Wyden Pacific Northwest forest plan meets skepticism

By Paul Fattig

For the Tidings

Both sides in the forest debate are a bit leery of a plan drafted by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to resolve the long-running argument over how to best manage federal forestlands in the Pacific Northwest.

Timber industry groups and the environmental community applauded Wyden for his efforts, but said the plan falls short of what is needed in Oregon.

The draft Oregon Forest Restoration and Old Growth Protection Act, released Thursday to gather comments from interested individuals and organizations, would prohibit cutting most old- growth trees on federal lands.

In addition, it would redirect the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to focus their activities on improving forest health and protecting rural communities from catastrophic fires.

"Unfortunately, his proposal has a fundamental flaw: Forests can't be managed based on the age of individual trees," said Tom Partin, president of the Portland-based American Forest Resource Council, in a prepared statement.

"Tree diameter, like age, does not tell us anything about the ecological significance of a tree to the stand or of the stand itself," he added. "Simple solutions just don't work when you are trying to manage for forest health and type diversity across the landscape."

The point, he said, is that a "one-size-fits-all" approach by prohibiting harvesting a single tree above a certain age doesn't work.

"We believe it will result in more gridlock, litigation and less work accomplished on the ground," he concluded.

But Joseph Vaile, campaign director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Ashland, said the draft has a loophole that would allow the harvest of old-growth trees.

"We are concerned it would leave out some older trees that are important for wildlife and fish habitat," he said. "It doesn't really give protection for older forests, especially those in watersheds that provide clean water and old-growth habitat."

Vaile also is concerned that the measure would provide less protection for old-growth trees on BLM forests.

"But there are certainly some goals in this bill which we think are very worthy to pursue," he said, citing the act's stated goal of restoring forest health. "We're hopeful this is the type of framework we can help improve on to get real protection for older forests and clean water."

Steve Pedry, conservation director for Oregon Wild, agreed.

"But it is important to find the right balance, and unfortunately this plan falls short," he said, noting the group wants to work with Wyden to improve the draft.

The factions should take a closer look at the draft legislation before passing final judgment, said Josh Kardon, Wyden's chief of staff, who presented the legislation during the AFRC's annual meeting in Stevenson, Wash.

"I hope their individual responses don't indicate they are satisfied with the status quo," Kardon said in a telephone interview, referring to years of legal battles over federal timber harvests.

Although Wyden included many of the factions in creating the draft, he will continue to gather comment on the measure, Kardon said. The senator plans to introduce final legislation later this spring, Kardon said.

"I anticipate we will bring small groups of reasonable people from both sides of the issues into our drafting discussion," he said.

The draft legislation would prohibit cutting any tree older than 120 years in "moist" forests on Oregon's west side while protecting those older than 150 years on most drier federal forests, according to the draft summary. In addition, no trees larger than 21 inches in diameter could be harvested from federal forestlands east of the Cascade Range.

It also would give the U.S. Forest Service $50 million and other incentives to shift their focus from traditional logging to restoration work that reduces the risk of wildfire and prepares forests for global warming.

Comments on the draft may be submitted on Wyden's Web site at http://wyden.senate.gov/forestproposal.cfm

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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