We must put an end to political forestry

For the first time since 1968, Oregon actually mattered in a presidential primary contest, at least on the Democratic side. In fact, we saw more attention from the candidates than we are used to, with a focus on the issues that matter to most Oregonians.

The candidates talked about finding solutions for issues that are critical to many Oregonians. One of those issues is forest management. In the past two decades Oregon has heard a lot of politicians talk about managing our forests, providing jobs, and protecting the environment. Unfortunately, the only results we've seen are broken promises.

We look back at the years of empty promises and see that very few if any of the promises contained in the Northwest Forest Plan (NFP) adopted in April 1994 have been delivered. The timber production goal, very modest to begin with compared with previous timber production, was never achieved by a wide margin. There has been continued decline in the spotted owl population in spite of setting aside millions of acres of "owl habitat" to preserve or "restore" the species.

How about salmon restoration? By setting aside significant "salmon habitat" 14 years ago one would think that there would be at least some improvement in salmon (and other anadromous) populations. Anadromous fish populations seem to be in more trouble than before the NFP. Recreation is not doing well, with the Forest Service shutting down campsites and trying to impose fees on the public for use that used to be free.

The NFP has violated the O&C Act, which guaranteed that timber production for the benefit of communities was the dominant purpose of the lands under that act. Also not promised, maybe, but surely stated as a goal, was a reduction or halt to lawsuits. That never happened either. Endless lawsuits were and are the reason many good, on-the-ground projects never occurred.

Many forest products firms have shut down, many forest workers were displaced, many rural economies were wrecked, forest health has plummeted and catastrophic wildfires have increased. Last year in Oregon alone we lost nearly 650,000 acres due to wildland fires.

Meanwhile we have a huge number of trees choking our federal forests. They are not made available for harvest and delivery to mills. This has resulted in only one sawmill left within approximately 100 miles of Medford that will take sawmill-quality pine logs anymore! Competition for other species of logs is also anemic because of the reduced number of mills that will buy them.

In short, what was attempted under the NFP is nothing but an economic and ecologic disaster. That's an audacious opinion, but backed by unassailable facts.

The next time Oregonians vote, it will be for the next president, among other offices. Before we cast our ballots, we need to get some answers about the various candidates' paths to fulfilling the broken promises.

We need the candidates, both Republicans and Democrats, to commit to managing our federal forest based on real on-the-ground science — not what I call "schlock science" and "gonzo forestry" — or on political science. We can manage our forests with bugs and fire or with professionals. Which course will the candidates take?

More and more local citizens and groups are coming to the realization that timber harvest needs to occur in order to provide "healthy forests". Some perceptions about sizes of trees to be harvested, however, and other "forest value" issues need to mature before full-fledged, common-sense, science-based forest operations can occur on a scale that will make a positive difference. The underlying trend in thinking is encouraging, though.

We need to find out which candidates reflect this positive thinking. Which candidates will be sincere in supporting the kind of forest management that will revitalize Oregon's rural economy while protecting our environment? Will we hear nice sounding phrases just to capture votes, and be disappointed again? We should demand the candidates provide answers to hard questions about how they would propose managing Oregon's federal forests.

If citizens truly care about clean water, clean air, and healthy forest habitats for wildlife and beauty-then they must make our elected officials take action in a much different direction than what we've seen in the current Bush and former Clinton administrations.

Political forestry has got to stop. We need a change that reflects what the local interest groups are beginning to agree on. Let's demand it.

E.A. Kupillas is a retired professional forester. He lives on and manages a cattle and timber ranch near Butte Falls.

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