Our take on Wyden's O&C Land Grant Act

Senator Ron Wyden has released his much anticipated bill outlining the future management of 2.6 million acres of O&C (Oregon & California Railroad) lands in western Oregon, and it’s worse than we thought. The forests on O&C Lands provide clean drinking water for 1.8 million people, in addition to habitat for endangered species like the marbled murrelet, spotted owl and many species of salmon. Furthermore, these forests are truly backyard forests for many Oregonians who live next to O&C land.

Wyden’s proposal is called the Oregon and California Land Grant Act of 2013 and has Barkers and our allies bristling. The legislation threatens O&C forests by doubling logging, reducing important environmental protections, and shaking the foundation of environmental laws including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Below is a brief summary of some of the bill’s specifics, as best we can interpret them. There is still time for Wyden to alter or eliminate this piece of draft legislation before it is introduced in the Senate for a vote, so stay tuned for ways to help out.

Wyden’s Oregon and California Land Grant Act of 2013 proposes:
More logging:
 Wyden proposes to dedicate about half of the 2.6 million acres of O&C land to intensive logging. Specifically, he proposes to instigate a new brand of logging known as ‘eco-forestry, ’ which in practice means leaving patches of standing trees among a clearcut landscape. Euphemisms to greenwash clearcuts and other logging projects are nothing new for the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, however the scale at which this relatively new form of logging would be implemented is alarming, especially taking the proposed reductions in environmental review into account.

Gutting environmental review:
Wyden is intent on speeding up logging and proposes that just two Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) be written to cover a ten year period of timber sales. This would replace the current project specific model in which all timber sales receive their own review and are analyzed  using the best available science; it would be an unprecedented blow to NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act). The BLM would be tasked with creating a 10 year EIS as a blueprint for logging that would span forests across all of western Oregon from the coast to the Cascades with the only distinguishing feature being a separate EIS for both wet and dry forests. How will the BLM meaningfully analyze the impacts of such large scale logging under one document? Furthermore, how will they predict the impacts of logging ten years down the line, inlcIuding the effects of climate change, changing population levels of endangered species, and new scientific research that reveals complexities of forest ecosystems and informs management desicions?

Less public input:
In addition to gutting NEPA, Wyden’s plan would create unrealistic timelines for public input. It will reduce public comment periods as well as the time in which individuals and groups like Bark can appeal projects. Limiting public input on public land management is unacceptable by itself, but is especially insulting to Oregonians who live next to O&C land and deserve a say about what happens in their own backyard. It is disappointing to see Senator Wyden endorsing significant and precedent-setting restrictions on the ability of citizens to hold the federal government accountable.

Reduce safeguards for endangered species and clean water:
This plan would  undo important provisions of the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP), a management plan that has been key to the recovery of endangered species since the ‘90s. The Wyden plan would dismantle the old growth and wildlife reserve system, as well as reduce no-logging buffers along streams. Additionally, the bill would weaken how the NWFP protects endangered species under the Endangered Species Act by weakening the role of science in managing specific timber sales. Finally, Survey and Manage (‘look before you log’) protocols that require surveying for certain species to avoid habitat loss, would be eliminated. This move reeks of the Bush-administration, who attempted time and again to kill Survey and Manage.

Lacks a real solution to decouple county funding from timber receipts:
Although Wyden’s legislation would increase funding to O&C counties by doubling logging,  even with this O&C counties will still require government subsidies to make up the difference. Meanwhile, the bill does nothing to address the issue of raising unusually low property tax rates to support basic services in rural counties. The bill simply kicks the can down the road and keeps counties dependent on government bailouts, and boom and bust logging.

Faux conservation:
Proponents of the bill point to wilderness additions, however the two proposed wilderness areas included in Wyden’s bill, the Wild Rogue and Devil’s Staircase, already have their own traction to become wilderness without this damaging bill.

Wyden is using doublespeak when he asserts that his O&C bill keeps intact federal laws and protects habitat while doubling timber harvest and increasing clearcuts. His plan runs roughshod over public process and judicial review and is not sustainable, as touted on his website.  After a decade of relative calm, Senator Wyden’s proposal to increase clearcutting and introduce Bush-era rollbacks to environmental laws threatens to reignite the timber wars of the 1980’s. It is a major step backward for our public lands.