Skip to comments.Senator Doug Whitsett E-Newsletter
Posted on 09/17/2011 7:36:31 AM PDT by Twotone
Natural systems endure an ever evolving cycle of growth and deterioration. The deterioration accumulates and dominates whenever we fail to put the growth to productive use. Too often, failure to manage and utilize the productive growth results in catastrophic destruction through disease and wildfire. This boom and bust cycle is the natural way.
We recently returned from a road trip through four western states. Throughout the trip we observed the stark difference in the management of private and public lands. In general, private lands show the pride of ownership while public lands demonstrate the widespread deterioration inherent in failure to manage resources for sustainable production. Nowhere is that failed management more apparent that in our national forests and parks. Our current federal land management is clearly not working.
Our congressional delegation, lead by the efforts of Congressman Greg Walden, is actively exploring a completely different forest management paradigm. They are studying the concept of public land trusts wherein portions of the federal forests could be managed for sustainable forest production by private sector businesses or local government entities. These trusts could serve to re-establish productive timber harvest from federal forests and to collect forest waste biomass for the production of renewable energy. The public land trusts could re-establish appropriate grazing management to both utilize that forage resource and to further reduce the risks of wildfire.
Our federal government owns 60 percent of Oregons forest lands. Another 34 percent is privately owned, 4 percent is owned by the state, and tribal interests own the other 2 percent.
As recently as 1989 Oregon annual timber harvest exceeded 8.5 billion board feet. Nearly 5 billion board feet of that timber was harvested from Oregons federally owned forest lands equaling 60% of the total Oregon timber production. More than 400 timber mills provided family wage jobs to nearly 46 thousand Oregon families. Our per capita income was among the top third in the nation and Oregons rural economy was thriving. Timber harvest taxes were a mainstay of local government budgets, providing a significant portion of county expenditures for education, public safety, human services and transportation infrastructure.
Then disaster struck in the form of regulations imposed by court order and Congressional action. The Northern Spotted Owl was proposed for listing as a threatened species in 1989. Two years later a federal district court ruled that the owl was threatened under the Endangered Species Act and that nearly unlimited critical habitat was required to preserve the bird from extinction. Congress reacted with the Northwest Forest Protection Plan that virtually outlawed the harvest of mature trees on federally owned land.
Oregons annual timber harvest from federal lands plummeted from 60 percent to 12 percent. Nearly 300 timber mills closed and more than 30,000 family wage jobs were lost. What once was Oregons largest industrial sector has been reduced to a shadow of its former stature. Klamath, Jackson and Josephine counties together lost 41 mills and 9,000 forest sector jobs. In fact, those federal actions have cost the three counties more than 21,000 total private sector jobs.
Congress appeared to recognize that it is unfair for the federal government to own two thirds of the land in a county and not to participate in the funding base for those communities. It responded by adopting the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-determination Act in the year 2000. The law was intended to act as a funding bridge for local governments while rural communities developed non-forest dependent private sector jobs. The Act provided federal tax money to the counties in lieu of timber harvest taxes for six years. The money was to be used by affected counties to help fund education and transportation. It also authorized county projects for search, rescue and emergency services including fire fighting, community service work camps, conservation and recreation easement purchases, forest related education opportunities, fire prevention and county planning for community forests.
Portions of the Act have been reauthorized twice to continue some of the payments to counties. However, Congress has apparently forgotten its obligation as representatives of federal land owners to participate in the community revenue base. Each time it has become more difficult to convince a congressional majority to continue the funding. The Act is due for reauthorization this September and payment to the counties is scheduled to cease next January. Our congressional delegation is not at all confident that reauthorization will occur, especially in the midst of the current critical needs to curtail federal government spending.
Congress appears to also have ignored the fact that, because two thirds of the land in many of the affected rural counties is owned by the federal government, the opportunity for alternative job creation is severely limited. Although it assumed that reindustrialization would occur within a decade, it provided virtually no meaningful incentives for that alternative industrialization to occur and to replace the lost jobs. It also ignored the reality that its actions directly destroyed the multi-generational culture of timber dependent employment in many of these communities.
Moreover, the federal government has virtually stopped managing its public land resources. It has demonstrably failed to produce meaningful economic value or even renewable energy from the land it holds in trust for the people. Furthermore, it is actively working to close down the publics access to their public lands. Our vast federal forest resources are being allowed to deteriorate, to naturally die and rot in the forests, until catastrophic wildfires destroy all merchantable value, not to mention millions of forest animals.
Public land trusts have been quite successful in other states as well as in other nations. They have served to both improve the productivity and the appearance of lands owned by the public. They have created family wage jobs in the rural communities that are needed to effectively manage and harvest our vast federal forest resources. We applaud Congressman Waldens leadership. His attempt to convince Congress to change direction is welcome and long overdue. We all should support his efforts to work toward a return to the productive forest management practices that sustained our rural communities for generations.
Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon no one will.
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