June 01, 2004

Forest Service Agrees to Wyden Request to Split Biscuit Plan

Plan should allow some salvage, jobs to move forward while courts resolve thornier issues

Washington, DC Today, the Forest Service agreed to pursue U.S. Senator Ron Wydens proposal to split its salvage plans (Records of Decision) in the Biscuit fire area so some salvage can proceed while more controversial plans are likely to be contested in the courts.In April of this year, Wyden wrote U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman (text follows) asking that the Biscuit salvage plan be broken down to three separate proposals one each for matrix, Late Successional Reserves (LSRs), and inventoried roadless areas. At the time, Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey termed the proposal constructive and agreed to look into it. The final Biscuit proposal released today splits the salvage efforts into three Records of Decision for matrix, LSRs and inventoried roadless areas.I originally proposed splitting the Biscuit salvage plan because I wanted to find a solution that allows Oregonians to get jobs this summer before a lot of that downed timber degrades, said Wyden. The administration listened and I am very appreciative. I now hope that the federal court will quickly address the legal challenges, particularly in the less controversial matrix and LSR areas, and allow our guys to get back to work.# # #NOTE: The full text of Wydens April letter to Secretary Veneman follows:April 2, 2004The Honorable Ann VenemanSecretaryU.S. Department of Agriculture14th & Independence SWWashington, D.C. 20090-6090Dear Secretary Veneman,I write today to urge you to help ensure that salvage operations move forward quickly in the Biscuit fire area in Oregon, and that the jobs that arise from those operations be given, to the greatest extent possible, to Oregon workers.Recent articles appearing in the Eugene Register-Guard and on the Associated Press wire suggest that additional jobs arising from the Biscuit salvage might not materialize in Oregon due to the flexibility of the modern wood products industry and the possibility that non-Oregon mills will receive the salvaged wood. I believe the people of my state, who bore the burden and fears of the Biscuit fire, and who now bear the burden of a half million acre burn area, should have a strong preference in receiving the benefits of any job creation coming out of this disaster. The National Fire Plan (P.L. 108-108) allows the Secretary, in order to provide employment and training opportunities to people in rural communities . . . to award contracts . . . to local, private, non-profit or cooperative entities, which would include in this situation local loggers, drivers and processors. I urge you to exercise your authority to the fullest extent possible to put thousands of unemployed and under-employed Oregonians back to work.Of course, no jobs will result from the Biscuit salvage until a Record of Decision is approved by the Forest Service, and by the courts should legal challenges emerge. As you know, in the course of the debate over the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, I proposed and fought for a streamlined process to navigate the administrative and legal challenges sure to be confronted in any effort to salvage burned timber in the Biscuit Fire area in Southern Oregon. The legislation I put forward with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (S.1352) included a demonstration project that would have allowed the Biscuit salvage effort to go forward under the expedited administrative and judicial process of our healthy forest initiative. Our bill would have moved the Biscuit salvage forward more quickly, without affecting the scientific process, public participation, or environmental protection.You will recall that the Administration rejected my proposal on the Biscuit salvage during our negotiations over the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, even while simultaneously embracing those same administrative and judicial procedure changes as critical to moving the nation forward on fire prevention and forest health issues. In my opinion, the Forest Service is now compounding this earlier mistake by seemingly ignoring the many legal challenges to come and the inevitable delay that will result from the current preferred alternative for salvage in the Biscuit fire.Your 518 million board feet draft preferred alternative will inevitably draw legal challenges, and hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs will be put on hold. Therefore, I am also writing today to propose a path that can put my constituents back to work more quickly without trampling the environment or denying citizens their right to challenge the government in a court of law.Specifically, I am writing to urge you to produce separate Records of Decision for the different categories of areas contained in your Biscuit salvage proposal. You will find there is Federal precedent for creating separate records of decision (Department of Energy (DOE) final EIS) for the interim management of nuclear materials (DOE/EIS-0220, October 20, 1995) at the Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina). By producing separate Records of Decision, areas that are less controversial are likely to receive quicker approval and salvage, and won't be held back by the proposed salvage areas where the legal issues are in greater doubt.While there are a variety of ways to accomplish this, one option would be to prepare separate Records of Decision for:? matrix areas for all salvage-related activities that occur outside of inventoried roadless areas;? Late Successional Reserve (LSR) areas in which all salvage-related activities occur outside of inventoried roadless areas; and,? salvage-related activities occurring within inventoried roadless areas.I urge the Forest Service to immediately adjust its course so as to avoid gridlock wherever possible, protect sensitive areas, and ensure that Oregonians get the jobs that are created. Multiple Records of Decision may result in salvage and restoration jobs moving forward more quickly, and exercising your authority to direct jobs to local loggers and mills will ensure that those jobs go to the people most affected and most in need.The best science states that there is an average 20% loss per year in the value of salvage timber. Even if there were no legal challenges to the Biscuit salvage, two years will have passed before salvage logging can begin, so time is clearly of the essence.Sincerely,Ron WydenU.S. Senator