Scientists Urge Protections of Northwest Forests

Northwest old-growth forest by Steve Holmer

(Washington, D.C., September 26, 2013) In a letter to Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), more than 180 scientists expressed their strong support for retaining the protections of the Northwest Forest Plan that would otherwise be undermined if H.R. 1526, which passed in the House of Representative on Friday, becomes law. The bill mandates a major increase in logging in national forests to pay for services in several rural counties in Oregon.

In the open letter, the scientists state: “We are writing about attempts to increase logging on federal lands that would undermine the integrity of the Northwest Forest Plan, placing irreplaceable public values such as clean water, threatened fish and wildlife, carbon storage, and mature forests at risk.”

The scientists' letter points out that forests provide many essential benefits, including mitigating global climate change by sequestering and storing carbon. According to Dominick DellaSala, Chief Scientist of the Ashland, Oregon-based Geos Institute and author of the letter, “Public forests cleanse the air we breathe, regulate our climate, provide us with clean drinking water, and provide essential habitat for wild salmon. Cutting them down to solve the counties' fiscal crisis will bankrupt both the forests and counties in the long run.”

“We thank the Obama administration for issuing a veto threat against H.R. 1526 and for raising specific concerns with the logging bill sponsored by Representative DeFazio related to the revered lands designated as ‘O & C' lands decades ago,” said Steve Holmer, Senior Policy Advisor with American Bird Conservancy. “We also appreciate Senator Wyden's leadership in the renewal of the Secure Rural Schools Act, which will help support rural communities. We urge that its passage be one of Congress' top legislative priorities.”

The administration's statement asserted that the DeFazio bill would “… undermine appropriate management and stewardship of [O & C] lands, which belong to all Americans, would compromise habitat for threatened and endangered species, and would create legal uncertainty over management of these lands as well as increase litigation risk.”

The Northwest Forest Plan is the only forest management plan that meets all federal legal requirements and received judicial approval. “Significant deviation from the Northwest Forest Plan will likely violate federal law, trigger intense social conflict, and disrupt the flow of timber that our federal forest lands are currently producing,” said Holmer.

According to Holmer, what's at risk are more than 1.5 million acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in western Oregon that would be managed as a “timber trust” to maximize logging. These at-risk forests store the equivalent of 38 times Oregon's greenhouse gas pollutants and provide drinking water to over 1.5 million Oregonians, based on a new report published by the Geos Institute [Editor's note: report no longer online]. Oregon's unique older forests, in particular, represent an opportunity to implement President Obama's Climate Action Plan that calls for stepped-up forest protections as part of climate change actions on federal lands.

In western Oregon, BLM administers 2.6 million acres of public lands, approximately 2.1 million acres of which encompass the most at-risk lands, known as the O & C and Coos Bay Wagon Road holdings. These particular lands were part of federal land grants in the 1800s that were reconveyed to the federal government in 1916. They are managed under several federal statutes and BLM resource management plans linked to the Northwest Forest Plan. The O & C Lands Act of 1937 directs management of these lands for timber production and equally for watershed, local economic stability, and recreational purposes.