Western political leaders call on their colleagues to act


It’s good to see political leaders from the West show some leadership on the importance of our rural communities and rural economies, many of which are dependent on a healthy timber harvest.

The Western Governors’ Association, which includes governors from 19 Western states, just sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, telling him that federal forests are mismanaged and that the timber industry should be allowed to help. The WGA includes Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber.

By improving forest management through the use of the private sector, we also help support our declining forest industry and suffering rural economies. Our forest industries are already faced with low margins and limited markets; if we lose these industries, any restoration efforts will suffer a significant blow. As Governors, we support the type of proactive forest management that leads to healthy rural communities, improved forest conditions and increased utilization of wood products as outlined in the U.S. Forest Service Restoration Strategy.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Western Caucus, a group of 42 Republican members of Congress from Western states, called out environmental groups for lobbying to try to get the black-backed woodpecker listed as endangered. The caucus, which includes Washingtons Reps. Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, refuted the claims that forest thinning to protect from wildfires should be limited because the woodpecker needs burned wood as habitat.

In its “Bull Report”, the caucus ridiculed ecologist Chad Hansen of the John Muir Project, an environmental group, for opining in a 2010 report that large, dead trees left over from wildfires are “the most ecologically valuable habitat features in the forest.”

“We should not celebrate destroyed ecosystems, or budget cuts that will force the Forest Service to let more fires burn,” the caucus’ report said. “Instead, we should be practicing responsible forest management policies that help protect our national forests and families.”

Three Oregon congressmen, including Reps. Peter DeFazio and Greg Walden, also recently testified in favor of their bill that would increase the timber harvest on Oregon’s federal timberland.

During his testimony, Walden, whose 2nd Congressional District includes all of Eastern Oregon as well as Jackson and a portion of Josephine counties, said the proposal is needed now.

“Momentum is building for change — from county commission chambers to the committee rooms of the state Legislature to the halls of Congress,” he said.

“We can put people back to work in the woods,” he added. “We can create prosperous communities and healthy forests. We can provide certainty for teachers and law enforcement officers. We can better manage our forests.”

These kinds of actions still haven’t caused the U.S. Forest Service to start managing its forests in a responsible way, but they are small steps toward reform.