Wyden O&C Bill: Well, That Didn’t Take Very Long

 Jerry Franklin is the widely acknowledged “Guru of Old-growth.” Norm Johnson is an eminent forest economist and political strategist. Both are career university professors. Neither one has much background in forest management, reforestation, forest history or fire history as evidenced by their lack of experience in these areas and by their public writings and statements in regards to these topics. Yet, Senator Ron Wyden has based his current proposal before Congress on the requirement that nearly 1/2 of the 2.6 million acres of forested BLM Lands in western Oregon would be managed under their prescription for “ecological forestry” and the remainder would be “preserved” in permanently designated Wilderness and other passively managed reserves.

A major shortcoming of this arrangement has been discussed on this blog before, and most succinctly in Sharon’s October 13 post from last year: https://forestpolicypub.com/2013/10/13/quid-pro-quo-without-the-quo-be-wary-of-trading-wilderness-for-management-acresg/

The crux of Sharon’s and her coauthors concerns was that there would be no problem setting aside more than a million acres of new Wilderness, but that the areas slated for active management would be subjected to lawsuits by the environmental community and be tied up in courtrooms. This concern was illustrated in my post from early last month:


Both industry and environmentalists are strongly opposed to this proposal, yet Wyden keeps slogging along, wasting everyone’s time and money as if this is a reasonable (or even possible) solution to the problems besetting federal forest management in Oregon since the passage of the Clinton Plan for Northwest Forests more than 20 years ago. He has scheduled a hearing for February 6 to discuss his proposal in greater detail.

The Wyden Plan is DOA, and everyone seems to know that except the Senator. Further proof is provided by this post in yesterday’s Public Land News (Vol. 39, No. 3):

As Wyden readies O&C bill, enviros sue BLM timber pilot

Shortly after Senate Energy Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) announced a hearing for February 6 on his legislation to boost timber sales on O&C lands environmentalists showed him how hard his job will be.

They filed a lawsuit January 22 against a BLM sale that would serve as a prototype for the kinds of sales Wyden envisions on one million acres of O&C lands, i.e. limited environmental review.

The lawsuit argues that BLM must conduct far broader environmental reviews than it did for a White Castle Variable Retention Harvest Timber Sale in BLM’s Roseburg District.  And the lawsuit from Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands asks the court to order BLM to prepare an expensive and time-consuming EIS to replace an environmental assessment (EA).

BLM in the sale approved a timber harvest practice called “variable retention regeneration harvest.”  But to Oregon Wild that constitutes a clearcut.  “No matter what you call it, a clearcut is still a clearcut,” said Sean Stevens, executive director of Oregon Wild.  “Clearcutting century-old forests that offer habitat for threatened wildlife on public lands in Oregon is not only immoral, in this case it’s illegal.”

On Nov. 26, 2013, Wyden published a draft O&C lands bill that would set aside about one million acres of O&C forest primarily for timber sales and about the same amount of land for conservation.  He would have BLM both manage the timber sale lands and the conservation lands.

The Wyden bill sort of parallels a House-passed bill (HR 1526) that would also emphasize timber sales on one million acres of O&C lands and protect another million acres.  But the House would have a trust appointed by the Oregon governor manage the timber lands and would transfer the conservation lands to the Forest Service.

On announcing the February 6 sale Wyden said he intends to go all out. “No bill or issue in Congress is more important to me than passing the O&C Lands Act into law and creating a long-term solution for rural Oregon,” he said.

Wyden says timber sales under his legislation (like BLM’s White Castle prototype) would follow the recommendations of two eminent forestry scholars, Drs. Norm Johnson and Jerry Franklin.  They say their strategy would stop well short of clearcutting to leave the foundation for regeneration of harvested timber tracts.

In joint testimony to the Senate Energy Committee on June 25, 2013, Johnson (a professor at Oregon State University) and Franklin (a professor at the University of Washington), said, “Functional early seral habitat potentially can be created using regeneration harvest prescriptions that retain biological legacies and use less intensive approaches to re-establishment of closed forest canopies.  Such approaches would produce more modest timber yields than the intensive management described above but could provide significant ecological benefits.”

Under direction from the Secretary of Interior BLM set up the White Castle sale as one of three pilot projects using the principles enunciated by Franklin and Johnson.  The Roseburg Demonstration Project anticipated that several timber sales would extend over 438 acres, with 285 acres subjected to the Franklin and Johnson principles.

In their lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court Eugene Division the environmentalists invoked the Franklin and Johnson management scheme in asking for an injunction against the timber sales.

“Failing to thoroughly consider and objectively evaluate an adequate range of alternatives, including an alternative that would: meet timber objectives by thinning in dense young stands, meet early-seral objectives by embedding ‘gaps’ within thinning prescriptions, and be consistent with the management recommendations of Drs. Johnson and Franklin,” the lawsuit says.  “BLM further failed this duty by contriving an overly narrow ‘purpose and need’ for the project that predetermined the outcome and excluded consideration of alternative approaches.”

The House-passed O&C bill would also have BLM follow the Franklin and Johnson proposals.

And that did not go over well with the Obama administration, even though administration ally and Democrat Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) is the chief sponsor of the O&C provision in HR 1526.  Said the Office of Management and Budget of exemptions from environmental reviews in the bill in a Sept. 18, 2013, statement, “This would undermine appropriate management and stewardship of these lands, which belong to all Americans, would compromises habitat for threatened and endangered species, and would create legal uncertainty over management of these lands as well as increase litigation risk.”

