The long-awaited forest management plan has arrived from Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden.
It’s too bad it’s taken almost the entire year since Wyden became chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee before producing a bill, because it doesn’t look favorable for Douglas County. And there’s little time left to reconcile the bill with similar House-passed legislation before Wyden is expected to move on to the Senate Finance Committee next year.
While the Oregon & California Land Grant Act of 2013, introduced two days before Thanksgiving, still needs extensive analysis, Wyden repeated enough sound bites to make us leery.
Wyden emphasized that he introduced a “jobs bill” that would create good-paying jobs and provide certainty for the timber industry, county government, employers and families in the 18 Western Oregon counties that would be affected by the legislation.
But if we use the timber industry’s estimator for the number of jobs created per million board feet of timber cut, we find “doubling the harvest” would add just 92 jobs annually per county.
It’s difficult to imagine that 92 jobs in Douglas County’s woods and mills — where wages and benefits have declined over the years — are going to “offer an alternative to the grinding unemployment that has hit Oregon so hard,” as Wyden said. We realize there’s a multiplier effect and some jobs are better than none. But if Wyden isn’t going to aim higher for Oregon, who else in the Senate will?
Wyden’s bill calls for an average timber harvest of 300 million to 350 million board feet annually on O&C lands. That’s a disappointment in comparison to the House bill that targets 500 million board feet off lands that produce 1.2 billion board feet yearly.
It would also create intense competition among Oregon’s smaller mills that rely on federal timber, likely forcing some out of business.
And it remains unclear how Wyden’s bill would lead to that level of harvest while relying on the “ecological forestry” approach that is only now being tested in pilot projects — and one of those sales near Myrtle Creek has been appealed and is occupied by tree sitters.
Wyden’s bill also falls short of providing adequate funding for crucial county services such as public safety, health and veterans services.
Instead, Wyden eventually plans to introduce a new safety net — legislation addressing compensation for all natural-resource-dependent counties nationwide that have large tracts of federal lands within their borders.
To limit appeals on individual timber sales, Wyden proposes a single environmental impact statement that would govern forest management for 10 years, unless something exceptional occurs. We expect an exception will arise, further reducing the likelihood of certainty with this plan.
We realize Wyden’s goal was to introduce legislation that could pass the Senate. We had hoped it would provide more glimpses to prosperity for Douglas County residents.