Recently, the Bureau of Land Management’s Medford District auctioned five federal timber sale contracts. These contracts allow the harvest of approximately 15.3 million board feet of timber, with an appraised value of $4.4 million. The timber will be harvested across a little over 1,500 acres, and the projects include a mix of thinning, selection and variable-retention regeneration harvesting.
As with most projects on public lands, there are multiple objectives for each project and a variety of views on how those objectives should or could be accomplished. The BLM often receives criticism for offering timber sales in Western Oregon, as there are many different points of view on active forest management and, ultimately, how public lands should be managed. To help better inform this dialogue, it is important to understand how these sales came to be.
These timber sales are authorized under the 2016 Southwestern Oregon Resource Management Plan. This plan is the product of years of public participation, rigorous scientific analysis and landscape-level decision making. The plan also seeks to balance large-scale objectives for sustained-yield timber production, clean water, fire hazard reduction, conservation and recovery of threatened and endangered species, and the management of the ecosystems upon which those species depend. One of the purposes of sustained yield forest management, as required by the O&C Lands Act of 1937, is to provide a permanent source of timber supply to contribute to the economic stability of local communities and industries. Revenues generated from timber sales are shared between the local counties where the lands reside, and the general fund of the U.S. Treasury.
Under the plan, approximately 20 percent of BLM lands are allocated to the harvest land base where sustainable timber production is the primary objective, and 80 percent are allocated to reserve system where wildlife habitat, clean water and other ecological objectives are the primary focus. Even in the harvest land base, many protective ecological forestry principles are in place. For example large, old growth trees are protected from harvest except for safety and operational reasons, and uneven-aged management is required in dry forest stands to promote forest health and fire resiliency. In moist forest stands, where variable-retention regeneration harvesting is contemplated, the plan directs BLM to retain a portion of the trees and other valuable ecological features to enrich biodiversity in the developing forest.
BLM staff take a great deal of care as they develop forestry projects under these plans. Professional foresters, wildlife biologists, fuels specialists and other technical experts analyze the various tradeoffs. Multiple opportunities for public input ensure that BLM is aware of and considers the diverse ideas and opinions in the community. Additionally, BLM consults with regulatory agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as required by the Endangered Species Act.
We are working toward full implementation of the plan, which will result in a substantial increase in active forest management on BLM lands when compared to accomplishments over the past decade. Over the past 10 years, an average of 215 million board feet per year has been offered by the BLM in Western Oregon. Total timber harvest levels are expected to increase to 278 million board feet per year once full implementation of the plans are achieved.
Active forest management provides jobs for Oregon’s forest sector, from loggers to wildlife biologists, and mill workers to managers. For every 1 million board feet of timber harvested on BLM lands in Western Oregon, 13 local jobs are created or maintained, and an estimated $647,000 of non-federal employment income is introduced into local economies. One million board feet is enough lumber to frame 63 family-sized residential homes. This economic stimulus also produces indirect and induced benefits to Oregon’s economy — in fiscal year 2016 BLM’s timber management produced over $600 million in total economic output.
This year we’re on pace to achieve a timber target of approximately 216 million board feet for all of Western Oregon while at the same time meeting our objectives to reduce fire hazard, protect clean water and support the recovery of threatened and endangered species.
The BLM is committed to providing a predictable and sustainable timber harvest program that supports local communities and industries and fulfills obligations under the O&C Lands Act, which also helps meet the Interior Secretary’s priority of getting America back to work by promoting job creation and supporting working landscapes.
Elizabeth Burghard is district manager of the Bureau of Land Management’s Medford District.