In a recent article Janice Reid made several statements that were either wrong, or at the very least misleading. Ms. Reid said she has studied the spotted owl for 30 years. She is, then, obviously aware of the science presented by many biologists concluding that the spotted owl will be replaced in its habitat by the barred owl. Barred owls have been replacing spotted owls for more than 30 years with such success that our federal agencies have adopted a misguided policy of killing the stronger, more adaptive barred owl, a beautiful large raptor. Many biologists see that as a futile attempt to “save” the spotted owl, the weaker of the species.
Ms. Reid suggests that the solution to the county’s economic challenges is, in large part, to be found in a more robust recreation economy. Recreation is recognized as an important component of the county’s overall economy. However, dollars generated by recreational activities do not directly benefit public safety, libraries, public health and many other vital public services, as revenues from federal timber harvests do. Moreover, jobs in the recreation sector are often seasonal and pale in comparison to wages paid in the logging and lumber manufacturing industry. Finally, there is no conflict between a robust timber economy and a robust recreation economy — the two are entirely compatible. Indeed, in western Oregon, the road system provided for timber management activities is the very same road system that is necessary for access for recreation. Timber harvesting and recreation have never been an “either-or” proposition in our region.
Ms. Reid states that increased logging on federal lands will not fix the economic challenges facing resource dependent counties today. While increased harvest levels are not a magic bullet, they would produce immediate and very substantial increase in desperately needed revenues used to pay for public services. And in the private sector, one need only review the U.S. House of Representative’s Resource Committee report, released five years after the listing of the spotted owl, to assess its impact. The report found that as a result of the listing, and the maze of regulations, coupled with environmental litigation that followed, a combination of 900 sawmills and pulp and paper manufacturing plants closed their doors. These closures resulted in the loss of 130,000 family wage jobs. Even the most casual observer can’t fail to connect the economic dislocation and job loss in small, resource dependent communities with dramatic increases in the number of free and reduced lunches in schools, substance abuse, gambling addiction and overall criminal activity.
Ms. Reid quotes a portion of the 1937 O&C Act, but leaves out the more important portions, which specifically require all O&C timberlands to be managed for sustained yield timber production in an amount not less than 500 million board feet per year. The amenities such as recreation, clean water and contributing to the economic stability of local communities are the intended result of sustained yield management, which requires that the annual harvest on the land base will not exceed the annual growth rate. This ensures a supply of timber for perpetuity.
The productive capacity of the O&C land base is a matter of record. In 1937, before harvesting began in earnest, there was approximately 50 billion board feet of timber on the O&C lands. In 1987, after 50 years of harvesting, there was still slightly more than 50 billion board feet of timber growing on the lands. Today there is approximately 73 billion board feet of timber on the O&C lands — almost 50 percent more than the timber standing in 1937. Ms. Reid’s claim that the harvest rates of the past were unsustainable is nonsense.
The Association of O&C Counties worked for many years with the agencies of jurisdiction and our state and federal elected officials to reach a balanced solution for management of these federal lands. Higher levels of harvest can be achieved through sustained yield management on the O&C lands, generating revenues for the counties, while still providing for the recovery of endangered species, providing clean water and fish habitats, and a wide range of recreational opportunities, and increasing carbon storage.
Ms. Reid is certainly entitled to her opinions. However, her suggestion that the economic activity, jobs and dollars generated by the timber industry can be replaced by recreational activities simply has no basis in fact. Half of Douglas County is owned and managed by the BLM or Forest Service. These lands generate no tax revenue and under current management policies, provide only a small fraction of historic receipts generated from timber harvest. Management of our federal forest lands must return in a form that is balanced and sustainable if we are going to maintain a quality of life that will provide opportunities for our young people to stay here and encourage others to relocate to our area.