The 1994 Northwest Forest Plan was greeted with great political fanfare. It was supposed to "end the timber wars" by providing a stable and reliable long-term supply of timber volume for industry while protecting the northern spotted owl habitat and population.
However, the plan has proven to be a colossal failure. The Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service have come nowhere near meeting their allowable annual sale quantity. Timber sales are continually contested and the spotted owl population continues to decline even with drastic timber reductions in harvest volume. Now the barred owl, a natural enemy for the spotted owl, has begun displacing the spotted owls.
Mills must have a stable and reliable quantity of timber volume to survive. Because of lack of sufficient volume from federal lands, several mills have closed, leaving two local survivors.
In attempts to obtain agreement and satisfaction regarding public agencies, industry and the environmentalists, a few "new timber sale prescriptions" have been developed in cooperation with academia. These sales are attempts to create jobs and get timber volume to mills while protecting the environment. These prescription sales, too, have been failures because they have not met the overall intended results. Thus, not everyone is satisfied with them.
These new attempts have been very expensive, have produced very little commercial timber and too little revenue to be profitable to the counties Thus, they haven't met the legal requirements of the O&C Act of 1937 to produce revenue for the local counties.
These "treatments" provide a few jobs with family living wages. But In my opinion, these "treatments" are even more dangerous to loggers because of their prescriptions. Loggers have sustained severe injuries in such "treatments."
Over many years, so-called environmentalists have complained that federal land management agencies have produced below-cost timber sales. No such sales have occurred in my experience. In fact, these "new sales" are below-cost or revenue-neutral "landscape treatment projects" not timber sales applying the same principles learned in the past, i.e., incorporating selective logging.
Environmentalists continually state that "old-growth" or "ancient" trees should not be cut. There is no mutual acceptance in the scientific community of exactly what the definition is for old-growth trees. Respected forest scientists have defined old growth by age varying from 150 years to 200 years old.
Apparently the only timber sales acceptable to environmentalists are thinning of small-diameter trees near homes to reduce wildfire hazards. Such sales produce little commercial timber and are either below cost or provide very little revenue. Such "treatments" produce political, not professional or scientific, overall forest management.
County revenues continue to decline with major negative impacts on local safety, law enforcement and other critical county programs. With the economic woes of our national budget, local governments will obtain little to no additional federal funds to help out. This situation does not have to exist if federal land-management agencies were allowed to apply proven professional and scientific principles, and if frivolous appeals and lawsuits were eliminated.
Allowing effective management of our forestlands and producing timber volumes allocated in the Northwest Forest Plan would also comply with the legal requirements of the federal O&C Act. It also would lessen the large declines in county revenues. The inability to allow these agencies to properly manage public forest lands certainly will increase the probability of catastrophic forest fires.
County officials previously have expressed concern about federal land decisions from which they've been excluded. Decisions to establish the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and Soda Mountain Wilderness Area are examples. County officials should be very concerned regarding such federal decisions because there are those in the environmental community who want to preserve as much federal forest acreage as possible to establish more wilderness areas and monuments.
It takes only political support to pass congressional legislation or obtain a presidential executive order to create these highly restricted areas, whether or not the process or land areas meet necessary regulatory or legal criteria. Support may include members of Congress, the administration or even the judiciary, who know little or nothing about federal land management. Politicians often are willing to trade support for one cause or another to obtain support for their own causes. Thus we get the resulting political forest management.
David Jones is a 34-year veteran of the Bureau of Land Management, having worked in several locations throughout the West and Washington, D.C. He retired after serving 12 years as the BLM's Medford District manager.