Wrangling over the future of Oregon timber


As we wrote last week, the 20th anniversary of the spotted owl’s listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act has brought up some interesting results. The Northwest timber industy has been decimated, and yet the spotted owl is actually in worse shape than it was 20 years ago.

In a guest column this week in the Oregonian, Thomas Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council in Portland, said that the spotted owl listing “exposed the personal, largely hidden agendas of those who have advocated for the owl over the years.”

Scientists whose research funding and professional reputations most benefited from national attention being focused on the species were allowed to place their interests ahead of the livelihoods of thousands of Oregonians and, ultimately, the health of the very forests in which the owl lives. The fate of Oregon’s national forests, federal Bureau of Land Management lands, rural communities and the forest industry on which all three depend for a sustainable future have been nothing but sacrificial pawns in an elite game played for academic credentials and professional pride.

According to Partin, it’s time for a new management plan for Northwest federal forests that acknowledges the spotted owl’s real threats are wildfires and larger barred owls, not logging.

Partin’s column has spurred some passionate discussion in the comments section about past timber practices in the Northwest and what should be done in the future.

Meanwhile, Partin is also one of the stakeholders who has played a role in U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s proposed timber plan for Eastern Oregon, as this story this week in the Blue Mountain Eagle points out.

According to the story, the timber plan has garnered some opposition — or at least concerns — from local county officials. One of the prime concerns is that the plan won’t prevent future litigation from environmental groups and stop timber policy from being dictated in the courts.

But, as the article points out, the timber plan should be lauded for its success in bringing all the major players together.

The bill continues to draw strong support from some key players in the timber industry – including John Shelk, a principal in the only sawmill currently running in Grant County.

Unveiling the proposal last fall, Wyden was flanked by Shelk, managing partner of Ochoco Lumber Company; Tom Partin of the American Forest Resources Council, as well as environmental activists including Tim Lillebo of Oregon Wild and Andy Kerr of The Larch Company.

Shelk reiterated his support June 24 in John Day, at an event celebrating the genesis of a new biomass plant at Ochoco’s Malheur Lumber Company millsite.

“It’s really an imaginative attempt to bridge the huge gap between the environmental community and industry,” he said.

Shelk said it’s encouraging to see people from such diverse backgrounds determined to come together, for the sake of the forests and the communities.

“We’re hoping that this bill, or something close to it, is going to pass,” he said.

In this day and age, true partnerships on major timber issues are hard to come by and should be recognized whenever possible.