Wyden says he’ll work to raise timber harvests

I left Oregon in 1988.. about 25 years ago.. and some of the concerns and the folks were the same, but it sounds like folks like Wyden who have been involved for this whole period of time, are ready for something different. And perhaps more importantly, the folks like Wyden, who want something different, are in positions to help make it happen, and can’t be dismissed in a hail of partisanising rhetoric.

Here’s the link and below are some excerpts:

“The cut level in southwestern Oregon has been, in my view, unacceptable,” U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told the Medford Rogue Rotary Club Friday. “You can be very sure that I will be pushing hard through hearings as chairman of this committee to turn that around.”
Wyden’s comments came after being told that Rough and Ready Lumber Co. in Cave Junction had been forced to close for a week and lay off its workers because of a lack of logs.
In an interview with the Mail Tribune following his talk, Wyden said he did not have a specific figure in mind but felt the harvest level was too low for the economy and the environment.
Much of the local federal forestland is unnaturally overstocked, creating a situation ripe for wildfire and disease, he noted.
He also expressed concern that sequestration — mandatory federal budget cuts — would result in more harvest reduction because of cuts to the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The cuts would go into effect March 1 unless Congress and the Obama administration can settle their financial differences.
“Let’s just say it (the timber harvest) is way short of what the pledged target has been,” he said. “They are a long, long way from the pledged target, and that is what we have to change.”
Wyden said finding a way to break the impasse over logging is critical to the survival of rural Oregon communities.
“There is a common thread among all these communities,” he stressed. “They want good paying jobs. They want to protect their treasure. And they want to make sure they don’t become ghost towns.”
In answer to a question from the audience, Wyden indicated he would reach out to all sides in the debate over how much federal timberland should be harvested. That includes Gov. John Kitzhaber’s forest task force, he noted.
“We all are trying to find common ground between timber folks and environmental folks — that’s really the coin of the realm,” he said.
He observed it can be done, noting he was able to create a bill for the east side of the Cascades after working with diverse factions. “Trust is the key,” he said.


“My top priority as chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee is to find that sweet spot where we can come as close to possible to having it all,” he said. “Let’s make sure we wring every bit of this American advantage out for our country.”

He also noted that Oregon is in a position to take advantage of renewable energy, including hydropower, geothermal power and biomass power.

“Overstocked stands are magnets for fire,” he said, noting material from thinned forests can produce biomass energy while reducing the threat of catastrophic fires.

“When we make our forests healthier with that kind of thinning work, we also have a healthier economy,” he said. “We have a chance then to do right by both our families and the environment.”

That should include salvaging trees killed by drought, disease or wildfire, he added later, in answer to a question from the audience.

23 thoughts on “Wyden says he’ll work to raise timber harvests”

  1. I wonder if using a ban on clearcutting could be a valuable bargaining chip. I doubt that the BLM would buy into that but, the Forest Service might want to offer that up. There are already some diameter limits on the east side, hovering at about 21″ dbh. A better diameter limit for the west side might help people buy into more west side harvesting. I understand that 60″ dbh is the “cut-off” there, although such large trees rarely get cut. Both sides must compromise and abandon previous preferences in order to make Wyden’s plan work. Yes, compromise is one of those C-words the preservationists dislike.

  2. Larry: Clearcutting is a valuable tool that shouldn’t be reduced to a bargaining chip. Nature does it all of the time with volcanic eruptions, windstorms, landslides, floods, droughts, and glaciers — and many valuable plants, such as Douglas-fir and grasses, have responded accordingly. It is part of their natural life cycle and why we plant (and then mow) lawns, wheat, and tree farms.

    Likewise, diameter-screens are a political tool that are having negative economic and biological consequences on so-called “treated” stands of trees almost everywhere they’re used. There is nothing scientific about them, zero, with the exception of political science. You’ve described several instances yourself in which they have been poorly used. I can’t think of any examples where they should be considered for much of any reason, perhaps excepting aesthetics and other cultural values.

    The real problem, as I see it, is that when we say “timber industry” and “environmentalists” these days, we are really referring to the small army of lawyers representing each of these politicized factions — and lawyers on both sides of the table have been very well paid the past 20 years parsing verbs and adjectives put into law by our elected officials (who are also either lawyers or are well represented by lawyers themselves). It is the rural communities and families, the taxpayer, our forests and grasslands, and our wildlife that are paying the true price for all of this meaningless (and highly expensive) time in courts. Which have not restored a single job (other than legal and accounting, maybe) or maintained a single forest or “preserved” a single species since this charade began nearly 40 years ago.

