The elephant in the room
Most of the public debate over legislation to increase logging in Oregon is centered around the checkerboard O&C Lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). However, there’s an elephant in the room—the National Forest O&C Lands.
Senator Wyden’s O&C Act of 2014 doesn’t include National Forest land. Representatives DeFazio, Walden and Schader’s bill does. The legislation, which passed the House last September (H.R. 1526), would turn certain National Forest O&C Land over to what’s referred to as the “timber trust”—to be managed similar to private industrial forests under the Oregon Forest Practices Act,
The National Forest lands are not mapped or otherwise identified, except that up to 220,000 acres of National Forest—with stands 125 years of age or younger—would be transferred to the timber trust. Included would be native fire placement stands, as well as plantations. The White House has indicated H.R. 1526 is a non-started with them. So what now?
Above—The Shasta Costa Key Watershed and Roadless Area (Siskiyou National Forest) has a broad swath of National Forest O&C lands across it. © Barbara Ullian
The timber industry, Association of O&C Counties and backers of H.R. 1526 want the National Forest O&C lands in any compromise legislation, ostensibly to up the timber volume—only they’re not saying so publicly. Everyone is pussyfooting around the subject for political reasons. The downside of the obscurity is that, if our National Forests are being essentially gifted to the timber industry to increase the cut on federal public lands in Oregon, the public needs to know.
The National Forest O&C Lands
Running across parts of seven National Forests in Oregon are almost a half million acres of O&C Lands. They’re O&C Lands for the purpose of revenue sharing only (see right side bar for the seven National Forests). These National Forest System holdings are different from other O&C Lands. First, they’re managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Second, they’re managed under laws and regulations governing the National Forest System.
These are first and foremost National Forests. On the Siskiyou National Forest, where there’s approximately 173,000 acres of checkerboard O&C Lands, they’re Botanical and Research Natural Areas, Inventoried Roadless Areas and Late-Successional Forest Reserves.
Nationally outstanding streams and rivers flow through them. They’re Northwest Forest Plan Key Watersheds and some of the steepest, most landslide prone ground in the Northwest, as well as some of the last best salmon and steelhead streams.
Controverted lands—code for National Forest O&C Lands
Those pressing to include National Forest lands in O&C legislation refer to them not as National Forests but as “controverted” lands. The proponents of increased logging insist they’re not talking about contiguous national forest lands. So they use code—controverted lands—to obfuscate that they are, indeed, pushing to increase logging on some of the most salmon-rich botanically diverse federal public lands in the National Forest System—well beyond the existing law and what the established science supports . See side bar for definition of “controverted” lands.
No one knows what will happen in the effort to reconcile the two pieces of legislation but we should know what National Forest lands could be on the table and be arguing for their protection.
O&C Lands in the Illinois River Basin
and Shasta Costa Watershed
Above—Google earth image showing the National Forest O&C Lands in the Illinois River Basin and Shasta Costa Watershed.
Red = National Forest O&C lands (aka “controverted” lands).
Orange = BLM O&C and Public Domain Lands.
Green line = National Forest boundary.
Double white line = National Wild and Scenic Rivers.
Above—There’s National Forest O&C Lands in eleven Botanical and Research Natural Areas on the Siskiyou National Forest, including the Bigelow Lake Botanical Area in the Oregon Caves Revitalization Act of 2013 (S. 254 and H.R. 2489).
Above—Google earth image of the mix of BLM O&C Lands (orange overlay) and private forest land that’s managed under the Oregon Forest Practices Act. Cow Creek runs through the image.
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 Controverted lands — If National Forest O&C lands are mentioned at all in the debate over increasing logging, they’re referred to as “controverted” lands. Some deny there are any national forest lands involved. For example on August 21, 2013, when stumping for the O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Act, Doug Robinson (President of the O&C Counties) told OPB’s “Think Out Loud” that:
First of all, We’re not talking about National Forests. We’re not talking about large contiguous blocks of forests land like we see on the Mt. Hood, or the Willamette or the Umpqua. We’re talking about a checker board of federally owned lands managed by the BLM interspersed primarily with industrial forest products company owners from Portland all the way down to Ashland … You have a situation where you don’t have the opportunity to block up large areas of forest lands because they don’t exist in large blocks. These lands are very unique, they’re not managed by the Forest Service. They’re managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
Mr. Robinson is being disingenuous, because the legislation he was promoting on “Think Out Loud” would essentially privatize approximately 220,000 acres of “contiguous” National Forest O&C land by transferring management from the Forest Service to what is being called a “timber trust.” Under the legislation, the timber trust lands would be managed, not as national forest lands, but for all practical purposed as private industrial forest lands under the Oregon Forest Practices Act. Further, these National Forest O&C lands are indeed managed by the Forest Service.
 The O and C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Act has been folded into H.R. 1526.
During the February 6, 2014 hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for S. 1784 (archived webcast) Doug Robinson’s stated:
[O}ne of the thing that needs to happen …if we’re going to achieve the outputs in terms of harvest levels and revenues … is we’re going to have to grow the land base a bit . That means public domain lands. That means perhaps some controverted lands. That can be done.
On August 15, 2013, Representative DeFazio, in an online video taped interview, told the Salem Stateman Journal (SSJ) Editorial Board. about how the timber industry and O&C Counties refused to support permanent county payment funding in the 1990s when there was a federal government budget surplus. The statement was at about minute 35:00. However, the SSJ website no longer has the interview. Here’s an approximate transcript of what Mr. DeFazio said:
When those guarantees were first made, I tried to make them permanent … there was a [budget] surplus … we tried to pass a bill to make county payments permanent … at the time the industry and counties didn’t want to do that … they wanted to create a cliff and said they thought that would drive us within five years to adopt different management on these lands… it didn’t … I predicted a crisis – it happened …