by Margaret Goodwin
Lately, a number of people have been arguing that the prospect of increased timber harvesting on the O&C lands is an attempt to return to an unstable timber economy, and that we should be focusing instead on developing other more stable industries to sustain our local economy. This isn’t an either/or situation. Timber production wouldn’t replace other industries. It would, in fact, provide more economic diversity than we have today, as well as more opportunities for employment. More significantly, 50% of all timber revenues from the O&C lands go directly into the general funds of the O&C conties. The only revenue that goes into the county coffers from any other industry is a portion of whatever property taxes they pay.
There’s a lot of fear surrounding the WOPR, and what will happen to our beautiful forests if timber harvesting is restored. Many people don’t realize that the WOPR applies only to the O&C lands, nor do they realize what a small percentage of our federal forests the O&C lands make up. The O&C lands are specific tracts of land that were Congressionally mandated in 1937 to be used for permanent sustained-yield timber production for the benefit of certain counties in which, due to historical circumstances, the majority of the land is owned by the federal government. Since then, about 30% of the O&C lands have been set aside by Congress for riparian, wilderness, and wild river reserves, or administratively withdrawn. The remaining O&C lands make up only about 6% of the total federal forest lands in this area. And even the most aggressive of the WOPR alternatives (Alternative 2) proposes to use less than half of the O&C lands for timber production. Given the nature of permanent sustained-yield timber management, as mandated by the O&C Lands Act, only a small percentage of even the lands dedicated to timber production could be harvested at any given time.
Given the very small percentage of federal forest lands affected, the fear that a return to timber management on the O&C lands will “decimate our remaining legacy forests” is completely unfounded. The fears that some have expressed regarding all of our surrounding forests being clear-cut and destroying the natural beauty of our valley are equally unfounded. Under all of the WOPR alternatives (except the No Action alternative), there would be more than 100% increase in the number of acres of O&C land dedicated to Class I Visual Resource Management throughout Western Oregon. The objective of Class I Visual Resource Management is to preserve the existing characteristics of wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers, and other natural landscapes, and to maintain scenic values.
Alternative 1 would maintain 8% more Wilderness Characteristics than Alternative 2 and 7% more than Alternative 3. (The WOPR defines Wilderness Characteristics as at least 5,000 contiguous acres without roads, preserved in their natural condition.) However, Alternative 2 would protect 4.5% more “relevant and important values” in Areas of Critical Environmental Concern than Alternative 1 and 16% more than Alternative 3. (Relevant and important values are the “qualities or circumstances that make it fragile, sensitive, rare, irreplaceable, exemplary, unique, endangered, threatened, or vulnerable to adverse change.”) Alternative 2 would also provide 4,000 more jobs in Western Oregon than Alternative 1 and 4700 more than Alternative 3, and is projected to bring in 58% more revenue to the counties over the next 10 years than Alternative 1 and over twice as much revenue as Alternative 3.
Every decision involves trade-offs. Alternative 3 is clearly the worst of the three WOPR Alternatives. Between the other two, the question is whether an 8% gain in Wilderness Characteristics is worth a 4.5% reduction of important and relevant values in Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, 4,000 jobs, and a 58% reduction in revenue for our county public services.
The Association of O&C counties has proposed a number of modifications to Alternative 2 that would allocate more land for timber management while reducing the amount of clear-cutting, as well as significantly improving fire management, to ensure the long term health and productivity of our forests. The Association of O&C Counties’ recommendation presents a unilateral improvement over all of the WOPR Alternatives. It’s important to let the BLM and our elected officials know that it’s the will of the citizens to maximize responsible timber production on the O&C lands. You can support the Association of O&C Counties’ recommendation by submitting your comments to the BLM on line at http://www.blm.gov/or/plans/wopr before January 9, 2008.