Can Sen. Wyden get timber reform done?


All eyes are on Sen. Ron Wyden. The Oregon Democrat just took over as the chair of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resouces Committee, which means he’s in the unique position of having both the federal power and the local experience to finally approve a plan to make a meaningful increase in the federal timber harvest and end decades of mismanagement of our federal forests.

Wyden says he wants to succeed where other plans, like those from Reps. Doc Hastings and Peter DeFazio, have stalled in Congress. He says he’s focused on creating a plan that will increase the timber harvest but also receive support from enough Democrats to become law.

Jim Petersen, the co-founder of the Evergreen Foundation, is skeptical. Petersen has decades of experience in the timber industry and has heard these promises before. Here’s how Petersen ended his recent column refuting many of the claims of environmentalist Andy Kerr:

The answer is that Andy and his (sue-happy) pals aren’t the real problem. The real problem is a gutless Congress that created an unholy legal mess that it now refuses to clean it up, despite three decades of economic and environmental losses that run into the billions of dollars.

Oregon’s senior U.S. Senator, Ron Wyden, who chairs the powerful Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, could fix this mess in a phone call. You would think that the senior senator from the nation’s leading lumber producing state would want to lead his state’s lumber families to higher ground, but he hasn’t done it yet, despite Andy’s confident report that “Wyden – like most conservation organizations – wants to increase federal logging levels.”

Well Senator, if “most conservation organizations” support your desire to boost federal harvest levels what’s the hold up?

The Eugene Register-Guard editorial board is more hopeful. Though it’s important to note that even if Wyden’s plan were successful, it would cover only Oregon timber counties in the former Oregon & California (O&C) Railroad Co. lands. Timber owners in Washington and other timber states would have to wait.

The Register-Guard:

Skeptics abound on all sides of the debate. But they should hope that Wyden can once again make the impossible happen, this time on O&C lands. As chairman of the Senate committee with jurisdiction over forestry, Wyden is uniquely positioned to bring diverse interests to the table and forge a common strategy that protects old growth and imperiled wildlife while at the same time promoting sustainable logging and restoring timber revenues to counties.

The impatience from the West’s timber communities is understandable. Several timber counties in Oregon are so broke they’ve lost almost all law enforcement, according to a recent Oregonian story.

….(Josephine) County Commissioner Cherryl Walker (says) one of the strangest (recent crime stories) was a homeowner in rural Josephine County who held a would-be burglar at gunpoint while he and his wife called 911.

No officer was available, the 911 operator said. So the couple arranged for the intruder’s mother to pick him up.

David Jones, a 34-year veteran of the Bureau of Land Management, including 12 years as the BLM’s Medford District manager in Southern Oregon, had an op-ed this week in the Medford Mail Tribune. He writes that meaningful timber reform will always be difficult when politics are involved.

It takes only political support to pass congressional legislation or obtain a presidential executive order to create these highly restricted (harvest) areas, whether or not the process or land areas meet necessary regulatory or legal criteria. Support may include members of Congress, the administration or even the judiciary, who know little or nothing about federal land management. Politicians often are willing to trade support for one cause or another to obtain support for their own causes. Thus we get the resulting political forest management.