The House bill also goes beyond the BLM-managed O&C lands to propose a Forest Service-wide timber program that would: direct each national forest to designate one or more forest reserves and, within 30 days of designation, determine annual timber volume requirements for the reserves; direct each forest to reach an annual timber sale volume from each reserve beginning in fiscal year 2014; limit an environmental assessment to a review only of a proposed project in a reserve, limit the assessment to less than 100 pages and require completion of the assessment within 180 days; and exempt from an environmental assessment projects that, among other things, “cover an area of 10,000 acres or less.”

10 thoughts on “Wyden O&C Bill: Well, That Didn’t Take Very Long”

  1. Indeed. Franklin and Johnson have not made many, if any, forest management decisions and lived to evaluate the results. Moreover, their Pilot projects have no scientific backing, nor any reporting of prior studies leading to this recommendation. They offer a compromise with untested outcomes of habitat or yield. It was an attempt to get “green” buy-off, most likely. Its promoters seem not to realize that any management NOT proposed by an environmental organization, regardless of scientific backing, is doomed to NEPA or ESA injunction. As scientists, one presumes their offering had some scientific prototypes with data. And thus some insights into the array of consequences officialdom might expect. Sorry.
    Wyden’s bill must have been written with knowledge that the part of O & C land dedicated to forest harvest eventually would be tied up in court. I wish our elected representatives would be honest with their proposals. Lacking language declaring that there would be no judicial review, the bill apparently means nothing.
    While we are at it, let’s acknowledge that square miles of “wilderness” bounded by private land, especially in the “Lightning Alley” of the Pacific Northwest, is a place where snags and lightning rods will flourish, and private lands will be torched, all in the name of smoky wilderness. A look at the Douglas-Complex 48,000 acres will provide all the evidence a reasonable voter needs.

  2. mike: I am in full agreement with your observations, with the possible exception of your concerns regarding “Lightning Alley.” Most of the O&C Lands are within the Oregon Coast Range. My PhD research focused on Coast Range fire history, beginning around 1500 to 1950. Seasonal weather patterns have remained fairly constant there for the past 500 years (as with all of western Oregon), and lightning-caused wildfires are very unusual. Most fires in the Coast Range are started by people — way more than 99% of them, including the vast majority of wildfires. The reason for this is that lightning is fairly unusual here during most years, and then when it does occur it is usually accompanied by heavy rains. The true “Lightning Alley” for the State is to the SW of the Range, beginning in the Klamath-Siskiyous, then traveling northward along the Cascades, then east along the Ochocos and the Blues, until you are in Idaho. There are other lightning hotspots in the State, too, but the O&C Lands are also outside of them.

    I think you are especially correct about the “‘green’ buy-off” portion, which likely caused Johnson’s concerns with the tree sitters, linked above. Jack Ward Thomas specifically mentions this strategy in his memoir in relation to the adoption of the failed Clinton Plan, which was also engineered in large part by Franklin and Johnson theories and strategies.

    • Bob, I’m curious why you call it the “failed Clinton Plan”? (I assume you’re referring to the 2000 planning rule?) It was the Bush administration’s 2005 and 2008 rules that failed in the courts, so that the 2000 Rule came legally back into effect, along with its included transition provisions allowing the FS to continue to apply provisions of the old 1982 planning rule. And the 2000 Rule has remained the operative one until very recently, when the new 2012 Rule was finalized, so that seems pretty successful. The 2000 Rule has been fairly popular with the FS in litigation, because it lacks the species viability language from the 1982 Rule and in that sense gives the FS a lot more wiggle room. The courts have split on how specifically a forest plan needs to cite the 1982 rule in order for the species viability mandate to apply, so the FS has continued to argue vigorously that the 2000 provisions are the ones that count. Now, of course, they will start to abandon it, since the 2012 provisions are more toothless in terms of specifying anything the FS is required to do. Still, for twelve years anyway, the “Clinton Rule” was a survivor, even if some of us greenies weren’t enamored of it.

  3. Hi Guy:

    The “Clinton Plan” was the original name of the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan. I think the original name gradually faded out of general use after Bush became President. It is a failed plan because it has failed to even come close to its stated harvest levels, spotted owl numbers have continued to decline, and rural families and economies and the infrastructure that supported them have collapsed under its guidance. It has been a real disaster for rural, timber producing communities in the Pacific Northwest, though it has mostly been disregarded as bad legislation, possibly because it was 20 years ago ( a major factor for elected officials and urban populations, I think), and partly because most of the people and communities that were adversely affected have been so weakened by its effects that they have lost their political voice and other resources with which to challenge it any longer. In my opinion.

    • Bob: got it, my bad. I got confused by the taxonomy, between the “Clinton Plan” and the “Planning Rule of the Clinton Administration” and even “Clinton’s Roadless Rule”. Not to even mention “Clinton’s Plan Colombia” which had big forest implications (in Colombia). But you’re right, NWFP is what should have come to mind.

      • Guy: On the other hand, I should get used to calling it by its current name — just that when I was dealing with it so much, Clinton Plan became ingrained in my head. That was 20 years ago, though, so I should probably start adjusting to the present — this getting old process is a little unsettling at times. Whatever it’s called, though, it’s been a real failure, and Franklin and Johnson were at the controls then, too. We need better talent this time around. People with actual experience to go along with the credentials.

  4. I makes sense to me that a “pilot” project promoting novel logging methods should be carefully studied BEFORE it becomes the basis for permanent legislation affecting 2.5 million acres of public forest. Why doesn’t Congress wait for the results of the “pilots” before setting policy? Why aren’t Congress and BLM willing to explore alternatives? Do we really have a shortage of early seral forest? Not when you look at private lands and fires. Is it really necessary to sacrifice mature never-before-logged forests? Not when mature forests are needed more than ever for clean water, barred owl mitigation, climate adaptation, carbon storage, etc.


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