DeFazio’s ‘timber trust’ removes protections

By Steve Pedery and Ivan Maluski
The Register-Guard

In his March 2 guest viewpoint Rep. Peter DeFazio neglects to fully explain the implications of his draft bill, “The O&C Trust, Conservation, and Jobs Act.” As conservation organizations with millions of members and supporters in Oregon and across the country, as well as decades of work to protect and restore Oregon’s public forestlands, fish, wildlife and water, we have grave concerns about this bill.

Western Oregon’s Bureau of Land Management lands are a tremendous asset to our state, and to our communities. Sixty-five percent of Oregonians live within 10 miles of these lands, and many of us use and enjoy them for hiking, fishing, hunting and other traditional recreation. Three-quarters of the BLM lands contribute to the quality of domestic drinking water, and the streams that flow through them provide important habitat for numerous salmon and steelhead runs. Nearly half of the lands are critical habitat for rare wildlife protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Finally, BLM forests are critical to the success of the Northwest Forest Plan. Unfortunately, these terrific values are not compatible with industrial approaches to logging and those included in DeFazio’s draft bill.

If enacted, DeFazio’s bill would turn over 1.5 million acres of Western Oregon BLM lands — lands that belong to all Americans — to a “timber trust.”

This trust would be managed for the sole purpose of maximizing revenues from logging to support the budgets of the 18 O&C counties in Western Oregon. Strong federal environmental safeguards for clean water and wildlife would be stripped, and the lands would be managed under Oregon’s weak Forest Practices Act. As a result, these acres would be managed, and clear-cut, just like private industrial timberlands, and would remain public lands in name only.

Worse, DeFazio does not reveal that since the “timber trust” lands will be managed under the state Forest Practices Act, activities most Oregonians strongly oppose would be the norm. Heavy applications of toxic herbicides is both legal and common under these weak rules, as is clear-cut logging. The “timber trust” proposal effectively removes important protections currently afforded to these federal lands under the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and other federal laws that require public participation, scientific consultation, and which safeguard threatened fish and wildlife.

Perhaps most troubling, decisions made by the corporate board in charge of the “trust” would be above the law, as language within the bill specifically strips Oregonians of their right to challenge its decisions in court.

DeFazio makes a number of other problematic claims. He suggests the bill will end the timber wars and save the old-growth forests. A closer look reveals that his “timber trust” proposal includes clear-cutting approximately 350,000 acres of forests between 80 and 125 years old — forests identified in the Northwest Forest Plan by scientists as critical for fish and wildlife habitat. Even forests that are more than 125 years old will be at risk, as their ultimate protection depends on how a bureaucratic committee defines “old-growth.”

DeFazio also argues that we shouldn’t return to the unsustainable logging of the 1980s. We couldn’t agree more. Returning to clear-cuts and unsustainable levels of logging as proposed in this draft bill is not the vehicle to ensure the long-term economic health of the O&C counties. Based on the provisions of the draft bill, it is estimated that 510 million board feet would need to be logged every year, a near tripling of recent average annual logging levels: that’s 33 square miles of Oregon forestland that would be clear-cut each year.

Oregon counties cannot clear-cut their way to prosperity. The good news is they don’t have to. Reducing government waste and inefficiency by transferring BLM lands to the U.S, Forest Service — a move DeFazio supported as recently as last summer — could allow saved tax dollars to support counties. The state timber harvest tax, some of which goes to support frivolous Oregon Forest Resources Institute TV ads and sponsorship of the Portland Timbers soccer team, could be reformed to create new revenue and provide further support for counties. Finally, residents of counties that enjoy the lowest tax rates in Oregon should be asked to pay a small amount more to help pay for important county services.

Instead of sacrificing our public resources or demonizing pro-environment county commissioners and conservation groups, Congressman DeFazio should be working with them to find a balanced solution to county budget woes. Only then will he have a plan that truly represents the values of most Oregonians.

Steve Pedery is the conservation director for Oregon Wild. Ivan Maluski is the conservation program coordinator for the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club.