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CONSERVATION NEWS

Jan 2014

Response to Senator Wyden’s “O&C Act of 2013”


The Honorable Ron Wyden

United States Senate

Washington, D.C., 20510

January 27, 2014


Dear Senator Wyden:


Umpqua Watershed’s, Inc. (UW) has represented the conservation interests of residents in the Umpqua, Coos and Coquille watersheds since 1995. We want to congratulate you on the elements of the “O&C Act of 2013” that strengthen ecosystems and communities. But we also need to point out the components of the legislation we are unable to support, explain why, and suggest ways that the ultimate law can be improved.


We enthusiastically support the conveyance of lands back to the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians and appreciate your efforts to redress a wrong committed generations ago. We also are pleased to see more wilderness areas in a state with only 4% of its unique landscapes so designated. We applaud your commitment to both of these ideals and believe that these actions will bring jobs, opportunity and equity to the Umpqua.


We are also encouraged to see that you have defined “ecological forestry” to mean forestry that “(A) incorporates principles of natural forest development (including the role of natural disturbances in the initiation, development, and maintenance of stands and landscape mosaics; and (B) is based on the application of the best available ecological understanding of forest ecosystems in managing those ecosystems to achieve integrated environmental, economic, and cultural outcomes.” This aligns perfectly with UW’s Restoration Principles (attached). We have great respect for Drs. Johnson and Franklin on whose work much of your bill is based and are glad they are advising you.


However, we believe improvements must be made on a number of important aspects of the bill as it is currently written concerning:


the application of ecological science to management policies and practices,


the primary social benefits of public lands, and


the generation of revenue needed for county services.


1. Ecological Concerns


We believe that the document upon which you base much of this bill (Franklin & Johnson, 2013) is as much a political document as an ecological one. For example, using the age of trees to determine which should be cut and which protected is not related to their ecological function -- it is based solely on the tolerance of society for their cutting. Size, species, distributions, decay conditions and other ecological factors are far more important to dependent wildlife than arbitrary age limits.


We agree that restoring forests to their historic conditions requires us to understand their disturbance history. In the vast majority of O&C forests, the predominant disturbance agent was fire. However, local data show that using plant associations to create two over-simplfied categories -- “moist” and “dry” forests -- does little to help us reconstruct historic fire regimes. For example, the Little River watershed is mostly designated as “moist forest” and therefore deemed to have experienced infrequent, standing replacing fires. Actual data from three analyses (Little River Watershed Analysis, 1995; Van Norman, 1998; Carloni, 2005) all indicate that fire was much more frequent, patchy, and less intense in this watershed than assumed by a “moist” categorization.


Umpqua forests were created largely by mixed severity fires that were often deliberately ignited by Indian land managers (Carloni, 2005). But local data indicate that there is little correlation between plant association and disturbance history – plant associations were chosen as a proxy for disturbance history simply because those GIS data layers already existed and therefore allowed simpler modeling of how much volume could be produced.


Besides the obvious problems with the moist/dry forest classification, the maps provided to you by the BLM have many inaccuracies. A number of our members can provide hard data to prove that their neighboring forests fit your bill’s definition of stands that belong in the “old growth reserve” system. This gives us even less confidence that plant associations have been mapped correctly. All maps must be thoroughly ground-truthed before any management decisions are made.


Besides the obvious problems with the moist/dry forest classification, the maps provided to you by the BLM have many inaccuracies. A number of our members can provide hard data to prove that their neighboring forests fit your bill’s definition of stands that belong in the “old growth reserve” system. This gives us even less confidence that plant associations have been mapped correctly. All maps must be thoroughly ground-truthed before any management decisions are made.


UW board members faithfully attended the “collaborative” meetings of the “Secretarial Pilot Project” process convened by Secretary Salazar held at the Roseburg BLM Office and in the field, and provided input at every step. We strongly advocated running the logging pilots in the Little River Adaptive Management Area -- a designation specifically reserved for such projects under the Northwest Forest Plan. We were told that there wasn’t enough native forest left for a “restoration” demonstration there. The focus was clearly on getting big timber out and not on restoring acres of forest.


