What’s best for Oregon trees? Step C: Understanding Oregon and California Land Grant Act of 2013

Part Four of Five –
Forest Management –
“Can’t see the forest for the trees” …
Is a phrase I ponder during this portion of my information quest; and to help me form guiding questions for part five.
  • The Northwest Forest Plan– authors approached forest management in an historic, new way. For the first time, decisions were made for the purpose of conserving biodiversity with a specific focus on endangered species.
        • The FOREST is seen… Question: have the trees inadvertently been harmed?
  • Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act (H.R. 1526)- authors approached forest management with more traditional thinking, the sustained yield model, which is focused on a continuous supply of timber. 
        • The TREES are seen… Question: has the forest been over-looked? 
  • Oregon and California Land Grant Act of 2013 (S. 1784)- the author approached forest management by offering a middle-ground solution that offers provisions for conservation and methods to harvest timber using  “ecological forestry.”
        • The FOREST and the TREES are seen… Question: has one been seen to the detriment of the other?

Once again, I think it’s helpful to take a step back to put the Oregon and California Land Grant Act of 2013 into perspective. That’s where H.R. 1526, authored by Representatives: Doc Hastings, Greg Walden, Peter DeFazio, and Ken Schrader  comes into play. This bill was passed in the House on September 20, 2013 and goes to the Senate next for consideration. Although it is called, the Healthy Forest for Healthy Communities Act, some contend the name of the bill is misleading. Predictions are, if the bill makes it to the President, it will be vetoed.  Ron Wyden’s Senate Bill, The Oregon and California Land Grant Act of 2013 (S.1784) has been authored in reaction to H.R. 1526.

Healthy Forest for Healthy Communities Act (H.R. 1526) –

I discovered that the foundations for H.R. 1526 actually do go back to a time in United States history when trees …neither conservation nor ecology…were the focus for forest-harvest management. Although Theodore Roosevelt had already made great strides in preserving millions of acres of forest lands through designation of Federal Forests and Monuments; actual practices for the conservation of resources was still largely a topic he passionately spoke about in speeches to the nation. How did Teddy Roosevelt impact conservation? Another guiding question for part five- forming and opinion…

Back in 1908, unharnessed consumption of natural resources was at full tilt as the United States expanded during the Industrial Revolution. Timber was harvested with great fervor and states with counties that contained national forest land were paid  25% of the Forest Service’s gross receipts from timber harvest. Why? The payments were viewed as compensation for lower tax revenues in the affected counties due to the tax-exempt status of national forest lands. The stipulation was that the monies received by counties under this receipt-sharing program were to be used to fund qualified roads and school programs. Over the last 30 years, since the Northwest Forest Plan’s enactment, timber harvest in National Forests fell by 80%. Although Congress responded in 2000 by creating the Secure Rural Schools program to offset the severe reduction in funding by offering counties with Forest Service lands payments in lieu of the 25% receipt-sharing… the program is not sustainable. Secure Rural Schools funds ran out.

H.R. 1526 aims to solve employment and school-funding challenges by improving economic stability in counties with National Forest System lands . The provisions of the bill provide mechanisms to get timber harvests on federal lands up and running at levels not seen in decades. This bill:

  • Sets statutory requirements for Forest Service to harvest no less than 50% of yearly sustainable timber yield; restore 1908 receipt-sharing guidelines;
  • Designates sections of National Forest as “forest reserve revenue areas” for the logging and revenue generation projects that are largely exempt from judicial review;
  • Calls for temporary extension of Secure Rural Schools program during transition period back to receipt-sharing within qualifying counties;
  • Transfers one million acres of federally-owned lands from Oregon & California Railroad lands (O&C)* into an Oregon state-owned trust for sole purpose of maximizing timber revenues;
  • Provides transfer of another two millions acres nationwide into “Community Forest Demonstration Areas;” to be managed by an Advisory Committee appointed by the Governor of the state. (bulleted facts based on information resource 13 below)

*”The O&C lands spread out across rural parts of Western Oregon in a checkerboard — from Columbia County to the north to the Oregon-California border to the south. The lands exist as they are because in 1866, Congress gave the Oregon and California Railroad every other mile-square section of land, so the railroad could sell the land to settlers to finance construction of the rail line. Later, the lands reverted to the government.(16) The O & C lands encompass more than two-million acres of forested land.