    We need many more experienced resource managers and many fewer lawyers working on these problems if they are to be resolved, in my opinion. We also need a better informed citizenry and better trained scientists in order to help make such progress. In short, we need leadership. Some of our politicians continue to say the right things, but they’ve also been the very same people saying the same (or similar) things for the past 20 years, and to no real or lasting effect. It’s a gordion knot that needs severing — as pointed out in an earlier post quoting Jack Ward Thomas — and compromise and stewardship and legal actions the past several decades have only made things worse. In my opinion.

    • The choice is between compromise or more litigation. We can do “something”, or we can face more endless court battles. Of course, there will be some who will never give up filing lawsuits. The third option is to use a decade, or more, to educate the public, and force reforms. None of those options are perfect, and it will take compromise to get needed work done in both economically and environmentally sound ways. I’m not willing to sacrifice forests just to be “right”.

      Here in California, we have sacrificed clearcutting more than 5 acres. We’ve sacrificed the cutting of huge trees, as well. These are small compromises in the scientific arena but, we have pushed forward with beneficial thinning projects that survive legal scrutiny, for the most part. We have moved the debate from timber volumes to acres treated. Yes, taking more is sometimes better but, there is also some economic benefit to leaving more to harvest later.

    • Fine comments Bob.

      My first take on the article linked above was that it was nothing more than a bunch of canned rhetoric. I was put off by it…then I continued my day and thought about it more.
      Instead of commenting here today I decided to write a fairly long letter to Senator Wyden.

      The jist of my letter cited the need for meaningful reforms (not de-regulation) to the NEPA, ESA and EAJA based almost exactly on your arguements above.

      I think raising the awareness of the average citizen to the fact that a few committed individuals/groups are holding hostage responsible land management is key to making progress. Perhaps that what collaborative efforts are intended to do and why the big emphasis on that avenue?

      Education and outreach….Relentless pressure relentlessly applied….these are mantras that have worked for the enviros for some time. Perhaps the Senator’s interview wasn’t rhetoric at all? We’ve seen what can happen when there is enough backlash to rediculous regulation (think charismatic megafauna). Congress DOES have the power to override the sillyness. Once they get their heads out of their budgetary arse of course.

  3. I just came back from a flight in a small aircraft, cruising around the state of Oregon. The clearcutting which has been done in this state is obscene…yet there are no logs and we need to cut much, much more. Where did those logs go? Well, we know where they went don’t we? So, rather than getting all worked up about cutting more, possibly the answer is found in changing the way the timber industry ships off what is cut. And, possibly we need to change the way we use the resources we have. There are alternatives to cutting…ones that will keep people employed without denuding the entire state.

    • Certainly, Wyden (and no one else) is not proposing going back to 1000 acre clearcuts of old growth on Federal lands, or “denuding the entire state”. What would you change on private lands that would make Federal forests “better”?

    • Jerry, I don’t understand.. it sounds like you mean cutting = clearcutting= denuding the “entire state”. Now I know, since I used to live in Oregon, that much of the state is actually not forested.. in fact the juniper is encroaching on grasslands. For example..

      As a former resident of central Oregon, I hope you are not guilty of West Side-ism.;).I had hoped that had died with the Big Timber days.

      • No West Side-ism here. You’ll find me on both sides of the hill. So based on the lightning fast responses to my post, obviously the participants, Sharon included, are a bit sensitive about the subject matter. There are a few of us out here who equate forest practices, especially clearcutting,to the slaughter of Buffalo herds. It is obscene and unconscionable. The argument which states that “what is obscene is leaving a stand to burn or rot, rather than cutting it down” is tantamount to saying, if we hadn’t slaughtered the buffalo, they would have died from starvation or disease anyway. (and besides, they’re a renewable resource)

        There is a large army of folks out here who object to clearcuts. As long as the timber industry hangs their hat on the same old practices and the same old arguments, there will be a logjam.

        13 years ago, the federal government started subsidizing the counties for the loss of timber revenues. The stage was set for retooling and rebirth of the industry and here we are chomping at the bit to start cutting again. What a waste. The polititians do not have the power to simply fix it for logging. They have to bend to the will of the people or they’ll be looking for a new job. We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!

        I encourage people to fly up the McKenzie river at low altitude or up the coastline from Newport to Astoria and see the blight bestowed by the timber industry.

        We can change and we can make it work for everyone. (with the exception of a few who get very wealthy cutting trees and putting them on a boat) It is time for the timber industry and the polititians who are so beholden to the timber industry to make some sweeping changes. Those changes will involve looking after the folks who live here and looking after the land we call home (at the same time).

        • Show us where Wyden wants clearcuts, please. Show us where Federal logs get put on boats, please. Many of us in the Forest Service aren’t fans of clearcutting, either. You cannot use a broad brush to slander us in that way. The last clearcut I was involved with was in 1989, and that was on a hillside of thick bug-killed white fir. Clearcuts should only be used as a last resort for making an impacted piece of land back into a forest.