We agreed with Drs. Franklin and Johnson that many types of critical habitat are nearly extinct on private lands and must be maintained on federal lands. But we argued that it makes little sense to convert one rare habitat into another rare habitat when we have so many plantations (that mimic nothing in ecological history) needing treatment for fire resiliency. The White Castle Timber Sale is one such rare habitat.


The White Castle sale is a “pilot” project that aims to create “complex early seral habitat” (as distinct from the simplified early seral monoculture plantations on adjacent private industrial tree farms) that was historically created by fires that left behind “snag patches” of shrubs and large burned trees. This habitat is to be generated by creating clearcuts of varying sizes with patches of retained trees to mimic “rare” complex early seral habitat (although no data were referenced to indicate that this is actually a rare habitat type on the Umpqua). The White Castle sale sits in one of the most age- and species-diverse native mosaics you will find in the Northwest -- far rarer, we believe, than complex early seral habitat.


Ironically, complex early seral habitat was being created much more authentically by several small, ecologically valuable wildfires that burned on the Umpqua while we sat and talked. Given recent firefighting history, an abundance of this type of habitat will continue to be created despite our best efforts to stop it. But perhaps the biggest irony here is that at the insistence of timber industry representatives, the openings in the White Castle sale are to be replanted with 200 trees to the acre, thus defeating the ecological purpose and shortening the functional longevity of that habitat.


While Drs. Franklin and Johnson were early proponents of “Adaptive Management”, that phrase does not appear once in this legislation. Adaptive Management is an iterative, scientific process that requires well-designed, long-term monitoring of results before a management tool is applied more widely. Not even a year has passed since other pilot project areas were logged, and White Castle is still on the stump. Without long-term data from these experiments, it is too soon to scale up.


Ecological Solutions


Use Historic Range of Variability (HRV) to determine stand and landscape histories.


Data from the Umpqua show that plant associations are a poor proxy for disturbance history. There is no substitute for real, site-specific data. Many methods are available to reconstruct stand and landscape histories. Data should be gathered in a systematic way to predict and influence future stand and landscape trajectories to stay within historic extremes.


Restoration needs should drive harvest schedules, not artificial harvest quotas.


The focus should be shifted from board feet logged to acres restored. By “restoration” we mean returning both stands and landscapes to high levels of ecological function in terms of habitat quality and forest productivity consistent with UW’s Restoration Principles.


Genetic corridors need to be built into landscape plans.


Management should concentrate on improving habitat on BLM plantation stands rather than risking the degradation of already-functioning primary forest habitat. While it is true that under some conditions, stands with heavy in-growth can burn more intensely, the recent Douglas Complex fires have shown that native stands are at much higher risk from surrounding highly flammable plantations than they are from the fuels within them. Improving fire resiliency of plantations first will best protect native stands and the important habitat they contain.


Ecological forestry principles should be demonstrated on plantations first.


Although estimates vary on the number of years the BLM can produce timber volume through thinning existing plantations, no one believes that we have less than ten years of sustainable harvests that will produce a steady, predictable flow of logs to mills while at the same time improving habitat and fire resiliency. Despite assertions to the contrary, conservationists strongly support these efforts and have NOT appealed thinning sales in second growth stands. Therefore UW recommends that the BLM be directed to concentrate on previously managed plantations while only limited, adaptive management experiments in primary stands are conducted.


Reincorporate Adaptive Management into management regimes.


Scaling up the White Castle style of experimental forestry before we even see its short term ecological effects is simply irresponsible. While we support small-scale experiments in designated Adaptive Management Areas, we cannot support the wide-scale application of unproven management practices until they are thoroughly vetted by a broad range of scientists.


