Forest restoration bill moves forward

After decades of wrangling over the status of Oregon's national forests, representatives from the state's timber industry and conservation groups have joined with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to introduce legislation that will promote active management of 8.3 million acres in six national forests east of the Cascade Range.

It is being called "the end of Oregon's timber wars" but only time will reveal if that is indeed true. The agreement would resolve years of bitter disputes over harvest levels and old-growth protection and lead to a sustainable, but significant, increase in the harvest in at-risk forests across central and eastern Oregon.

Environmentalists, timber executives and politicians stood together at a Dec. 16 press conference in Washington, D.C., following eight months of negotiations, to announce the Oregon Eastside Forests Restoration, Old Growth Protection and Jobs Act. Wyden introduced the bill in the Senate shortly after the news conference.

"Oregonians rightly wondered if this day would ever come, but thanks to the good faith and extraordinary perseverance of these fine men and women, timber and environmental interests are today standing side-by-side to move beyond decades of confrontation and improve forests and create jobs," says Wyden. "The road ahead to enacting this bill may be difficult, but when longtime adversaries demonstrate that they can sit together and find common ground, there is hope for a better tomorrow for Oregon."

"Industry and conservationists have found common ground on old-growth forest protection and scientifically sound restoration thinning projects and now we look forward to working with Sen. Wyden to turn this agreement into law," says Andy Kerr, who represented conservation groups in negotiations over the legislation.

Wyden, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests, also stressed the importance of increasing funding for the Forest Service's management activities and says he would use his subcommittee chairmanship to conduct continuous oversight of the agency's implementation of the legislation.

"There is no better way to restore our forests and jobs in some of the hardest-hit counties in our state than to increase the Forest Service budget for forest restoration," adds Wyden. "It will be a top priority for me and a frequent topic in my subcommittee."

The agreement is the culmination of more than 18 months of work by Wyden with members of Oregon's timber and conservation communities who responded to his call to come together to end the long-standing forest stalemate.

Wyden's legislation would require the Forest Service to identify areas of the forests that most urgently need restoration and would produce timber to support local mills, local jobs and rural infrastructure.

While the Forest Service is conducting this assessment of priority areas, administrative appeals - which are often used to block proposed timber sales - would be prohibited and the Forest Service would be directed to treat a minimum number of acres during those three years. At least 80,000 acres would be treated in the first year, 100,000 in the second year and 120,000 in the final year.

Wyden's legislation also establishes protections for large trees and directs the Forest Service to develop experimental projects to protect trees older than 150 years.

This article originally appeared in the February 2010 issue.