A petition signed by more than 150 Applegate Valley residents presented to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden's staff in Medford on Thursday asks Oregon's senior senator to consider what they say are reasonable forest management goals on former Oregon & California Railroad Co. lands in the valley.
The group also expressed opposition to the O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Act expected to be voted on by the full House later this month. The bill, which calls for some 1.6 million acres of O&C land to be managed by a trust for timber production, was written by Oregon U.S. Reps. Greg Walden, a Republican, and Democrats Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader. Democrat Wyden, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is expected to release his own proposal regarding future management of the former O&C lands. Timber receipts in lieu of taxes are distributed to 18 Western Oregon counties where the lands are located.
"These forests are worth more if we emphasize recreation, property values, wildfire hazard reduction," said Applegate Valley resident Kirsten Shockey, spokeswoman for the group.
"We support thinning out the underbrush, including commercial trees," she added. "That is where our management emphasis ought to be focused."
The group believes the value of the forested land, including clean water and recreational activities, is greater than using the acreage as industrial timberlands that could include clear-cutting and herbicide use.
"As residents of the Applegate Valley, we value the Bureau of Land Management lands that surround our homes because they are integral to our community," according to the petition.
"The forests and rivers managed by the BLM are essential to the clean drinking water, native salmon runs and the expanding recreation economy," it added.
The petition asks Wyden to focus management on thinning forests to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires and increase recreational opportunities on the forestlands.
Noting it is unrealistic to expect timber receipts from O&C lands to alone make up budget shortfalls to counties, it also calls for decoupling logging receipts from providing revenue to counties. It urges exploration of alternative revenues, including ecosystem services of public lands.
Increased county funding also could be derived through increased taxes on private timber harvests and increased county property taxes, as well as additional state or federal contributions, according to the petition.
The O&C Trust Act would place the roughly 2.6 million acres of O&C land on Bureau of Land Management forests in Western Oregon into two trusts. Roughly half of it would be managed for conservation, while the remainder would focus on sustainable timber production to help fund county coffers.
The act requires that half of the O&C Trust land be managed on a long rotation of between 100 and 120 years and that those stands be geographically dispersed to provide maximum ecological benefit. Private lands are typically managed on a 30- to 40-year rotation, according to Walden's office.
In addition, the bill would protect scientifically defined mature and old-growth forests on lands transferred to the U.S. Forest Service as well as on the O&C Trust acreage, his office reported.
It also would add 58,100 acres to the Rogue Wilderness Area in the lower Rogue River drainage. The proposal designates 93 miles of 35 tributaries of the Rogue as either "wild," "scenic" or "recreational" under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
In addition, it would withdraw 19 tributaries on the Rogue River, and 11 miles on the Chetco River from mining. The proposal is supported by the Oregon House and Senate, 15 county boards of commissioners, the Oregon State Sheriffs Association and timber industry groups. Supporters say economic relief is desperately needed for rural communities and for the 18 budget-strapped Western Oregon counties that are dependent on the timber receipts.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or firstname.lastname@example.org.