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Bureau of Land Management Ordered to Sell More Timber, But Will It Actually Have to?

Posted by LeAndra Spicer on July 3, 2013
Southwestern Oregon’s timber industry received a boost recently, but the ultimate outcome remains to be seen. On June 26, district court judge Richard J. Leon ruled the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) failed to meet timber harvest targets outlined in the Medford and Roseburg districts' resource management plans since 2004 and ordered the BLM to increase its timber sales in those areas. As of the next fiscal year, which begins on October 1, the BLM is required to meet 80 percent of the harvest amount set forth in the 1995 management plans.
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The judgment was the result of a 2010 case filed against the Department of Interior by Swanson Group Manufacturing, Rough and Ready Lumber Company, Washington Contract Loggers Association, the American Forest Resource Council (AFRC) and Douglas Timber Operators.

According to the AFRC, lands in western Oregon managed by the BLM have 73 billion board feet of standing volume and can produce 1.2 billion board feet per year. The additional 54 million board feet of harvest called for by the district court during 2014 would create upwards of 400 jobs for loggers and mill workers, a benefit that comes too late for some. Rough & Ready Lumber closed its operations this past spring, citing too few logs to stay in business.

Northern Spotted Owls Impacted by Ruling

In addition to mandating increased timber sales, Judge Leon prohibited government agencies from further use of the “Owl Estimation Methodology” pending the outcome of a public comment process. Leon ruled the computer model was implemented without public input as required by the Administrative Procedures Act.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service uses the methodology – which estimates virtual numbers as opposed to real counts – to determine how many spotted owls live in areas deemed eligible for timber sales.

Noting the impact of the ruling, the director of the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics Andy Stahl said, "It means, I suspect, that they will actually have to go look for them, which is something they have not wanted to do."

Appeals & Legislation Likely to Follow

While Judge Leon’s decision pleased the timber industry, it frustrated the BLM and groups focused on conservation. Opponents suggest the BLM will find it difficult to increase harvest activity unless Congress increases its budget. Environmental groups disgruntled by the ruling argued increased harvests would violate the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. As such, a flurry of appeals is expected.

Meanwhile on the legislative front, Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley made efforts to support rural logging communities. On June 18, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee – chaired by Wyden – approved a one-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.

Between its start in 2000 and its expiration at the end of fiscal year 2012, rural counties have relied on Secure Rural Schools payments to make up for timber revenues lost due to conservations efforts. Under the extension, Secure Rural Schools payments would continue at a five percent reduced rate.

Despite these efforts, timber industry groups have criticized legislators for failing to introduce bills aimed to establish increased timber harvests. Given the legal wrangling anticipated over the latest district court ruling, legislation is the only likely way to reach a timber harvest, funding and conservation trifecta.

Topics: forest management

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