Repeating mistakes of the past

In an out-of-court settlement with the timber industry, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agreed to revise land management plans for western Oregon. The plan revision, known as the WOPR (Western Oregon Plan Revision), proposes to remove BLM lands from the landmark Northwest Forest Plan, drastically reducing protections for ancient forests, salmon streams, and wildlife habitat while promoting industrial logging. The BLM is attempting to roll back the clock based on a narrow interpretation of the Oregon California Lands Act (OC Act).

Led by noted conservationist Harold Ickes, the Department of Interior drafted the OC Act in 1937 with the goal of conserving forest resources and creating a ""&

166;management plan for permanent forest protection"&

166;" At the time, the nation had witnessed a long series of environmental disasters. The dust bowl &

a result of drought and poor farming practices &

was devastating the Great Plains and rampant deforestation in the Great Lakes states and southeast prompted calls for restraint. In 1937, the economy, already devastated by the Great Depression, took a sharp downturn as unemployment approached 20 percent. Under these extreme conditions, Congress passed the OC Act directing the General Land Office (later to become the BLM) to manage these lands:


166;for the purpose of providing a permanent source of timber supply, protecting watersheds, regulating stream flow, and contributing to the economic stability of local communities and industries, and providing recreational facilities"&


The WOPR preferred alternative ignores the conservation values at the heart of the OC Act and instead relies on an outdated view of the law and forest resources proposing to:


162; Increase logging of old-growth forests by 700 percent.


162; Shrink streamside protection buffers by over 50 percent muddying streams and harming salmon populations.


162; Give logging priority over managing Oregon's big game herds.


162; Increase the area of high fire hazard by 33 percent on the Roseburg District and up to 400 percent on other districts.

We have come along way since 1937. Wildlife-related recreation now generates over $2 billion annually for Oregon's economy, the public overwhelmingly supports protecting the last remnants of ancient forests, and laws such as the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act provide a legal mandate to protect streams and imperiled species. Protecting old forests contributes to minimizing the impacts of global climate change, as these forests store extraordinary amounts of carbon that otherwise is released to the atmosphere when a forest is cut down.

Today's forest managers have a unique opportunity. The BLM estimates that nearly 2 billion board feet of timber is available from overstocked stands. We can provide timber and jobs by thinning tree farms while reducing fire hazard. Restoring fire-resilient forests, reducing forest fuels near homes, and removing deteriorating roads that degrade salmon streams should be the BLM's priority.

The OC Act was written to prevent repeating the mistakes of the past. The WOPR's extreme approach returns us to an outdated way of thinking about forests and sets counties up to fail, as the controversy and litigation halt forest management.

The comment period for the WOPR Draft Environmental Impact Statement ends Jan. 11, 2008.

Richard S. Nauman is a Conservation Scientist and Dominick DellaSala, Ph.D. is Chief Scientist for the National Center for Conservation Science Policy (). Nauman can be reached at

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