Manage our region's O&C lands correctly

People, it's time to wake up. Most of you didn't pay attention or care when local mills closed in the 1980s and 1990s. In our valley, thousands of family-wage jobs were lost and most of you, if you even knew, merely shrugged your shoulders. Support jobs from many sectors disappeared and no one noticed.

A single sawmill is left in Jackson County. One is left in Josephine County. It has taken library closures and diminished public services to make you realize what you have lost. Only now, when those losses have affected you, have you complained. Now you need to care.

What is truly amazing is that those responsible for our lost libraries and services have been getting a pass. Fingers of blame are pointed at both local county commissioners and the federal government. Neither is to blame. The extremist environmental movement is solely to blame for our plight. Their lawsuits were aimed at one thing and one thing only. They wanted to stop logging on federal lands. They didn't care that mills closed. They celebrated. They didn't concern themselves with families suddenly without incomes, without options and without hope. They rejoiced in their victories. And now they don't care about closed libraries and lost public services that we have all taken for granted as part of our social fabric.

The blame lies solely at their doorstep. This year all logging was suspended on local O&C lands because of a lawsuit (ONRC v. Allen) filed by the Oregon Natural Resources Council (now Oregon Wild), Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Cascadia Wildlands Project, et al. The BLM had planned to harvest close to 90 million board feet in Southern Oregon in 2007. The return to our two counties would have been in the neighborhood of $20 million to $25 million. Now it will be zero for this year. The radical environmentalists knew the consequences of their lawsuit, but they just didn't care.

This is no less than a power struggle for control and use of our O&C lands. It's the environmental extremists versus our expert federal land managers. In this continuing conflict, we are the losers. These lands, by the O&C Act of 1937, are to be managed for the primary purpose of economic benefit to the counties. At the time of the act, the estimated timber volume on these lands was approximately 42 billion board feet of growing softwood timber. In 2007, those same lands are estimated to contain 73 billion board feet. That is a 31 billion board foot increase, despite 70 years of timber harvesting.

Now everyone can do something to save our libraries and services. The BLM is taking public comments on its Western Oregon Plan Revision (WOPR). This new plan will govern how the BLM will manage our O&C lands for the next 10 years. The draft environmental impact statement offers three alternatives, along with a "no change" option. Their preferred alternative (No. 2) is to increase harvests in all districts to merely half of historical levels.

BLM experts recognize the need to thin vastly overgrown and overcrowded forests. They understand that catastrophic fire danger is at an all-time high. They are not proposing clear-cutting our old-growth forests as the environmentalists would have you believe. Read the document, or a summary of the alternatives, to see the transparency of the rhetoric. The BLM plan is carefully designed to maintain and develop new habitat for endangered and threatened species (owl and murrelet). Thinning of forests would be used to promote the development of mature or structurally complex forests to create suitable habitat. Timber from thinning would also be sold for economic benefit for our counties.

The plan creates timber management areas apart from old growth areas, riparian areas and withdrawn areas (wilderness, roadless, National Landscape Conservation System such as Soda Mountain). Rivers, lakes and streams will be protected.

The experts have decided that for the health of our forests, streams and our counties, alternative No. 2 is the best of all options. Let's let the experts manage these lower elevation timberlands for the benefit of all. If we don't manage them both carefully and with purpose, we will ultimately lose them to fire and disease. Please, for the sake of both the county and forest health, show you now care.

Send your comments of support before Nov. 9 to: or to Western Oregon Plan Revisions, P.O. Box 2965, Portland, OR 97208

David Schott is executive vice president of Southern Oregon Timber Industry Association, based in Medford.

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