Representative Dennis Richardson

Rep. Richardson's Newsletter

 

June 7, 2013

 

Healthy Forests = Healthy Communities
Economic Solutions for Rural Oregon 

 

Richardson at Floor Desk

 

This week’s newsletter explores the issues facing Oregon’s federal forests and the rural communities that depend on them.  As a legislator from the heart of southwestern Oregon’s forest country, I know too well the catastrophic devastation caused by enormous forest fires, the blights of diseased forests and the rotting biomass which has led to Oregon’s crisis in forest health.  I also know firsthand of the economic pain, unemployment and financial desperation our rural forest communities are experiencing.  After reviewing this information, I hope we will all learn from Oregon’s experience, get involved and urge our federal officials to reach a permanent and comprehensive solution that will result in both healthy forests and healthy forest communities. [To see my latest YouTube “Minute Update” video on this topic Click here.]

 

Who Owns Oregon's Forests

 

Background

 

 

First, the federal government owns 53% of all the land in Oregon, (from forests to National Parks to post offices), yet only 1% of Kansas, 1.5% of Nebraska and 3% of North Dakota. The importance of this large discrepancy in federal land ownership between states is an important discussion which will have to wait. Think about what this means. Fifty-three percent of Oregon is under federal ownership—there are no property taxes paid and management of 53% of our state’s landmass is controlled by Washington, D.C. bureaucracies. Therein lies the genesis of our problem.

 

Oregon’s forestlands are under federal, State and private ownership, with more than 60 percent of all Oregon forestlands owned by the federal government. Thus, the federal government is by far the state’s largest forestland owner. Though the feds have traditionally shared a portion of forest harvest revenues with local governments–and later, direct payments to replace these lost revenues–the feds do not pay any property taxes to support basic services.

For an excellent overview and discussion of federal forestland in Oregon, click here to learn more from the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI)-a public agency.

 Oregon has over 30 million acres of forestland.  We once had a vibrant forest products industry that supported prosperous and self-sustaining rural communities.  In 1988, Oregonians harvested nearly 5 billion board feet from federal lands. Oregon’s timber industry dramatically changed in 1992 when the Northern Spotted Owl crisis exploded across the Pacific Northwest.  Where once Oregon’s forest products industry harvested billions of board feet from federal land every year, today we harvest only 540 million board feet per year—a fraction of the annual new growth in trees and timber.

For the past 20 years Oregon’s forest management policies have been plagued by environmental lawsuits, conflicting regulations and broken promises by the federal government. Having been virtually shut out of our local federal forests, Oregon’s rural forest communities languish in economic depression. Despite Oregon’s abundance of renewable natural resources, the failure to implement environmentally sound forest management practices has resulted in unhealthy forests with millions of trees vulnerable to disease and catastrophic fires.

 

Forest Fire

 

Unhealthy Forests

The decline in management has taken a dramatic toll on forest health. According to research from the OFRI, we are experiencing higher per acre mortality on public lands throughout the state.  Since the reduction of harvests in the early 1990’s, natural bio-disturbance cycles have been altered.  A higher concentration of trees and brush has resulted in slower growth and reduced vigor. As a result Oregon’s federal forests are much more vulnerable to fire, insects and disease. This is not just mismanagement of our federal forests, it is the failure to provide any meaningful management at all.

 

Without proper forest management and treatment, we will continue to lose entire forests to catastrophic wildfire. Southern Oregonians will never forget the Biscuit Fire of 2002, which burned for nearly six months, ravaging 500,000 acres and most of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. With a dangerous fire season ahead of us, we may again see the results of the federal government’s failure to properly manage our forests. For an interesting overview of the economic and environmental benefits of forest management, click here.

 

 

 

Drop in Federal Harvest

 

Debate is now raging over management of 2.6 million of “O&C” lands, re-conveyed by Congress to the federal government a century ago as the result of broken promises by a railroad. The O&C Act of 1937 set aside these federally-owned forest lands in 18 western Oregon counties for the economic benefit of those counties. The legislation compensated counties for being deprived of property tax revenues and a privately-owned land base for economic development.  The law stated that O&C timberlands are to be managed for "permanent forest production" with forest products to be "sold, cut and removed in conformity with the principal [sic] of sustained yield for the purpose of providing a permanent source of timber supply, protecting watersheds, regulating stream flow and contributing to the economic stability of local communities and industries, and providing recreational facilities."

 

Unfortunately, the federal government has broken trust with Oregon’s forest counties and is no longer upholding the law.  The O&C lands are capable of sustaining up to 1.2 billion board feet of timber harvest per year.  However, we have only harvested an average of 190 million board feet per year, far below levels mandated by the O&C Act and far below what was promised in President Bill Clinton’s Northwest Forest Plan.

The federal government has failed its citizens and other groups share in the blame as well.  Expensive “environmental lawsuits,” thanks to the “sue and settle racket” have blocked lawful and environmentally-sustainable forest harvests based on extreme  philosophical ideology, not scientific evidence.  In the process of abusing federal laws, radical environmental groups have reaped millions in financial fees without regard for the financial devastation caused to rural citizens, communities and their economies. Such groups also generate millions in donations by demagoguing these vitally important natural resource issues.

