Both DeFazio and his foes are on wrong track

By Tim Hermach

Published: (Thursday, Jun 14, 2012 05:00AM) Today


As a native Oregonian, I’ve witnessed and documented the failure of industrial forestry to be truthful or to sustain forest and human communities in Oregon for more than 50 years.


The timber industry already has logged more than 90 percent of Oregon’s native forests, both public and private. Most of the timber has been exported as logs, pseudo-processed “lumber,” chips, pulp and now even pellets. There never has been any real intention to sustain our forest or human communities — just finish logging our region and move on.


It’s clear to me that neither U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio’s proposal to increase timber supplies and revenues through his O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Act or the counterproposal from Oregon Wild and the Sierra Club, called Shared Responsibility, would solve our forest conflicts or hold these real culprits responsible.


Why? Because their so-called solutions don’t address Oregon’s real problem: unrestricted and untaxed corporate logging. Until major timber companies such as Weyerhaeuser, which owns more land in Lane County than the Bureau of Land Management manages, are held accountable for clear-cutting and exporting the forest, damaging our water and wildlife, and poisoning human communities, we’ll have log shortages, revenue shortages and continuing social conflict.


Privatizing half of the westside BLM lands and quickly clear-cutting them under Oregon’s archaic Forest Practices Act simply exacerbates this larger forest problem.


Oregon’s Forest Practices Act is no more than a manifesto exonerating logging, no matter how much it degrades our water or endangers our health. Without serious restrictions, industry will continue to export Oregon’s mill jobs along with our forest, while applying unrelenting political pressure to log what little is left of federal forests.


The government doesn’t assign any initial value to our forest commonwealth, or even add the cost of growing the timber it sells so cheaply. That explains industry’s relentless pressure to log more federal forest, even in a down domestic timber market. Consequently, BLM timber is sold for ridiculously low prices, sales can be held for long times without charge, and whiny bidders can cancel and rebid at even lower prices if the market drops.


We give away U.S. Forest Service timber sales much the same way, often selling valuable mature timber for, literally, a few cents on the dollar. Transferring BLM forest lands to Forest Service management, as Oregon Wild and Sierra Club suggest, won’t resolve this highly subsidized selling of our trees or the building of more taxpayer-funded roads in our already fragmented forests. Existing roads could put people to work with $10 billion worth of backlogged repair and restoration instead of adding more miles.


Oregon Wild and the Sierra Club say they “have grave concern” about DeFazio’s privatization proposal. Just how grave are their concerns, really?


Oregon Wild has been signing off on huge BLM timber sales under the guise of “thinning” for a decade; it is working with Boise Cascade and Sen. Ron Wyden to promote a political effort to triple logging in Eastern Oregon.


The Sierra Club also has sold out to big resource extractors — companies like Chesapeake Energy, which put the environment and public health at risk by fracking for natural gas reserves in a glutted market.


Those of us with real concerns about DeFazio’s plan to plunder yet more of the public forests are, understandably, equally concerned with Gang Green’s alternative proposal.


DeFazio didn’t invite Oregon Wild or the Sierra Club into the process in his effort to accelerate clear-cutting on BLM lands. I suggest their egos were wounded, so they came out with a counterproposal that, as does DeFazio’s act, dodges the real problem: untaxed corporate deforestation.


Oregon Wild’s “Shared Responsibility” proposal, instead of addressing this well-­documented problem, proposes to raise taxes on homeowners­ and small tree farmers, penalizing the innocent instead of the guilty.


Why should the smaller landowners who have not had their taxes excused now have them raised? Especially while the largest land owners, such as Roseburg and Weyerhaeuser, have been excused from nearly all property taxes since 1977 and timber harvest taxes since 1999?


It appears that Oregon Wild, the Sierra Club, and their allies are too compromised by their well-funded industrial collaborations to be of much value in offering equitable solutions to our forest problems or really protecting our forest heritage.


The mature timber remaining in Oregon is, fortunately for now, vested in federal forests — forests that have been far better protected and sustained than industry’s. Few places in United States have native forests that remain unlogged. Focused in Oregon, these old forests are the prize — the last great reserve.


They are also the last great timber jackpot, coveted and relentlessly pursued by industry and their politicians.


It is a moral shame that we still have to fight to preserve these remnants. Belonging to all Americans, they deserve real protection without excuse or compromise.


Tim Hermach of Eugene has been director of the Native Forest Council ( since 1988.