Oregon and California Land Grant Act of 2013 (S.1786)

Whoa… that finally brings me back full circle… to Senator Ron Wyden’s Senate bill. This plan was unveiled in November at the Oregon State Capital with Governor Kitzhaber showing support. On December 9, 2013, the Oregon and California Land Grant Act (S.1786) was referred to a congressional committee for consideration.

The bill is a middle-ground proposal focused on resolving a decades long debate over how to manage the O & C lands. Wyden worked to balance conservation and timber harvest interests using current scientific-based standards rather than defaulting to 1908 economic-based standards.

As I read the Section-by-Section summary (3), these are some of the key points I noticed in the O&C Act of 2013:

  • Describes how O&C Lands are to be allocated and managed- mandates two divisions of the land; forestry emphasis areas and conservation emphasis areas;
  • Dictates how revenue from timber harvest are to be distributed;
  • Places designated lands into a trust held by United States for the benefit of three confederated tribes (Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Suislaw Indians);
  • Expands the existing Wild Rogue Wilderness and adds tributaries of the Rogue River to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act;
  • Respects established federal environment, ecology, and conservation policy protections and guidelines: National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003, Endangered Species Act (ESA);
  • There is a section that of concern to me as I read the summary- the survey and manage requirements  for conducting Environmental Impact Studies as they were written in the Northwest Forest Plan are deemed- “do not apply to forestry emphasis areas;”
  • Creates: recreation areas, drinking water special management units, salmon/botanical area special management unit, Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail protection corridor, primitive backcountry special management area, special environmental zones, provisions for decommissioning unneeded roads, special management/research areas, penalty system for non-compliance, processes for transition time while EISs are completed.

Finding answers for the complex debates over forest resource management is no easy undertaking. My hours of “jumping down the rabbit hole” to find and analyze sources for building my Oregon Forest Management personal learning environment has been enlightening. I’m looking forward to part five of five… form an opinion.

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Ideas in this post were synthesized through reflective reading of information on websites listed in the following Webliography-
  1. The Northwest Forest Plan: Origins, Components, Implementation Experience, and Suggestions for Change; http://courses.washington.edu/esrm315/pdfs/NWFP.pdf
  2. Ron Wyden unveils O&C management bill, saying it will create jobs while protecting forest ecology; http://www.oregonlive.com/mapes/index.ssf/2013/11/ron_wyden_unveils_oc_managemen.html
  3. SECTION-BY-SECTION O&C ACT OF 2013; http://media.oregonlive.com/mapes/other/Final%20OC%20Section-by-Section.pdf
  4. Ron Wyden releases O&C forest management to praise, criticism and ‘we’ll see; http://www.oregonlive.com/mapes/index.ssf/2013/11/ron_wyden_releases_oc_forest_m.html
  5. Oregon Wild Briefing Paper: Why Senator Wyden’s O&C Land Grant Act of 2013 is a bad deal for the environment; http://www.oregonlive.com/mapes/index.ssf/2013/11/ron_wyden_unveils_oc_managemen.html
  6. Senator Wyden’s O&C Land Grant Act of 2013 (S. 1784): In a nutshell; http://www.oregonwild.org/oregon_forests/old_growth_protection/westside-forests/Western%20Oregon%20BLM%20Backyard%20Forests/Wyden%20O-C%20legislation%20outline_SHORT%20FINAL.pdf
  7. Wyden’s O&C Forest Bill Attempts To Balance Logging And Conservation; http://earthfix.opb.org/land/article/how-wydens-oc-bill-walks-the-line-between-logging-/
  8. H.R.1526 – Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act; http://beta.congress.gov/bill/113th/house-bill/1526/committees
  9. Statement of Administration Policy; http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/legislative/sap/113/saphr1526r_20130918.pdf
  10. White House Threatens to Veto House Bill 1526; http://earthfix.opb.org/land/article/white-house-threatens-to-veto-forest-bill/
  11. American Forests; H.R. 1526: Limiting Judicial Review of Forest Management | American Forests.
  12. League of Conservation Voters; http://www.lcv.org/issues/HR1526.pdf
  13. H.R. 1526: Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act: overview and summary; https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr1526
  14. American Logger’s Council; http://naturalresources.house.gov/uploadedfiles/americanloggerscouncilltrhr1526.pdf
  15. House Natural Resources Committee Fast Facts on H.R. 1526; Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act (H.R. 1526) – House Committee on Natural Resources.
  16. Logging Laws on the Line; http://www.oregonwild.org/about/press-room/press-clips/logging-laws-on-the-line