2. Social Concerns


UW urged the BLM to limit pilot projects to stands that had already been managed, but again, restoration appeared to not be the top priority. The White Castle forest -- however it is officially defined -- is an evocative, multi-generation primary forest that grows along a major Indian trail. In one important way, the White Castle experiment has already been a success: now we know the limits to social tolerance for this style of forestry in this type of forest. More White Castles will only create more tree villages -- with or without this legislation.


UW takes fundamental issue with referring to this legislation as a “jobs” bill by providing timber for the mill owners who influenced this bill. These forests are the natural heritage of the American people, not a storehouse of surplus logs for industry to use to replace the logs they are shipping to Asia. These forests are invaluable sources of clean air and water, habitat for diminishing species, stores of carbon for a faltering atmosphere, and places of recreation and spiritual renewal.


UW is gravely concerned with the legal “streamlining” in your bill designed to make citizen challenges to management plans difficult or impossible. These forests belong to the citizens of the United States, and closing off their rights to defend their land is just plain un-American. And the 10 year duration of the two mandated (moist and dry) Environmental Impact Statements with restricted opportunity for modification will not only limit public participation for that period, it will also hinder the flow of new science into the discussion.


While we applaud your successes in building collaborations on Eastside forests, restricting public participation will close the door to similar efforts on the Westside. Shutting a major stakeholder group out of management decisions on public lands is highly divisive and counter-productive to durable solutions.


One of our board members is a veteran of the Umpqua Land Exchange Project of the mid-1990s and watched as well over a million inflation-adjusted tax dollars were spent on an effort that resulted in no land exchanges and only served to enrich several OSU engineering professors. The O&C checkerboard will simply never be “blocked up. All past attempts to do so have either ended in failure or in a net loss of ecological value on public lands. We urge you to abandon this historic dead-end.


Social Solutions


Follow the law, don’t subvert it.


We believe that limiting public participation will only fuel public resistance to ecological forestry instead of helping us become partners in shaping it. Therefore NEPA, ESA and the other bedrock environmental laws need to stay in full effect. This will encourage more dialog and the kind of collaborations that have had success on the Siuslaw NF and on the Eastside. The Elk Creek Project on the Tiller Ranger District of the Umpqua National Forest involving the USFS, UW, the Partnership for Umpqua Rivers, the Cow Creek Tribe, and other stakeholders is a collaborative model for Westside mixed conifer restoration that is already working and can be emulated on nearby O&C lands.


Don’t trade the checkerboard.


Rather than trying to “block up” O&C lands, UW believes that the dispersed pattern of land ownership allows federal lands to provide islands of habitat refuges necessary to “rescue” subpopulations of species that have been displaced from private lands. Creating large blocks of private land will simply create large biological deserts that will impede gene flow and exacerbate forest-dependent species decline. This language should be dropped from the final law.


3. Economic Concerns


Living in Douglas County, we are acutely aware of the withdrawal pains the county is experiencing from the reduction of historically high but unsustainable logging receipts. We are also aware that the funds that flowed from the liquidation of much of the Nation’s old-growth forests have spawned an entitlement mentality and a refusal to raise local taxes (Douglas County’s tax base is currently the 4th lowest of the 33 Oregon counties). The pervasive belief that “if we can only return to the [unsustainable] logging levels of the past, everything will be fine” has been a disincentive to diversify our economy and move away from timber-dependency.


In the face of sharp declines in forest-dependent species, rising CO2 levels, and uncooperative private owners who refuse to share responsibility for mitigating these problems by improving ecological function on their portion of the landscape, federal lands provide the only buffers we have against these larger biosphere-level problems. Pretending that we can cut our way back to prosperity is an illusion, especially when more appropriate funding solutions exist (see below).


Economic Solutions


Investment in America’s natural heritage rather than “safety net” handouts.


