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Friday, July 20, 2012

Timber must be part of economic mix for rural counties

Timber must be part of economic mix for rural counties

Timber must be part of economic mix for rural counties

Published: Friday, July 20, 2012, 5:00 AM
Guest Columnist The Oregonian

By Paul Barnum 

In emphasizing market conditions, The Oregonian's Sunday editorial ("Timber's dead-end road," July 15) reduced the importance of the paper's previous support for increased management of federal lands for both timber and ecological benefits. 

On numerous occasions, the paper has stated that one solution to restoring rural economies and healthy, resilient forests is increased management of the state's 18.2 million acres of federal forests, which represent nearly 60 percent of Oregon's forest base. 

Two years ago ("The forest fire that changed everything," Aug. 31, 2010), on the 100th anniversary of what's known as the "Big Burn," The Oregonian stated, "Too much federal money and effort still goes to fighting fires, and too little to thinning forests and managing fire in more natural, constructive ways." Just this year ("A new timber policy or bust," Jan. 24), The Oregonian opined that "Oregon timber counties cannot prosper without more activity on federal forests." 

One month later ("A promising O&C forest plan," Feb. 21), the paper stated, "The ultimate solution has to include getting more logs, more jobs and more revenues out of the public forests that cover western Oregon." 

Public opinion and Oregon policymakers also support forest management that balances economic and environmental values. 

Polling by the Oregon Forest Resources Institute and the Oregon Department of Forestry in June 2010 showed that 77 percent of Oregonians favor thinning of dense, overstocked forests in eastern and southwest interior Oregon to reduce the risk of severe wildfire. The public understands the damage that hot, destructive fires can do to fish and wildlife habitat and water resources. 

Our elected leaders also understand that sustainable forest management, including responsible timber harvest and removal of biomass, is necessary for forest health. 

In testimony before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 14, Gov. Kitzhaber said, "Management of Oregon's public forests is seriously out of balance. While our state forests account for 3 percent of Oregon's forest lands, they produce 10 percent of the timber volume in the state. Conversely, federal forests make up 59 percent of the forest lands in Oregon, but produce only 12 percent of the timber volume." 

He echoed those comments, along with the legislative leadership, in a letter to a state-led group on which I serve that is championing increased management of federal forestland. Signed by Sens. Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and Joanne Verger, D-Coos Bay, and Representatives Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, and Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, the letter stated, "Active management on federal lands has declined to levels that put the health of Oregon's public forests, economy and communities at risk. The lack of management has left national forests throughout Oregon overcrowded, unhealthy and at risk of severe fire, insect outbreaks and disease." 

As The Oregonian noted, three Oregon congressemen, Democrats Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader and Republican Greg Walden, are working on a balanced, bipartisan solution to modestly increase harvest on O&C lands in western Oregon. In an OpEd column in The Oregonian ("Congressmen offer bipartisan solution to fiscal crisis," Dec. 18), they said, "Oregon's rural communities cannot afford another 20 years of gridlock in our federal forests. Without a new path forward, mills will continue to disappear, forest jobs will be outsourced, counties will be pushed off the budgetary cliff and forest health will continue to decline." 

Residents of rural areas recognize we will never return to past high volume harvest practices. Those days are over. But certainly, we can and should increase harvest volumes to a modest level – for timber value and to restore healthy, resilient forests. Keeping a focus on restoring public lands by using open, public collaborative processes is the way to do this. Economic diversification is important but not a panacea. More importantly, we should pursue a balanced approach that both protects natural resources and takes advantage of Oregon's world-class strength as a grower and provider of wood. 

Paul Barnum is executive director of the Oregon Forest Resources Institute. 

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