Economic Recovery in Sight

Posted by: Gienie Assink

After years of endless debate, The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is revising existing plans to replace the land use allocations and management direction proposed under the Northwest Forest Plan in order to better meet the agency’s dual goals of providing a sustained flow of timber output and providing for habitat and conservation of federally listed fish and wildlife species.

Alternatives for future management of the 2.5 million acres of public lands in Western Oregon have been released, and now the BLM is seeking public comment. The purpose and need for this proposed action is to manage the BLM-administered lands for permanent forest production in conformity with the principles of sustained yield, consistent with the O&C Act…currently, restrictions under the Northwest Forest plan fail to provide for active forest management.

The majority of these lands fall under the direction of the Oregon & California (O&C) Lands Act of 1937 which requires the BLM to manage these western Oregon lands for permanent forest production while providing economic benefit to local communities and ensuring watershed health. If, and when, this public land is managed for wise, multiple use again, how will it impact taxpayers in Oregon counties?

Historically this Act has long been responsible for a truly unique relationship between the BLM and the 18 O&C counties in western Oregon who have come to rely on a sustainable flow of timber and the sharing of timber-related receipts. Fifty percent of timber receipts from lands under the O&C Lands Act go directly to the 18 western Oregon Counties to provide a steady source of revenue to support the economy of western Oregon. The counties use this money for public services including roads, law enforcement, health services and libraries.

Throughout the planning process, more than 130 meetings have been held with a variety of groups, organizations, and public officials. Here in Eugene this last week, KOPT and the Eugene Weekly sponsored a radio town hall asking participants to take a poll on how they felt about the issues, and the Alternative 2 plan the BLM is recommending.

I wish the panel spent more time explaining what Alternative 2 is, so that listeners could fully grasp the concept of what Oregon Counties have lost fiscally.

Out of the 3 alternatives proposed, the BLM’s Alternative 2 provides the best “mix” of land allocations which meet the specific mandates of the O&C Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and the Federal Land and Policy Management Act. It also allocates over half of the land base to non-commodity resources such as wildlife, fish and recreation.

Alternative 2 incorporates managed harvesting (about 1 percent of the current standing inventory). Under this plan, we would harvest much less than what we even produce; But, the most compelling piece of this alternative is that the harvesting allowed would provide 94 percent ($108 million) of the revenues currently being received through the Secure Rural Schools “payments to counties” program, as well as provide an increase of 3,442 jobs and $136.5 million in local wages.

We’ve heard it stated many times before; rural Oregon communities are struggling to fund vital community services. These very same communities are situated in some of the nation’s most abundant resource basins, which if utilized in a sustainable manner, could provide abundant financial support for critical, but currently struggling programs.

The BLM is asking for public comment regarding all of the proposed alternatives. Comments and suggestions from the public along with ideas from cooperating agencies will be used by the BLM to craft amendments to the existing resource management plans and will be analyzed in a Final Environmental Impact Statement next year.

Comments must be received before November 10, 2007, and can be submitted electronically from the web site: http://www.blm.gov/or/plans/wopr

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