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  U.S. lawmakers pledge to open more forestland for wood production
  by ELON GLUCKLICH, Herald and News 1/22/11

     Oregon could see a timber revival, if the state’s legislators make good on pledges to open more forestland for new wood production.  

   But timber company officials say not so fast: many are excited to hear the issue brought up in Congress, but doubt whether it can be implemented in this regulatory climate.

   Since December, U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both D-Ore., and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., have spoken out about the need to put Oregonians back to work in the state’s federal forests.

At a town hall meeting Tuesday in Klamath Falls, Wyden said he would consider revising the Endangered Species Act to “reflect the economic needs of states.” In other words, parts of the ESA could be scaled back to encourage more wood use.

   “For them to say they want more production is great,” said Mark Slezak, raw materials manager for Columbia Forest Products in Klamath Falls. “But it doesn’t necessarily lead to more. Oftentimes their best wishes get hung up just as they have been in the past.”  

   Job growth and forests

   Reports from the Oregon Forest Resources Institute show timber production in the state dropped by 96 percent between 1989 and 2001, the result of environmental regulations and a drop in demand for new housing.

   All of that lost production has come from federal forestlands, like the Fremont-Winema National Forest in Klamath and Lake counties.

   Ray Driscoll Jr. would like to see those forestlands put to better use. After working as a timber faller, he established Wood River Timber Inc. in 1993. His company employs five people, and works mostly in a contract capacity, cutting timber for others.  

   Driscoll said companies like his could grow in the coming years if politicians get behind the idea of a new forest plan.

   “ I believe there’s a demand for it,” Driscoll said. “Any more production we could get would be wonderful, as long as the economy will sustain it.”

   He’s worried the demand might not be there — like much of the country, Klamath County is mired in a housing slump right now — but he sees other potential for production in the emergence of new industries, like biomass production.

   “Talking about it and doing it are two different things,” Driscoll said. “But any help we can get is great.”


Agencies wait for policy revision
     Forest management agencies aren’t sure yet how to react to calls for more timber production in Oregon’s federal forests.

   Oregon’s two U.S. senators, Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, as well as Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., are pushing for more jobs through a revised federal forest policy, potentially going as far as to re-tailor the 37-year-old Endangered Species Act.

   That would almost certainly impact the   way agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management operate in those forests.

   Tom Knappenberger, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Region, said the department doesn’t comment on potential changes in the law like those proposed for the ESA. But, he said, officials will keep monitoring the political climate to see if the push for private forest use gains traction.

   “We’re committed to   healthier forests and landscape restoration, and we’re committed to healthy economies in rural Oregon,” Knappenberger said.  

   Healthy planning

   Bureau of Land Management officials, meanwhile, say a new forest plan that increases private production would have to include steps to prevent over-utilization. Otherwise, the timber industry could run into the same problem it did in the early 1970s, when tree removal outpaced new tree growth on federal   lands.

   “A short-term spike in volume over current levels would require a decrease in volume at some point in the future to maintain a sustainable yield over time,” said Scott Stoffel, an Oregon BLM spokesman.

   As for a potential change in the Endangered Species Act, Stoffel said the BLM would work with any plan that’s passed into law.


   “ T h e B L M i s required to comply with all laws,” he said.


Endangered Species Act seen as obstacle
     Timber exports from Oregon date back to the 19th century. In the 1930s, Oregon was the country’s leading timber producer.

   But the industry took a nosedive in the 1970s, as concerns over forest health and restoration became the focus of many lawmakers.

   Many timber producers saw the 1973 Endangered Species Act as a crippling blow to the industry.

   “The Endangered Species Act has been used by environmental organizations to basically stop all harvesting off of federal lands,” said Dave Schott, spokesman for the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association.

   Schott says he’s watched as the timber industry went from the signature of Oregon’s economy to an afterthought. At the same time, he said, he’s watched the state’s unemployment rate rise — particularly in rural areas that depended on timber harvests.

   Trees need to be thinned regularly to mitigate forest fire risks, he said. And, he said, there’s enough supply to thin parts of the forest for fire safety and production.

   Wade Mosby, senior vice president of Collins Products agreed. Utilizing wood waste from the Fremont-Winema National Forest “means existence for those of us on the east side (of the Cascade Mountains),” he said.

   He’s been working with U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s off ice since Wyden passed the Oregon Eastside Forest Restoration, Old Growth Protection and Jobs Act of 2009, commonly called the Eastside Forest Plan.

   The plan aims to find a middle ground between the needs of timber producers and the real environmental consequences of over-thinning.

   Mosby said he expects   other legislators, particularly U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, to get more outspoken in their support for a forest plan in the Congress.

   “The national forest could be a major component of our log supply,” he said. “I look for our congressmen to be more influential now and support more production.”


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