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U.S. House "Healthy Forests" Bill Raises Concerns

PHOTO: Who will make the decisions about where and how much timber is harvested in Oregon? Legislation in Congress to ramp up logging on public land is getting serious attention. Photo credit: Chandra LeGue.
PHOTO: Who will make the decisions about where and how much timber is harvested in Oregon? Legislation in Congress to ramp up logging on public land is getting serious attention. Photo credit: Chandra LeGue.
September 16, 2013

PORTLAND, Ore. - Legislation that would greatly increase logging on public land soon could be on the U.S. House floor for a vote. The bill, HR 1526, includes Rep. Peter DeFazio's (D-Ore.) proposal to manage more than half of Oregon's O & C lands for timber harvest, and the rest for preservation.

It is rolled into a larger bill by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) that would ramp up logging on national forests in general, in part by exempting some timber sales from federal environmental laws.

Noah Matson, Defenders of Wildlife vice president for Climate Change and Natural Resources Adaptation, calls that approach shortsighted.

"They're viewing our national forests as big ATM machines that they can just level out to fill county coffers. It's not a sustainable, long-term solution; it'll probably create a lot more problems," he warned.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is expected to unveil his own proposal for increased timber harvest on the O & C lands. In the meantime, HR 1526 is in the House Rules Committee this week, the final stop before heading to the floor for a vote - and it has been mentioned as a priority by House Republican leaders.

Matson points out that cutting more trees in Oregon automatically raises the stakes for protecting watersheds and endangered species in neighboring states.

"What happens in Oregon actually matters to the rest of the region," he explained. "The Northwest Forest Plan was designed over the entire landscape; it was planned very thoughtfully. So, when you take that land basically out of the plan, that places a heavier burden on the rest of the plan to meet those conservation objectives."

Clear-cutting and its effects on the environment and wildlife are what prompted the Northwest Forest Plan 20 years ago, Matson noted. However, proponents of the House bill say the O & C land was meant for sustained timber yield when it was given to the state in the 1930s - and the counties need the income.

The legislation is online at docs.house.gov.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR