Skeptics who argue U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s Western Oregon timber plan wouldn’t actually increase harvests can present a lawsuit filed last week as Exhibit A.
The federal lawsuit by Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands ostensibly seeks to stop the White Castle timber sale 35 miles east of Myrtle Creek.
Its real target is Wyden’s bill to double timber production on Oregon & California Railroad trust lands.
White Castle was planned over several years to showcase environmentally aware logging practices developed by forestry professors Norm Johnson and Jerry Franklin.
Wyden reached for superlatives in describing Johnson and Franklin’s expertise when he introduced the bill. Timber sales modeled after White Castle are the centerpiece of Wyden’s plan.
As important is Wyden’s premise that his bill would lead to less litigation by environmental groups.
Since environmentalists are hostile to White Castle, it’s unlikely they’ll stop suing, or sitting in trees, to block timber sales.
In a bid to stop the unstoppable, Wyden proposes a single study on the environmental risks of logging on O&C land. The study would apply to individual timber sales for 10 years. The idea is to eliminate time-consuming battles over every harvest.
Wyden’s bill, though, would leave conservation groups with plenty of room to challenge timber sales.
If something happens after the 10-year study is done, like the red tree vole is put on the Endangered Species List, the comprehensive review becomes dated and vulnerable to lawsuits.
Wyden’s bill also permits a timber harvest to be challenged if there’s “clear and convincing evidence” that “significant adverse environmental impacts” weren’t considered in the 10-year study. Would the shadow of a marbled murrelet or the hoot of a spotted owl be enough to win a lawsuit? Who knows? But it would be enough to file one and obtain an injunction to at the very least delay logging.
Also, while Wyden’s plan reforms the 1937 O&C Act (for the worse), it leaves in place other federal laws that conservation groups base their lawsuits on. Take your pick: the Endangered Species Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the Administrative Procedure Act or others or all. The idea is to see if something sticks.
Douglas Timber Operators Executive Director Bob Ragon was right when he said that last week’s lawsuit showed that groups will use federal laws to stop the timber sales on which Wyden’s plan depends.
That led Ragon back to legislation passed by the U.S. House. The bill would keep O&C lands in federal ownership but not managed under the web of federal laws choking timber harvests.
Conservationists aren’t worried about the House plan because Wyden, the senator that matters most, won’t champion it. Wyden says the House plan can’t pass the Senate or White House. The question here is whether Wyden is proposing something that can pass, but can’t work.