- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 18, 2015

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - The Lane County Board of Commissioners is set to formally voice opposition to four new alternative management plans proposed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for 2.3 million acres of federal forestland in Western Oregon, known as the “O&C;” lands.

The stance comes because none of the proposals does enough to ensure “a stream of (timber harvest) revenue to counties,” as was intended in the original O&C; Act of 1937, according to a strongly worded analysis drafted by staff members with the timber-rich county.

The draft doesn’t specifically call on the BLM to increase logging on its lands. But as a practical matter, the only way for the county to get substantially more money from federal timber harvests is for the harvests to go up.

Under federal procedures, counties get a share of the money from federal timber sales within a county’s borders. The board is expected to finalize the county’s official comment to the BLM at its meeting today.

The bureau is in the midst of revising its management blueprint, the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan. It is reacting to pressures from industrial and some government demands for more logging on those lands, and to groups pressing to protect rivers and old forests, enhance recreation and help threatened species, such as the Northern spotted owl.

The Northwest Forest Plan never has yielded timber harvests of the size it promised, largely because of separate federal laws designed to protect threatened species.

During the George W. Bush administration, the BLM moved to adopt a more logging-friendly management plan. But the proposal ultimately was thrown out by the courts because its drafters didn’t consult sufficiently with federal wildlife agencies.

The latest proposed alternatives would all increase the amount of BLM land in forest “reserves,” where only tree thinning projects could occur.

In terms of logging, the most restrictive option would result in about 180 million board feet of timber logged on the lands each year, while the loosest would allow for about 550 million board feet to be cut, according to BLM projections.

Under the Northwest Forest Plan, the total harvest on the O&C; lands in 2012 was 205 million board feet.

In a draft letter, the county board says the bureau needs to create a new alternative plan that better complies with part of the O&C; Act’s mandate: to manage the lands to provide a “sustained yield” timber harvest to contribute to “the economic stability of local communities and industries.”

“Lane County is absolutely dependent on these revenue sharing mechanisms established by the U.S. Congress in the first half of the 20th century,” the county’s comment reads.

The county’s analysis found that all four alternatives “produce less revenue than historic payments (to the county) over the past half-century” - either from actual timber harvest revenue or from federal compensatory payments.

“The board was dismayed to see how the (BLM) attempts to lead the reader to various conclusions that minimize the importance of these lands to county government and public services,” the comment reads.

For example, the BLM’s draft management plan keys in on the 2012 federal compensatory payments to counties as a revenue target that counties need from timber harvests on the O&C; lands in the future. But that figure is much less than the revenue counties received from timber harvests in the 1970s and 1980s, the county argues, or even the federal compensatory payments of the early 2000s.

Federal forests were logged at a fever pitch in the 1970s and ‘80s, producing major revenues for counties.

The county also criticizes the large amount of acreage that the bureau proposes to put into reserves under all the alternatives. During a discussion last week, Commissioner Faye Stewart said he would favor a “lighter (harvesting) touch on more acres.”

By setting firm logging targets, “We’re going to see the BLM harvesting their lands like Weyerhaeuser” does on its privately owned land, he said. Private forests are subject to far fewer logging restrictions and environmental protections than are federal forests.

Commissioner Jay Bozievich said he thought the bureau’s proposed alternatives didn’t do enough to use logging to protect against wildfires. The BLM alternatives also overestimate the value of the recreation-oriented economy created by federal forests in rural Oregon, he said.

“How many people are going to recreate in a county in Oregon that has no (sheriff’s deputy) patrol, almost no prosecution, and very few jail cells?” he said.

Commissioner Pete Sorenson, however, expressed skepticism that a new management plan would better protect the spotted owl. That’s because the species’ numbers have been dwindling, even with the protections in the Northwest Forest Plan, largely caused by increased competition from barred owls.

Without an improved species recovery plan, “All we’ve done (with new planning efforts) is finance the paper industry,” he said, because of the reams of paper needed to print off lengthy draft plans.

“We will not have really changed the actual outcome of the management of the forest for the better.”

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Information from: The Register-Guard, https://www.registerguard.com

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