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  Too little logging has risks, as well
  Medford Mail Tribune in Herald and News 6/30/15
     For decades, timber harvests on public forest land in western Oregon have been curtailed in the interest of protecting the environment from the excesses of the unsustainable logging that took took place in the 1970s and 1980s.

   Now, however, the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction, to the point that limitations on logging have led to their own set of environmental consequences.

   Many of the former Oregon & California Railroad lands, designated by Congress to be managed for sustained timber harvest, are now overgrown with too many trees, posing an increased risk of catastrophic wildfire and threatening the habitat of the wildlife that was supposed to be protected by leaving forests unlogged.  

   The Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency responsible for these lands, has issued a new Draft Resource Management Plan for Western Oregon, detailing how much timber it proposes to harvest and how much land will be set aside in reserves. This plan is proposed to replace the current document adopted in 1995.

   The harvest levels set out in the 1995 plans never were achieved, to the frustration of the timber industry. Under that plan, 400 million board feet would have been logged in western Oregon in 2012, but only 205 million were cut. That had, and continues to have, economic consequences.

   The new plan offers five alternatives with harvest levels ranging from 185 million board feet to 550 million board feet. By the BLM’s own estimate in 2008, Western Oregon O&C lands were growing trees at a rate of 1.2 billion board feet a year. Harvesting dramatically less than that leads to overgrown forests and increased risk of catastrophic wildfire — as well as forests that are increasingly inaccessible and unhealthy.  

   The draft plan’s preferred alternative would harvest just 28 percent of that 1.2 billion board feet. Three of the five alternatives would harvest less than the “no action” alternative that would maintain the status quo.

   No one, including the timber industry, is suggesting that cutting 1.2 billion board feet a year is realistic. And BLM officials are understandably concerned about prompting lawsuits from environmental groups if they propose too much logging.

   But if the environmentalists are serious about protecting the health of public forests, they need to explain why continuing to keep harvest levels far below the growth rate of these lands is a good idea. Barring that explanation, the BLM’s plans are a lose-lose proposition for Oregon, both economically and environmentally.



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