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Oregon’s “Old Growth” Debate Gets New Life in Congress

March 13, 2008

Ashland, OR – The idea that forest management requires more finesse than a chainsaw is catching on - and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden may be the man to thank. Today, Wyden is holding a Senate hearing on the importance of protecting the nation's old-growth forests, with Oregon speakers and local examples to show Congress how it can be done.

At issue is what role Congress should play in protecting old-growth forests from logging, in order to save wildlife habitat and protect water quality. One of the central questions is how to define the term "old growth." Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist for the National Center for Conservation Policy and Science, says this has been an issue since the 1980s, as forest acreage continues to disappear.

"This is where all the social debate is right now. We should not be cutting a single acre of old-growth forest in our region. However, that doesn't mean we should not be logging."

DellaSala describes some areas of Oregon, such as the Siuslaw and Rogue-Siskiyou forests, where modern management and selective logging are working. He cautions, though, that federal protections have been eroding - which continues to put the state's oldest forests at risk.

"We're still getting old growth logs going down I-5, and at least some of that is coming from federal land. So, we really need a permanent solution to this, because the controversy still centers around old-growth logging."

The hearing is in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where Wyden chairs the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests. Testimony will not be tied to any particular bill in Congress, although both Wyden and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) have said they intend to introduce legislation this year.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's proposed Western Oregon Plan Revision (WOPR) would relax logging restrictions and permit clear-cutting in some areas. By some estimates, there are only 5 to 10 percent of the oldest forests left in the Northwest.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR