvest on O&C lands compared to the last 10 years. Right now, the average cut over the last 10 years on federal O&C lands has been 150 million board feet per year. In 2012, it was 167 million board feet. Under current policy that number will continue to go down. The BLM’s models confirm this legislation would boost harvests to a total of 300 to 350 million board feet per year for the next 20 years.

The legislation provides expedited procedures and strict timelines for legal and environmental reviews, to ensure certainty and predictability in producing sustainable timber harvests and revenues from these lands. While upholding federal environmental laws, the bill would provide for a streamlined approach to undertaking environmental analysis, providing for two large scale environmental impact statements – one each for moist and dry forests – that will study 10 years of work in the woods, rather than a single project, as is the case now. Preparation of those documents requires upfront consultation among federal agencies.

After the initial analysis, subsequent projects that are consistent with the 10-year environmental review will not require further analysis, and suits over individual projects will be limited. The legislation also eliminates the time-consuming and costly “survey and manage” requirements for O&C lands.

This strategy takes the most controversial harvests off the table. Old growth stands currently over 120 years old in moist forests and individual trees over 150 years old across the O&C landscape can never be cut. This bill requires federal agencies to carefully examine impacts of harvests on key resources, including  water quality, highly erodible land, wetlands, fish and wildlife, and tribal cultural sites. Spotted owl nest trees are protected and harvests that may impact endangered species require coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service.

This bill protects nearly a million acres of land, while designating wilderness lands, wild and scenic rivers, and other special areas. It creates 87,000 acres of wilderness, and 165 miles of wild and scenic rivers. In all, it will permanently conserve approximately a million acres of O&C lands, which would be the single biggest increase in Oregon’s conservation lands in decades. There are also special areas protected for recreation, which is an increasingly important part of our rural economies, and is responsible for 141,000 jobs in Oregon alone.

This legislation contains a host of provisions to ensure that water stays clean for Oregon families, endangered fish and businesses:

  • Northwest Forest Plan stream protections are extended to key watersheds and four drinking water emphasis areas, with additional lands designated for conservation, to protect drinking water.
  • Science guides how the agency can treat trees nears streams and a scientific committee will provide advice regarding stream buffers and reserves in areas dedicated to timber harvests, with the Secretary increasing or decreasing the boundaries as needed to address the ecological importance of streams. This acknowledges that one size does not fit all.
  • It requires reductions in the miles of roads and includes watershed restoration initiatives such as a million dollars annually for tree tipping into streams.

It improves fire resiliency in the dry forests of Southern Oregon. In areas that have grown prone to catastrophic fires, this bill reduces tree density and provides new tools for treating forest lands near residences.  For the first time, county governments will have the flexibility to reduce fire danger within a quarter mile of homes, and private landowners can more easily protect against fire within 100 feet of their own homes.