          My Mom lived in Coos Bay for 30 years, and I have seen clearcuts come and go. Trees grow really fast there, when water and sunlight are plentiful. I really think that there should be an absolute slope limitation, as well as acreage limits. Those clearcuts above major rivers, using cable logging systems, should be re-thought. Yes, loggers and foresters have some arguments but, IMHO, the impacts exceed the benefits. Yes, one part of that opinion is a selfish love for the scenic qualities of big trees, clean water and wildlife.

          • Larry…I did not mean to slander anyone. I’m not saying that logs from federal land are being shipped overseas, nor that clearcutting is intended for federal land (except where the O&C Trust lands are concerned…but that’s a mere 1.5 million acres)…however, if the harvest of private lands were not shipped overseas, the mills would be awash with logs. There needs to be incentives to divert a percentage of the private land harvest to domestic mills and we need to substantially tax the exports to finance the restoration of federal lands. By moving in that direction, the mills are supplied for domestic production and you guys at the USFS can focus on the real task at hand rather than board foot volume. And, rather than arguing that a tree which is 60 inches is not really old growth because old growth in that location is 200 years old and the 60 inch tree is only 120 years old (therefore it should be cut) you guys can do the work you are charged with doing…preserving and protecting our national forests…not cutting them down for the profit of the timber companies.

            Mr. Defazio stated in a previous correspondence that it is unconstitutional to impose a tax on resource exports…so this idea cannot work. That leads back to the staus quo. The status quo won’t work as long as there are folks who will fight to oppose it. A classic and unending logjam. Change can happen…it just takes the will to make it happen.

            • I think the real deal is that if logs for domestic use were worth as much as export logs, the mills would be milling more private logs. It is about supply and demand. There are plenty of logs that could be sustainably harvested off Federal lands, if the value and demand were there. Are you suggesting that there should be subsidies for domestic logging and milling? As long as Federal logs are less accessible and values are low, the value of private logs stays up. We need to make more things out of local wood, rather than out of Chinese plastics. It is not our task to keep the mills supplied at full capacity. They need to take our excess trees, while leaving a better-functioning public forest.

              I wasn’t arguing for cutting 60 inch trees, regardless of age. Age should not be the yardstick for making those decisions. No one cares when a 150 year old 14 inch tree is cut. Large young trees shouldn’t be cut, either.

              It seems that Jerry is a perfect example of how much more education of the public is needed. It is not just about jobs, profits and exports. Wyden is also proposing sensible forest management fulfilling multiple goals, including forest health and public safety. This is about cutting just enough timber, using site-specific modern science. Of course, we still need full transparency, too. Finally, it seems that everyone (except the lawyers) doesn’t like the “status quo”. I prefer to follow the opinions and advice of the Forest Service “ologists”, rather than the “eco-warriors”.

              • We’re not that far off from agreement. The value of the export logs is high because they flow through without tariff. That can change. You may not have been arguing for the cut of 60 inch trees but in my experience, your counterparts have. I am familiar with a project in which the board feet count was paramount. One of the arguments raised was that the “old growth” involved wasn’t old at all, it was just big. The “ologists” you refer to have a “job security” bias that the “eco-warriors” seek to balance. Level the playing field in the market and bias goes away. (maybe the eco-warriors do too)

                • But Jerry, isn’t it a good thing to export what our country produces, to help with the balance of payments? The Canadians seem to think it’s good to export their lumber. Why would it be a good idea in Canada and a bad idea in the US?

                  • To ship off unprocessed natural resources for the profit of private industry? No I don’t think it’s a good idea…unless of course there is a substantial benefit beyond just a balance of payments.

                    • What if those logs are “certified green”? There could be an international market for sustainably-harvested logs, at a premium price. Once again, if there is no market for boards here right now, mills don’t want to use logs for lumber. When logs are exported, it is usually the landowner who makes the money, and not the mill. Some owners aren’t willing to wait for the value of domestic lumber to go up, or watch the value of their logs to fall. Since wood is a renewable product, and plastic isn’t, we should be using more of our glut of Federal timber. Supply and demand controls the prices. Personally, I’d rather see our wood stay here but, if it is going to die, rot and burn…..

                    • Jerry, I think it depends on what your mental model is. Say if you are talking about commodity grains, it is OK to ship them out to others.. but instead of “private industry” we call those people “farmers.” I looked up some of the information from the Agricultural Marketing Service here.


