Rural frustration boils over with advent of spotted owl plan

2012-06-08 Ashley Bach

There is a lot of anger right now in rural communities across the Northwest. Local governments are out of money, and unemployment is rampant because of massive declines in the timber harvest, and yet the federal government seems to want to only make things worse. A proposed spotted owl habitat designation would double the amount of critical owl habitat and extend that habitat to private land for the first time, leading to the loss of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue for timber counties.

As we wrote last month, local officials are starting to mobilize against the spotted owl plan, but it’s also important to recognize their anger and frustration.

The headline in this editorial in the Trinity Journal in Trinity County, Calif., said it all: “Spotted owl proposal needs to face extinction itself.”

In an effort to roll the dice and double down on its ill-conceived 1992 (spotted owl) plan, the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) seems willing to throw the economic viability of rural forest towns into further disarray.

On the Oregon Coast, community leaders are finding it difficult to prosper.

Closing the two-day Oregon Coast Economic Summit, Sen. Joanne Verger, D-Coos Bay, told a 200-strong crowd on Friday that regaining control of the coast’s forests and waters remained a frustrating battle.

‘If you look at those assets, you wonder why in the world we are not absolutely prosperous,” Verger said. ‘Yet we have to fight every day, every week, every month to have our voice heard about how to build our economy.”

Local leaders had a choice to make their voice heard at a congressional subcommittee meeting in Longview, Wash., last month.

Here’s what Paul Pearce, commissioner in Skamania County, Wash., told the committee:

“Beginning in 1992 with Critical Habitat, followed by the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan we saw the continued loss of timber jobs and infrastructure at an incredible rate. In 1990 there were 1200 jobs on the Gifford Pinchot Forest, 350 of them were forest service employees.  There were four full time mills operating in my county alone.  Today there are few timber jobs and only one full time mill.”

Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council in Oregon, said the spotted owl plan is just another obstacle:

“This critical habitat designation will only further stymie needed forest management activities to reduce overstocking, prevent catastrophic wildfires and provide an economic lifeline to rural communities and county governments reeling from a near shutdown in timber harvests on public lands,” said Partin. “Meanwhile, this proposal will do nothing to stem the continued drastic declines in spotted owl populations brought on by rapidly expanding barred owl populations that have taken over much of the habitat included in this proposal.”

Some farmers and activists in Oregon have started a grassroots movement (giveusourlandback.org) to defederalize the state’s lands. Rob DeHarpport, who lives outside Eugene, described their goals in a recent op-ed.

This is what Oregonians and people in other Western states must deal with every day. How long does it take to realize federal policies have failed? How long does it take for the public in rural areas to realize the true intent of these policies? We simply cannot afford continued federal inaction and gross mismanagement of our lands.

It won’t heal any wounds, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is still taking public comment on the spotted owl plan until July 6. Go here to find out how to leave a comment online.

In addition, Fish and Wildlife will hold a public meeting on Tuesday, June 12 in Tacoma, from 3-5 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. at University of Washington, Tacoma Campus, 1900 Commerce St., Jane Russell Commons.