Seeking to improve the management of O&C lands and boost timber harvests while upholding bedrock environmental laws, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) Tuesday announced legislation that takes a science-first approach to managing 2.1 million acres of federal land, streamline environmental review of timber sales and protect old growth trees, clean water, fish and endangered species.

“This new foundation will more than double our timber harvest across 18 timber counties and ensure that harvest continues for years to come. It uses the best available science to mimic natural processes and create healthier, more diverse forests,” Wyden said. “My philosophy is that forest policy should be dictated by science, not lawyers.”

“This approach will create a sturdier economic foundation for the O&C counties, centered on new middle class jobs for choker setters and crew bosses working in the woods, jobs for millwrights, sawyers and sawfilers, turning logs into lumber for new homes, and it means jobs throughout rural communities for outfitters and guides, for new lodges and diners, and the plumbers and hardware stores, teachers and deputies who support a strong local economy,” Wyden said.

“I would like to thank Chairman Wyden for his strong leadership on one of the most intractable natural resource issues in the state -- management of the Oregon and California lands,” Governor John Kitzhaber said. “It would be easy to shy away from tackling an issue of this kind, but fortunately we have a senator who will take a stand.”

Wyden’s legislation, called The Oregon and California Land Grant Act of 2013, amends the original Oregon and California Lands Act passed in 1937. Compared to the last ten years it would roughly double timber harvests on O&C lands for decades to come. At the same time, the bill would permanently protect old growth trees, ensure habitat for sensitive species, and put in place strong safeguards for drinking water and fisheries.

The legislation requires the Secretary of the Interior to provide a sustained yield of timber in forestry emphasis areas, while taking the most controversial harvests off the table, ensuring that old growth stands in moist forests currently over 120 years old and trees over 150 years old across the O&C landscape cannot be harvested.

While keeping the O&C lands under the protection of federal environmental laws, the bill proposes streamlining the environmental review of timber sales by:
• Improving timelines for environmental and judicial reviews;
• Eliminating the individual environmental impact statements for each timber sale and replacing them with two large-scale environmental impact statements – one each for dry and moist forests – covering 10 years of timber sales;
• Requiring better coordination between federal agencies during environmental reviews; and
• Requiring upfront studies of areas to prioritize treatments.

The bill would also permanently protect nearly a million acres of conservations areas that would be managed for the benefit of old growth trees, native wildlife, recreation and tourism. In the conservation areas, road building would be limited and mining prohibited. Timber harvests would be limited to improving habitat and forest health.
Finally, the bill provides new ways to consolidate land ownership and reduce the checkerboard of public and private lands across Western Oregon.

Senator Wyden will introduce companion legislation to this bill that will extend long term funding to the counties which currently receive PILT, SRS, and similar payments, ensuring that communities who produce energy, minerals and timber and other resources that benefit the entire country are fairly compensated for the local impacts of that work. The federal government owes these communities, and other resource producing communities too much to allow county payments to end.

Response from Oregon Wild:

Tuesday, Senator Ron Wyden, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, released the much anticipated “O&C” logging legislation, the O&C Land Grant Act of 2013. The Sierra Club and Oregon Wild, which represent tens of thousands of members and supporters in Oregon and millions across the nation, have serious concerns about the bill’s impacts on public lands in western Oregon.

“Oregon Wild has worked with Senator Wyden many times over the years to craft balanced environmental legislation,” said Oregon Wild Conservation Director Steve Pedery. “But we must strongly oppose this bill because it is so heavily weighted towards clearcut logging and weakening environmental safeguards."

Senator Wyden has been under tremendous pressure from extremist politicians and the logging industry to embrace clearcutting to fund county governments.  Unfortunately, this bill is a dramatic departure from the balanced approach to county funding the Senator outlined in his “Principles for an O&C Solution” released on October 9, 2012. 

Instead, the new legislation will eliminate the old-growth reserve system of the Northwest Forest Plan, dramatically weaken Endangered Species Act rules for logging, and limit Americans’ ability to have a say in how their lands are managed.

The bill embraces a form of clearcutting known as “ecoforestry” in order to maximize logging and county revenue. This controversial practice would be used to clearcut forests up to 120 years old, stands that help protect clean water and wildlife.

 “We cannot clearcut our way to prosperity,” said Rhett Lawrence, Conservation Director for the Sierra Club Oregon Chapter.  “This bill will not solve the counties’ financial problems, but it will put Oregon’s clean water, wildlife, and salmon runs at risk."

While Sen. Wyden’s bill includes measures to safeguard clean drinking water and offer some protection for areas important to hunters, anglers, and other users of the O&C lands, its focus on logging ignores the structural changes that have taken place in Oregon’s economy over the last 20 years. Logging is a relatively minor factor in the state’s economic picture today, surpassed both in jobs and economic revenue by the thriving tourism and outdoor recreation industry. A recent analysis of likely job growth found employment in recreation-related industries in Oregon is expected to grow by 31 percent by 2020 – exceeding the expected 3 percent job growth in logging and related industries
 “Senator Wyden has a long history as an environmental champion, which is why this legislation is disappointing,” concluded Pedery.  “We stand ready to work with the Senator on a solution to county funding shortfalls that better protects clean water, wildlife, and Oregon’s Wilderness heritage.”