                      Here are a couple of interest…

                      FRUIT AND VEGETABLE –Facilitates the strategic marketing of fruit, vegetable, nuts and specialty items in domestic and international markets, while ensuring fair trading practices, and promoting a competitive and efficient marketplace that benefits producers, traders, and consumers.

                      LIVESTOCK, POULTRY AND SEED— Provides timely, high-quality, unbiased service that facilitates the orderly marketing and distribution of livestock, poultry, and egg products, while simultaneously fostering goodwill in the global marketplace. These practices are maintained through a continued commitment to improve operating procedures to meet customer needs, and to incorporate new research findings and technological advancements.

                      I like “fair trading practices” and “fostering goodwill in the global marketplace.”

                    • So, if our grain mills have no product to produce flour, it would seem reasonable to export our entire resource because the crop is more valuable exported. The millworkers are out of work and there is no bread on the shelves.

                      It seems to be OK to allow the tree farmers to export, while the mills shut down for lack of logs and the solution is to cut timber from federal land, regardless of environmental laws and regardless of the desires of the owners of that land. You can be just a bit patronizing Sharon.

                    • 1) I certainly didn’t mean to be patronizing, I meant to examine what we do with other natural resources and compare it to timber, and see if we have expectations that are dissimilar across the different resources.

                      2) I think “not allowing” folks to export is pretty rare. Exports are generally considered to be a good thing. We have apparently have enough wood products in the country, so it’s not like the users are suffering. We have had tariffs on exports to protect industry, but I think that those are regulated internationally by WTO. Maybe the best solution is a strong “buy local wood” movement. I am all for that.

                      3) Environmental regulations don’t say “don’t cut wood on federal land”, in fact, legislation on our public land specifically includes timber cutting, grazing and mineral leasing. We have gone through many discussions here where claims were made about violating environmental laws and yet judges upheld the FS. Congress could designate no timber production from federal land, but so far hasn’t done so.

                      The owners of that land elect officials like Wyden who is apparently carrying forth their desires on that topic..that’s pretty much how we tell what peoples’ opinions are about things… by their elected officials. I don’t know how else to do it.

                • There you go again, Jerry. Painting them as corrupt hurts your argument. If that were so, we would have been cutting trees in goshawk nesting habitat. An active nest was found in one of our cutting units so, I am sure it will be dropped from the project, despite being marked and cruised. In my career, I haven’t seen a revolving door on ologist positions, other than someone wanting to move up or lateral to where they want to be. Now, if we were back in the 80’s, I might believe you. Our wildlife biologist has been in place for at least 7 years. He’s tough, but fair, and I trust him to do his job well. Yes, I have seen ologists under pressure but, with District Rangers being ologists, that happens much less now. We have rules, laws and policies we have to follow, instead of ologist opinions.

                  The 60 inch thing was a part of the compromise for the owls, in exchange for dedicated owl territories. Some logger-friendly folks still want to hold the environmentalists to that compromise, regardless of the impacts. I think we should pursue a better compromise where less lands are totally off-limits, in favor of projects that make forests more resilient and functional.

                    • If this were the case, wouldn’t it be exceptionally easy to spot the broken laws, stopping what you claim? In today’s political climate, that should be quite easy to do. If that were true, we would surely be seeing dozens and dozens of ologists becoming whistleblowers, or just quitting altogether. Just pointing at the Forest Service and yelling “CORRUPT!” isn’t going to prove anything.

  4. Jerry: I don’t know how you are defining “obscene,” but I would agree that historical clearcuts in Oregon could have been much better designed, for the most part. If your flight also covered the I-5 corridor most places between Medford and Portland, or 101 along the Coast, you would have also seen where most of the logs actually ended up — and the results can be measured in post-war jobs and American homes, schools, and commercial constructions. I’m guessing that is a different answer than you are implying. To me, the most obscene landscapes I have watched develop in Oregon over my lifetime are the hundreds of thousands of acres of bug-killed and fire-killed forestlands that have been left to rot and/or reburn in place the past 30 years. What an ugly, awful, and unnecessary waste of wildlife and resources. We should be embarrassed and ashamed by what we are leaving future generations at this time. Historical patterns of clearcutting are the least of it.

  5. How did this get turned into a discussion of clearcutting? Clearcutting is one of many management tools and it can be used or misused, but it’s not the issue at hand. Wyden was talking about management v. non-management of public lands; lands that are now cutting less than 8% of the annual growth on non-reserved timberland. To me it’s pretty clear that it is not possible to properly manage federally owned timberland. Congress will never, ever fund needed management. At the same time a labyrinth of laws, regulations, executive orders, and national, local and forest policies make rational management impossible, even as lawsuits and appeals drain the dollars and time from the managers’ resources.

    If you need any further proof of federal inability to manage public land (along with a host of other activities) may I say the word “sequester”.


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