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The limits of tolerance

While coming out against U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden's Western Oregon timber plan, Umpqua Watersheds has invited a debate over values.

It's a debate the timber industry should welcome.

In a recent letter to Wyden, the Roseburg-based conservation group asserts that society won't tolerate the White Castle timber sale or similar harvests.

As proof, Umpqua Watersheds points to the tree-sitters blocking White Castle. "Now we know the limits to social tolerance for this style of forestry in this type of forest," the letter states.

If the senator persists in using harvests like White Castle to increase timber production, there will be a backlash, Umpqua Watersheds reasons.

"More White Castles will only create more tree villages — with or without this legislation," the group states.

To see the tree-sitters as indicators of "social tolerance" is pretty rich.

It also says a lot about the undemocratic, no-compromise approach conservation groups have taken to Oregon & California Railroad trust lands.

Wyden's timber bill could as accurately be called his "wilderness bill" because it would set aside more than a million acres for conservation. It's so moderate that it may not be sufficient to sustain a robust wood-products industry in Southern Oregon.

Still, it's not good enough for conservation groups.

The environmental movement has been good at claiming the high ground — save the condors, save the whales, save the Earth.

Expressing values that capture the public's goodwill has been their strength. Who's against clean air and clean water?

The campaign against logging O&C lands is a tougher sale.

The lands grow 1.2 billion board feet of timber a year, according to the Bureau of Land Management. Less than one-fifth of that new growth is harvested annually. Wyden has targeted cutting about one-fourth. Even a more-aggressive House plan, dead on arrival in the Senate, would have yielded less than one-half.

For the most part, Oregon's state and federal lawmakers, mostly Democrats, to some degree support higher timber harvests on public lands. The payback would be more jobs and better funding for public services, such as libraries and law enforcement. Solid values.

With the tide running against them, conservation groups have responded with visceral arguments. Even Oregon Wild eventually called its misleading "Welcome to Oregon, Home of the Clearcut" ad campaign "tongue-in-cheek."

Unemployment and poverty are high in timber counties, yet environmental groups claim the role of victim. They act hurt at the thought any environmental protection may be weakened. They exploit any federal law they can to hinder logging. Meanwhile, self-styled "forest defenders" physically block a legal timber sale and are held up as the public's bellwether.

By all means, conservation groups, hold up the tree-sitters as representatives of your values.