8 comments

  1. A worthy effort, but I’m concerned that you may gloss along on the political surface without diving into the mechanics of forest ecology, which any right opinion should be based on. You devote a post to Stages (btw, “seral” and “successional” are more or less synonyms) but you need to look into the ecological importance of specific stages. Johnson, in the Earthfix piece, made a strong point that his ecological forestry approach is needed to restore a stage (early seral) that the NW is more deficient in than in old growth.

    People should ask themselves what will happen if the forest is NOT managed. 1. An equal amount of wood will be harvested somewhere else, like the tropics, given that little is being done to reduce demand. 2. The forest faces a substantial probability of high-severity fire within the next century. (Read papers by Westerling or Littell. I can provide refs.) 3. The forest faces challenges from climate change; restoring the early-seral stage, and greater structural heterogeneity in general, can potentially aid forest resilience.

    I do not apply these arguments to true old growth, which we all agree should be preserved. The Wyden bill excludes old growth stands from logging, and Johnson’s variable retention harvest plan excludes older trees from cutting. (The tree sitters in the Earthfix piece, coming from the East, think they’re in amazingly huge, old trees, but that doesn’t make it old growth at 120 years after a stand-replacing fire.)

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    1. Dear D. Mathews,
      I object to some of your suppositions. To start with, Oregon has many thousands of square miles of private forest land that is in the “cut/seral/successional/cut” phase perpetually. Suggesting we need more of it to help nature is stupid. Next I find your faux passion for old growth disturbing. The truth is that the mills simply don’t want trees that size any more. If forest product companies were rock crushing companies it’s like saying Mt. Rushmore should be preserved (since it won’t fit in the grinder). Lastly I object to your pretense that economics demand these trees join the process. The only thing pushing this whole process is profit. If these trees were made unprofitable by some means there would be no one studying how to harvest them or give a rat’s ass about them burning.

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      1. I don’t know what your “cut/seral/successional/cut” phase refers to, but “early seral” refers to a diverse mix of hardwoods (esp maple and alder) with its own particular shrubby understory. Commercial timber land in the NW used to have a lot of that, 100 to 40 years ago, but then they mandated always replanting with conifers, thereby skipping the early seral stage. That’s why there is in fact less of it than of old growth today.
        Speak for yourself about not giving a rat’s ass about them burning. Most people do give a rat’s ass.

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        1. Thank you for your rebuttal. However, I am going to stand by my statements (with no personal offense to you intended, and speaking only for myself if necessary), if commercial interests in what the natural forests look like were removed, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. As far as your point on the change from a more feral recovery from clear cuts to the Christmas tree farm approach in the late sixties and early seventies…. I believe it was our famous university in mid-valley that created the fast grow Doug Fir variant and lobbied for it’s use. I wonder if forest managers have now calculated how long the land can yield those crops? Is the “variable harvest” model now being touted as “environmental” the plan B.?

