When Sen. Ron Wyden unveiled his proposed legislation to manage Oregon’s 2.1 million acres of O&C land, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers of Oregon was encouraged.
Our conservation organization seeks to protect wild public land, water and wildlife, and BHA was asked by Sen. Wyden’s office to help identify areas of critical wildlife habitat for conservation protection. We are encouraged that many of our suggestions were included in the proposed legislation.
In addition, BHA believes that public lands should remain public, which this legislation stipulates.
While the bill would increase timber harvests, it also sets aside nearly half the acreage into conservation zones creating new backcountry areas and wilderness.
For anglers and the nearly 2 million people who depend on clean water, the legislation continues strong riparian watershed protection and for the first time in legislative history protects old-growth trees from harvest.
Protection of healthy public land and water is key to a robust recreation industry, which in Oregon translates into 141,000 jobs and generates nearly $13 billion in consumer spending from hikers, hunters, skiers, anglers, birdwatchers, mountain bikers and others, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.
But this legislation also provides for ecologically sustainable timber harvest where appropriate. Unlike dry forests where wildfire often creates a mosaic of openings that produce diverse plants — including diversity in age and species of trees — moist forests such as those found on O&C land in Western Oregon achieved diversity through timber harvest during recent modern history.
Nobody wants to return to the cut-and-run days of old-fashioned logging, but BHA does support sustainable timber harvest that will also provide a more diverse forage base for elk and deer. According to professors Norm Johnson of Oregon State University and Jerry Franklin of the University of Washington, both of whom helped craft Wyden’s proposed legislation, much of the O&C land today has a closed canopy where little sunlight reaches the forest floor.
This tight canopy has led to a reduction in forage for game, often forcing elk and deer onto managed private forestry property.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife closely monitors game populations in Western Oregon. While elk populations have remained stagnant, blacktail deer populations have declined significantly for more than 30 years. Some of this decline is due to predation, disease and other factors, but ODFW acknowledges it’s also due to a lack of forage for big game. Quoting from the 2008 Oregon blacktail deer management plan, “Changes in habitat availability and quality have contributed to declining populations since the early 1980s.
Habitat changes include both quantity of early seral habitat (particularly on federal lands where mature timber stands still have deer, but at reduced numbers), and quality influenced by changing reforestation management practices.”
In an interview with BHA, OSU’s Johnson asserts that variable retention timber harvesting will help restore a balanced succession of plant species, including variable aged trees, which will benefit elk and deer on public lands over time.
But forage for elk and deer is only one aspect of sustainable timber harvest. Protecting water quality and fisheries is critical, and scientific management of the landscape surrounding rivers and streams must be assured as well. According to conservationist Greg Block at the Wild Salmon Center, the Wyden bill establishes “permanent riparian protections for the first time for this type of large landscape and makes permanent key features of the Northwest Forest Plan aquatic protections.”
Bill Kremers, president of the Northwest Steelhead Association agrees that riparian protections are critical and says the bill is “more than just a timber harvest bill.” Kremers continues, “I think this is a good bill because it protects our streams. Protecting the riparian along these streams is critical to our native fish.” Both men were interviewed by BHA.
No legislation is ever perfect, however, so Backcountry Hunters & Anglers will continue to monitor this legislation as it moves through Congress.
But BHA is encouraged by the rational, scientific approach to balanced management of these public lands and waters.
The Northwest Forest Plan was a good attempt to manage them, but current science demands that management plans be reviewed and updated. Wyden’s O&C legislation does that.
Brian Jennings is sportsmen’s outreach coordinator for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He can be reached at email@example.com. Ed Putnam is co-chair of BHA for Oregon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The website for the organization is www.backcountryhunters.org.