In a recent interview with the Democrat-Herald, Linn County Commissioner Roger Nyquist talked about the uncertain future for those federal timber payments, which have been financial boons for counties like Linn with plenty of federal land.
The payments are meant to make up for money lost when the timber cut on federal lands dropped dramatically. Every year looks like the last for the timber payments, and every year, the program is unexpectedly jolted back into life by legislative legerdemain. The process has become exhausting just to watch. Nyquist suggested he, for one, was weary of the dance.
“The source seems to always be in jeopardy,” he said. “We’d prefer the federal government allow for some timber harvesting.”
As do we. Which is why it was so frustrating to read another news story last week, this one from the Roseburg News-Review, about salvage logging on land burned by last summer’s Douglas Complex wildfires in southwestern Oregon.
Salvage logging is in full swing on privately owned forests. Roseburg Forest Products has cut 8 million board feet of timber from its lands outside Glendale and plans to cut another 24 million board feet, the newspaper said. (As a point of comparison, 1 million board feet is roughly enough to build 50 homes.)
If you’ve followed the wars over management of our federal forests, you probably can see this next part coming: The process is not going so swiftly on the federal lands scorched by the fires.
In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is still deep in the planning process and has no firm timber targets for the public land.
The contrast highlights the difficulties of getting timber cut on federal land – even from land that is designated primarily for timber production, as is the case in the some of these federal forests.
It’s true that there is value in leaving some of the burned lands as is: Dead trees, for example, can provide habitat for a variety of wildlife.
But there also is risk in leaving all the burned lands unmanaged: Dead trees lose value from rot. And burned timber on BLM lands can turn into fuel for another round of devastating fires.
To be fair, the BLM hasn’t been idle: It has removed logs cut in the course of fighting the fires, cut trees in danger of falling and worked to prevent erosion. It also is working on a lengthy planning process that will allow for plenty of public participation – and which likely will end in court somewhere. By contrast, private timberland owners can start logging within 15 days of filing a plan with the Oregon Department of Forestry.
Here’s the bottom line: Federal forests that could benefit from some logging are standing idle – and so are people who could desperately use the work. It’s hard to see how this serves either our populace or our forests. (mm)