Today, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee on Public Lands held a hearing on S. 2895, Senator Wyden’s eastern Oregon forest legislation.
The Sierra Club penned a letter last week to Senator Wyden suggesting a number of modest changes that we believe would significantly improve the legislation and better meet the goals of eastern Oregon forest job creation, old growth forest protection, and long-term ecological restoration.
Click here to read the written testimony of Harris Sherman with the United States Department of Agriculture. In written testimony, the USDA expressed concerns similar to the Sierra Club’s, including the problems related to setting unrealistic annual mandated acreage targets, the removal of the public’s right to administratively appeal timber sales, and the precedent of enacting national forest legislation on a state-by-state basis.
From the Sierra Club’s perspective, the bill as written locks in arbitrary acreage targets that will push the Forest Service towards harmful management practices, without offering clear protection for old growth stands and unprotected roadless areas. It would also remove the public’s right to administratively appeal destructive timber sales over the next several years. The Sierra Club has been very successful in using administrative appeals to negotiate changes to Forest Service timber sales without having to resort to litigation.
We are proactively working with the Senator’s office to try to address some of these concerns before the bill moves forward but we cannot support the bill as currently written and would oppose it being included in an ‘omnibus’ public lands bill this year without some key language changes dealing with these issues. The use of a single ‘omnibus’ public lands bill to pass a large volume of separate and unrelated public lands bills has become more common in recent years as the Senate filibuster has been misused by some to stop nearly all legislation from moving on the Senate floor, and would be a likely vehicle for all Senate wilderness bills and Wyden’s eastside legislation this year.
At the top of our list of concerns about S. 2895 are the mandated annual acreage targets and unreasonable pressure to produce sawlogs and maintain mill infrastructure that we believe will undermine the restoration goals of the legislation, and the removal administrative appeals over the next several years, which will likely lead to more timber sale litigation on the eastside, not less.
It is worthwhile to note that the key environmental provisions in the bill such as large diameter tree protection and streamside buffers are already in practice on the eastside (they are known as the ‘eastside screens’), so while it is important to codify these things, these provisions do not necessarily mean improvement on the ground in and of themselves. The existing fight in eastside national forests is and will continue to be whether or not stands of old growth trees and unprotected roadless areas should be subject to mechanical entry, timber production, biomass removal, and so-called ‘temporary’ roads in the name of forest restoration and fuels reduction. All of these activities leave lasting impacts on soils and water quality and often run counter to the best available science and divert scarce federal resources away from more pressing forest restoration needs in more degraded and previously logged parts of the landscape.