You might have noticed a couple of news items last week that could have a bearing on what happens over the next quarter-century with Oregon's wood-products industry.
In one of the news items, the U.S. Forest Service announced that it had completed a scientific report that could form the basis for changes to the Northwest Forest Plan. The agency now is taking public comment on the document. It's a major step in the process of revising the plan, which aims to protect old-growth forest habitat while providing a predictable flow of logs to the timber industry. The plan has been controversial in these parts.
In the other news item of some note, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States.
Now, national forest policy was not among the major pillars of Trump's platform, but we know what he said during his May campaign stop in Eugene: Like many of Trump's policy pronouncements, it was short on the details, but at least we got a sense of his overall thinking on the subject.
During the Eugene stop, Trump cited some general statistics: He said three-fourths of the state's lumber mills have closed since the 1980s. Half of the state's wood-products jobs have vanished since 1990, he said. He blamed federal regulations, such as the Environmental Protection Act and the Clean Water Act, for the losses.
That's the sort of stuff that played well at Trump campaign rallies in the West.
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But, like many of Trump's campaign promises, it remains to be seen how much of a difference his administration will make in terms of federal lands. (For one thing, thanks to automation at lumber mills, many of those jobs never will be coming back, regardless of what happens in D.C. For another, it's not clear whether these issues will be a priority for Trump.)
One big clue will come in the nominations Trump makes for the Cabinet positions that do oversee federal lands. In that regard, early reports have not been particularly promising, unless you like the prospect of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin or Lucas Oil co-founder Forrest Lucas at the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees more than 15 million acres of land inside Oregon. (Names that have been floated for the secretary of agriculture, who oversees the Forest Service, include Sid Miller, the controversial commissioner of agriculture in Texas, according to a weekend story in the Eugene Register-Guard. An editorial in a Texas newspaper had this to say about Miller: "(A)s much as many Texans would love to be rid of Miller and his many missteps, we can't inflict him on the rest of the nation.") Trump would do well to find different appointees for both of those positions.
The history lesson Trump needs to keep in mind involves James Watt, President Ronald Reagan's controversial secretary of the interior. We don't need to see that kind of divisive figure in charge of federal lands; in fact, such a nomination might well guarantee continued gridlock.
Similarly, aggressive efforts to roll back the Northwest Forest Plan or the Endangered Species Act likely will trigger major battles in Congress and the courts that will linger for years.
We can't afford that. As we have noted now for years, it's important that we get people back to work on our federal lands, tackling the kind of maintenance projects that have gone untended for decades. But missteps now by the president-elect could have the unintended effect of making that much harder to accomplish. (mm)