Wyden bill offers real promise, through ecological forestry

Oregon needs to put our forest communities to work while restoring ecological health.

Today, Senator Ron Wyden has taken a positive step toward reimagining how we manage our forests. Nearly everyone agrees that too many of our federal forests have been intensely managed and then abandoned, without restoring natural conditions. Budget cuts, fire suppression, political stalemate and cycles of lawsuits from both sides of the debate have all contributed to a poor management record. This system is broken– many of our forests are in bad condition, and people need stable jobs. Something has to change in the way we manage public lands, so we can restore ecosystem health and get our rural economies working well again.

We now have a plan on the table that could be a game changer for Oregon’s forests. In a prepared statement on his proposal, the Oregon and California Land Grant Act of 2013, Senator Wyden suggests that we use “the best available science to mimic natural processes and create healthier, more diverse forests.”

At Ecotrust, we’ve been working with partners across the region to realize the benefits of ecological forest management that does just this.  By adopting ecological forestry principles, Senator Wyden’s proposal creates an opportunity to pursue a clear and sensible path to increasing harvests on public lands while repairing long-term forest health, creating jobs, and improving habitat for endangered species, including Northern spotted owls and salmon.

It’s important not to lose sight of several things as Senator Wyden and his colleagues in Washington work toward a final O&C bill.

First, we must invest in maintaining and rebuilding wood processing infrastructure in rural communities so that these communities benefit from the harvested timber: 90% of a log’s value is captured in processing, and we should be processing more of Oregon’s timber in rural Oregon. And mills have ripple effects throughout the forestry sector creating long-term, stable jobs for timber communities. Mill investments should be a central part of discussions about how to revive our forest economy around O&C lands.

Secondly, the true promise of ecological forestry is that it creates jobs while protecting clean water and endangered species. Ask any forester what type of forest management creates more jobs and better jobs: large-scale clear cuts or a lighter touch forestry that requires careful planning for multiple objectives? Ecological forestry wins.

Any final O&C land plan for Oregon that leaves any of these priorities aside across broad landscapes could negatively affect ecosystem and economic health. Separating the forests into two simplified buckets, one for conservation and one for intensive harvest, would set the clock back, won’t work, and would ruin a good opportunity for Oregon.

Oregon needs a whole-systems approach to the landscape. Oregon needs to put our forest communities to work and to restore ecological health to our forests.