Loggers don't get a free pass on the environment

Now with serious talk in Congress that there might be larger timber harvests on Oregon’s federal lands, some Oregon environmentalists are promising, of course, to try to increase regulation of private timberland.

“We’re definitely looking at it. Oregon has the weakest forest practices on the West Coast,” said Oregon Wild Executive Director Sean Stevens, according to the Salem’s Statesman Journal. “If we start logging federal forests, you might see a shifting priority for private lands, and some of these private forest owners might not like that but they have sort of been given a free pass.”

If that sounds like a cliche-strangled caricature of Oregon environmental groups’ attitude toward timber harvests, we wish that was all it is. Instead, it puts on promiscuous display just how proudly indifferent some are to the concept of logging as a renewable and recyclable resource, logging as a way of protecting Oregonians from forest fires, logging as a way to create jobs, or even logging as a way to provide the wood for so many of the products everyone uses every day.

The bill Oregon Wild is concerned about is a bipartisan product of Oregon Reps. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat, Kurt Schrader, a Republican, and Greg Walden, a Republican.

It’s about Oregon’s O&C lands. Those are 2.4 million acres of federal land originally granted to the Oregon and California Railroad Company in the 1860s. The federal government reasserted control over the land in 1916. And in 1937, Congress said the land would be managed for the benefit of the counties the land is in, as a way of compensating those counties for being surrounded by productive land that they could not use. The counties get a share of the timber receipts from the land.

The bill would put 1.6 million of Oregon’s O&C land in a trust for timber production. The bill bans logging in old growth and puts some 90,000 acres into protected wilderness. The DeFazio bill also creates a state trust and a state board appointed by Oregon’s governor to oversee the management of O&C lands.

Oregon Wild’s campaign against the bill is not without sophistication and thoughtfulness. But the bill does not make Oregon more of the “home of the clearcut.”

As the Statesman Journal reports, “loggers would be placed on a 100- to 120- year rotation — more than double the time allowed between rotational clear cutting on state and private lands under the Oregon Forest Practices Act.”

So back then to Sean Stevens’ oversimplification that Oregon’s private forest owners have sort of been given a free pass.

The Oregon Department of Forestry’s administrative rules and forest practices act run to some 88 pages. Stevens may want to argue that the rules on timber harvesting, road construction and maintenance, slash treatment, planting, pesticide use, protecting water and wildlife could be more strict. But it’s hard to see how anyone could credibly argue they have been given any sort of free pass.