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    2. Hello D-
      Actually, it’s concerns about the general ecology of forests that got me into this whole collection of thoughts in the first place. I agree that understanding forest growth stages and disturbance factors are important to understanding Northwest forest dynamics. All influence the composition, structure, and function of forest ecosystems. In a nutshell, they determine what organisms will thrive or decline in a given area…in a given habitat. This strongly impacts forest biodiversity. I understand from my studies in the Oregon State University Master Naturalist program that all contribute to the population dynamics, flora/fauna community composition, trophic interactions, and the organization of habitat. Given there are eleven different forest types of forests in Oregon, each with its unique growth and disturbance factors, there is a complex mosaic of systems at play… vital in the support of a rich network of wildlife. All are equally important concepts to be considered by Forest Managers and Silviculturists when assessing forest areas for management purposes. All are important concepts to be considered by legislators and stakeholders in the design of laws that govern forest practices.

      With that said, the mechanics that I AM concerned about diving into are the dynamics at play that impact/influence the enduring legislation that will dictate now, and long into the future, how forests are managed. In my opinion, we need to be cognizant of what you pointed out- “what will happen if the forest is NOT managed” … and… what will happen when the forest IS managed. The outcomes effect “wild” ecology and “domestic” ecology in profoundly life-impacting ways on both sides of the coin. My thought here is that this debate cannot be solved with the toss of that coin… heads- the forest wins. Tails- human interests win. I think the best we can hope for, being pragmatic about 21st century realities, is to find a way for the coin to land… balanced on its edge. And that’s why this whole issue is difficult, but, not impossible to solve.

      The debate between you and Webber appears to be one that illustrates the discord between nature and nurture; hands-off and hands-on; non-corporate and corporate points of view. So, I look to us all… how do we flip the coin so it stays on edge?

      Yes, worries about catastrophic fire, climate change, who’s in control of wood harvest commerce are real factors. At first glimpse… the variable retention harvest approach makes logical sense …on paper… what I am struggling to understand is how this approach really looks on the forest floor. I can view the Coast Range in real-time, from near and afar. From the valley, I see enormous swatches of deforested mountainsides. From close up views, like the ones in my Douglas Fir photos, I wonder if that is variable retention harvest… or clear-cut sold in a new, scientifically-improved package.

      So far as Old Growth forests are concerned.I’m not convinced they are as safe from logging as one is lead to believe. New legislation proposals contain clauses that could provide circumstances that would allow provisions for cutting. Historically, BLM sold off Old Growth for timbering through loop-holes and convenient interpretation of forest management laws. There was new litigation filed in U.S. District Court last week to halt the harvest of old growth forest in Southern Oregon. (http://www.oregonwild.org/about/press-room/press-clips/conservation-groups-file-suit-to-halt-high-profile-timber-harvest-in-south-county)

      How do we solve this? I don’t have the answer, but I think awareness and knowledge are steps in the right direction. Communication with our representatives could help. I know that attending a Town Hall Meeting with Senator Wyden recently allowed the opportunity to hear first hand thoughts the senator has about his bill. My post about that experience is still in draft form…

      I appreciate the conversation this post is inspiring. How did you gain your interest in forests? Would you share the refs for Westerling and Littell?
      Jane

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    1. Hi Webber-
      That’s a good point. Once the trees are harvested, where does the money go? How is the profit divvied up? How are value of land and trees calculated?
      Intriguing…
      Are you suggesting that decisions about tree-harvest profit-sharing be scrutinized and delineated as part of the language in the next piece of forest management legislation?

      That seems like a logical approach for timber-reliant communities to benefit through an increased share of the profit and for timber corporations to decrease their share accordingly. Corporations must have some sort of tax-break when they invest in their local communities… even if it’s viewed as a charitable contribution to the schools, for instance.

      I wonder if our Congressional representatives should be alerted?!

      Jane

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