 

 Federal forest harvesting payments for decades supported both healthy communities and healthy forest environmental services.  The local communities’ share of funding paid for schools, roads, public safety and supported environmentally sound forest management practices to protect our forests from catastrophic fire and disease. With the drop in forest harvest depicted in the graph above, the federal government began sending direct cash payments to compensate for the loss of forest harvest revenues.

 Facing a historic national deficit, the federal government is reducing and even considering the elimination of these payments. Although a short-term payment extension would help, our rural counties and citizens deserve better than standing with their backs to the forests, holding their hats out for alms from the feds.  The future of our forests and rural communities is at stake, and we can no longer afford “Band-Aid” fixes.  It’s time for a permanent and comprehensive solution to this crisis.

 Solutions that will enable both Healthy Forests and Healthy Communities

 

The State Legislature is considering several bills in anticipation of the possible insolvencies of more than one rural county.  As Rep. Hanna declared on the House Floor this week, these measures would not be necessary if rural communities had access to Oregon's most fundamental, robust and sustainable resources: forestland. Due consideration should be given to timber harvest and fuel reduction efforts.

Healthy Forests

 

Federal Solutions

 

 

Thanks to advanced forestry science and technology, and the consequences of public opinion, Oregon has modernized its timber harvesting practices.  Learning from experience, Oregonians can sustainably manage federal forests in a way that supports our rural communities and ensures that we have healthy and abundant forests for future generations.

 Active, environmentally sound management of O&C and other federal forestlands is the only permanent solution for helping to restore our healthy forests, while revitalizing our rural communities and keeping our county governments solvent. Forests can and should be managed to promote both environmental and economic benefits. 

 After 20 years, federal officials have finally recognized the need for a permanent and comprehensive solution. In the U.S. House, Congressmen Greg Walden, Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader have introduced the bipartisan “O&C Trust, Jobs and Conservation Act.” Their proposal:

  •  Places a portion of O&C lands into a state trust for sustainable forest products production. The forest products would be harvested under the Oregon Forest Practice Act, rather than federal laws.
  •  Allows for the permanent, sustainable production of forest products on federal lands that have been previously harvested and creates jobs in the local forest products industry.
  •  Provides forested counties in western Oregon with a sustainable and more predictable level of revenues in perpetuity to support essential county services like schools, law enforcement, healthcare, and transportation.
  •  Protects 90,000 acres of Oregon forests as wilderness and adds 150 miles of Oregon rivers to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

 

 More information on their proposal can be found here.

 

 Sen. Ron Wyden is in a key position to help our forest communities. As Chairman of the powerful Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Wyden has the ability to pass a bill through the Democrat-controlled Senate. Last month, Sen. Wyden announced a “framework” for a Senate O&C bill. He has offered few specifics, but he is pledging to increase forest harvests and “modernize” federal laws that have prevented harvests on O&C lands in the past.  You can review and share your opinion on his proposal by clicking here.

 Get Involved for Healthy Forests and Healthy Communities

In this newsletter, I direct much of the blame for the current situation on the federal government and the environmental groups that have profited handsomely.  But any change will be up to “we the people.” Government at all levels is a reflection of its citizens, and nothing will change until we are fed up, stand up and speak up. We must demand a change in Federal Forest Policy without further delay.

 

 

 

There are many ways to get involved and stand up for a solution, but they all include getting involved in the process.  For example, visit the Walden/DeFazio/Schrader web site and promote the certainty in forest conservation and timber harvests their plan promotes.  You can also visit Sen. Wyden’s web site and urge him to develop a bill that provides certainty to rural communities. 

 

You can also join Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities, a new grassroots coalition that is dedicated to passing federal legislation that promotes active forest management, stable revenues for counties, and more jobs for rural communities. 

 

Conclusion. For the past 20 years we have watched Oregon’s federal forestlands be “reserved” by locking out Oregon’s forest industry. The result of our failure to actively manage our forests using modern, environmentally sound practices has been (1.) a build-up in highly flammable forest refuse resulting in a series of catastrophic forest fires, and (2.) the economic devastation of rural communities whose forest-related jobs sustained their local economies for generations.

 

We can learn from our experience, change our viewpoint, promote a rational Oregon forest policy and demand federal action that will make for both healthy forests and healthy rural forest-community economies.  By promoting a plan where local workers restore forest health by clearing away highly-flammable biomass and small trees that compete with and starve larger trees of health-giving water and sunlight, we can solve the rural forest county crisis and actively manage our federal forestlands. By embracing the harvest levels in the Walden/DeFazio/Schrader plan we can ensure greater economic certainty. In short, by hiring local workers to do the work, we can help restore the health of Oregon’s forests and forest-based economies.

 

Sincerely,

Representative Dennis Richardson Signature

Dennis Richardson
State Representative

 

P.S.  If you would like to be part of my team for Oregon accountability and to receive updated information on issues such as healthy forests and forest harvests, click here and check the box for “Environment and Natural Resources.”