Baby steps vs. real reform


Earlier this month, we wrote about Hal Salwasser, the dean of the School of Forestry at Oregon State University. Salwasser described in an Oregonian article how our federal forestland is suffering from neglect and no longer offers any economic or social value.

With a new spotted owl plan still being formulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the question of whether we should be thinning and selectively harvesting our federal forests in the West is especially pertinent.

Salwasser mentioned pilot projects in Western Oregon that are bringing timber companies, environmental groups and the federal government together to selectively harvest federal forestland, thin the forests to protect from wildfire and also create better habitat for the spotted owl.

The Medford Mail Tribune wrote last week about one of the projects in the Applegate Valley near Medford. The paper quoted local residents and government officials who were excited about a more collaborative approach to federal forestland.

“This is the kind of stuff we’ve been talking about for 20 years,” (said Jack Shipley, head of a community partnership that helped get the project off the ground.) “Instead of fighting about jobs versus owls, we all come to the table and have both. This will be ecologically driven but will include jobs.”

“…We have moved beyond the ‘cut or no-cut’ argument,” (Shipley) said. “We are saying there needs to be active management on the landscape. We want to move forward and do something proactive.

But Doug Robertson had a different take on the pilot projects in an insightful op-ed in the Capital Press. Robertson is the head of the Association of O&C Counties, a group of Oregon counties with a large amount of federal forestland.

In regard to the pilot projects, he said “while I am hopeful for success, my expectations are low.” Robertson added that the proposed new spotted owl plan — and current federal rules — make it almost impossible to smartly manage federal forestland.

He said he did not hear promising answers in a recent meeting with federal officials.

The spotted owl expert from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made no mention of the barred owl, in spite of a growing consensus that a major threat to spotted owl survival is the larger, more aggressive and invasive barred owl.

When asked how the agency would deal with this threat, the expert said the barred owl could be trapped, but he admitted that he had contacted many agencies on the East Coast, where the barred owl originated, but none of the states contacted wanted any of their native barred owls returned to them. The spotted owl expert mentioned shooting the barred owl, but doubted the public would support it.

The concern voiced by many is that we are building management policy for federal forest around the recovery of a species that can’t be recovered.

There is no doubt that the pilot projects in Oregon are promising, but much deeper reform of our federal policies needs to be done.