Representatives of more than 30 family farms in Jackson and Josephine counties have sent a letter to Oregon's U.S. senators, asking the lawmakers to remember small farms when considering the impact of increased logging on local watersheds.
In the July 7 letter to Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, the farmers, mostly from organic operations, stressed their need for clean water and a healthy environment to produce their crops.
"We are not opposed to responsible forest management on public lands managed by the BLM," noted the letter, referring to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
"However, many of these forestlands, known as O&C lands, have been proposed for as much as a ten-fold increase in logging," it continued. "Also, policies have been suggested that would reduce stream buffers, log old-growth trees and renew clearcutting."
The group also expressed concern that the former Oregon and California Railroad Co. lands could be managed to favor timber production over clean water production, wildlife habitat, recreation and tourism.
"We depend on clean water, scenic views and a healthy natural environment for growing abundant nutritious local foods," the letter stated. "Policy changes that would sacrifice the landscape where our farms operate are not in the best interest of our Southern Oregon farms."
Congress is considering revamping laws governing the so-called O&C lands in Western Oregon to provide more revenue for budget-strapped counties that depend on income from timber harvests in lieu of taxes. Wyden is the chairman of the powerful Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
The small farmers, who produce everything from vegetables to wine grapes, say they support responsible forest management, especially in areas where thinning is needed to reduce the threat of a catastrophic wildlands fire.
Any management policy that threatens the water quality or the environment would have a devastating impact on their crops, they say.
"Our farms are adjacent to or nearby O&C forestlands," said Josh Cohen of Barking Moon Farm in the Applegate Valley.
"Farming in the Rogue and Applegate River valleys is important to the local economy and it is an important reason why people find Southern Oregon an attractive region to visit and settle down," he added.
Tom Powell of the Wolf Gulch Farm in the Little Applegate River drainage agreed.
"Our farms are known to produce high quality natural products," he said. "We should not sacrifice our clean water and ancient forests that surround our farms. We don't need clearcutting or herbicides on our public forests. We have enough of those practices on timber industry forests." The farmers called for thinning forests over clearcutting to protect the forestland.
"Our forests need small trees thinned around large trees," said Taylor Staff of White Oak Farm in Williams. "Cutting big trees or clear-cutting these forests would just increase the risk of severe wildfire."
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.