Eugene Weekly : News : 1.10.08

Forest Stewardship
Is the BLM’s WOPR just a distraction?

The Bureau of Land Management’s Western Oregon Plan Revisions (WOPR) has been the using up a lot of the time and effort of environmentalists from Eugene and around Oregon. Some local forest activists think it’s a distraction from a more nefarious plan — logging under the guise of forest stewardship.

The WOPR’s preferred alternative (Alternative 2) proposes a 700 percent increase in logging in Oregon’s old-growth forests. The public comment period on the plan ends Jan. 11, and many environmentalists believe the plan will end up going into litigation.

Tim Hermach, executive director of the Native Forest Council (NFC), says the WOPR is a “totally bogus plan” and the BLM is using “military tactics, designed not to win but to refocus.” With all the focus on the WOPR, he says, environmentalists are not paying attention to stewardship contracting.

“Stewardship end result contracting” was created under the Clinton administration, says Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics Executive Director Andy Stahl. It’s a plan in which land managers barter trees for “good works in the woods” — improvements to the land or watershed. For example, a contractor would thin trees from forestland and in exchange would maintain trails on that land or get rid of trails to restore water quality.

While Stahl agrees that there are problems with stewardship projects, he says, “There is no possible way that the WOPR is a scheme to distract from stewardship contracting.”

Stewardship contracting was originally limited to Forest Service lands, but in 2003, it was expanded under the Bush administration to the BLM as well. The stewardship authority was expanded until 2013 and contracts can last as long as 10 years, says Bill Barton, director of field operations for the NFC.

There is no limit to the amount of land under a stewardship contract, says Barton. He cites the 3.3 million acre Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest of Montana, which has been proposed as a stewardship area by a coalition of forest industry and green groups. This gives them “complete control of a national forest,” he says. If the WOPR goes through, BLM lands in Oregon could still become stewardship lands, he says, “and not one cent to the counties if stewardship goes through.”

Unlike timber sale money on O&C lands, which gives 50 percent of gross timber revenues to O&C counties, any money earned under stewardship contracting goes back into the project or other stewardship projects.

Another of Barton’s criticisms of stewardship contracting is that the stewardship authority is “vague,” with “a lot of room for mischief.”

Barton also says that there is “no accurate measure of the amount of wood taken from a forest under stewardship contracting,” and “they don’t scale the trees as they come out.” If trees are not scaled (measured) Barton is concerned that there is no way of knowing if larger trees are being taken out, in addition to the smaller thinned trees.

Finally, Barton contends that although stewardship contracts “give the illusion of public involvement,” the final say lies not in the community, but with regional agency directors.

Oregon currently has 26 Forest Service and four BLM stewardship projects, most of which involve some degree of thinning for fuels reduction to prevent forest fires or as an attempt to grow larger trees. Thinning is where the controversy about stewardship arises.

“Commercial thinning has the environmental community split,” says Stahl. He divides the split into “jobs in the woods” people who see “social merit in having a logging industry and having communities like Sweet Home remain on the map” versus “zero cut” who don’t want to see any logging at all. “Compounding the split,” he says, “are Wyden and DeFazio who have declared themselves ‘Thinning R Us.'”

Sen. Wyden made a call back in December to increase thinning on public lands, and Rep. DeFazio told the News-Review in Roseburg in December that he was trying to “garner support” for “an alternative approach based on thinning” and is working on legislation to get O&C counties 75 percent, rather than 50 percent of timber receipts.

Once the BLM has assessed public comments on the WOPR, it will release a “Proposed Resource Management Plan” and a final Environmental Impact Statement in September 2008. This will be followed by a 30-day “protest period.”

Bill Barton and Tim Hermach will be speaking at the Eugene City Club at noon Friday, Jan. 11, in a talk entitled “Logging and Taxes: How Are We Affected?”