As noted, 50 years of receipts from unsustainable logging has led to an entitlement mentality in Oregon’s southwestern counties that is unlikely to change (witness Josephine County’s unwillingness to raise taxes to fund even the most basic of county services). While we greatly appreciate your efforts to continue to reauthorize safety net funding for formerly timber-dependent communities, we know that this, too, is unsustainable. Rather than continually asking for more county welfare from US taxpayers, it makes more sense to ask for funds to repair America’s broken forests.


Many well-paying jobs can be created with federal funds to restore our forests and increase their future values to the nation. Reauthorizing the Stewardship Authority so that stewardship contracting and Stewardship Agreements can support restoration work on the landscape would be a big step in this direction. Local workers will send local logs to local mills and generate timber receipts for local governments -- everyone wins.


Invest in educating and training the ecological workforce of the future.


Training and education in ecological forestry theory and practice will be critical to the success of this new approach. Increased funding to train and educate the new ecological workforce will strengthen high schools and community colleges in the region as they serve as conduits of skills and knowledge to students who will be the vanguard of this new forest management paradigm. UW is currently training, educating and paying crews of young, at-risk youth to do wildlife surveys mentored by Umpqua Community College professors and agency biologists -- dozens more youth could be included in these life-changing efforts with increased federal funding.


Promote non-destructive means of making a living in Oregon’s forests.


Although the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (funded by timber harvest taxes to promote the industry) derides the promotion of recreation as a replacement for timber jobs, these are well-paying jobs with high “second paychecks” including job satisfaction and high quality of life benefits. A recent study conducted in Douglas County concluded that every steelhead caught on the Umpqua is worth $1500 to local businesses. Any realtor in Douglas County will tell you that the natural beauty of the area attracts new buyers and beautiful surroundings contribute significantly to a property’s value. The ecotourism industry is growing in many ecologically unique parts of the world and should be promoted here as well. More effort needs to be invested in secondary wood products -- restoration activities will be generating lots of small diameter logs and poles that need markets, and there is great promise in the production of biochar from nonmerchantable biomass.


Create other sources of County funding from Oregon’s forests.


In 2011 alone, over one billion board feet of raw logs were shipped to the Asian rim, denying Oregon’s workers over 11,000 jobs. This is unconscionable. While Congressman DeFazio is correct when he points out that attaching an export tax to raw log exports is prohibited by the US constitution, UW believes that Oregonians can solve this problem without any help from Congress.


The Oregon Forest Products Harvest Tax and the Forestland Special Assessment Program formulas are way out of date and extremely low (at the moment, roughly $3.75 per 1000 board feet), and the severance tax was eliminated for large landowners. Oregonians could choose to increase the tax on timber harvested from large industrial timber tracts and earmark those dollars for county services, but refund those taxes if the logs are delivered to a mill within the borders of our state.


Increasing the harvest tax on logs exported from industrial timberland would have several positive impacts on the local economy:


First, the rising cost of export logs would make our finished lumber more attractive to overseas buyers, allowing us to add value to our forest products on this side of the Pacific.


Second, if export prices continue to rise, then industrial timber sellers will simply build the harvest tax into their cost of doing business, and more tax revenue will become available to fund county services and community transition.


Third, if export prices drop, then there will be a greater financial incentive to deliver logs to Oregon mills in order to avoid the increased harvest tax. Increasing the supply of private logs to the mills will make raw material less expensive and increase the competitiveness of our finished products on both domestic and overseas markets.


In Conclusion


With hearings coming up in a few days, we assume that your legislation will pass the Senate with little if any modification from its current form. However, we predict that your bill and the one sponsored by Reps. DeFazio, Schrader and Walden are destined to meet in a House/Senate conference committee where the improvements we suggest can be adopted. We urge you to seriously consider the vital ecological, social, and economic solutions we have recommended and incorporate them into the final law.


Sincerely,

Thomas McGregor, President

Ken Carloni, Ph.D., Education Chair

Patrick Quinn, Conservation Chair

Stan Petrowski, Restoration Chair

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