24 Jan 2010, 3:59pm
Federal forest policy Politics and politicians
by admin

What’s wrong with the eastside forest compromise

By Jack Ward Thomas, OregonLive.com, January 22, 2010 [here]

Sen. Ron Wyden’s proposed legislation on eastern Oregon forests — the Oregon Eastside Forests Restoration, Old Growth Protection and Jobs Act of 2009 — clearly recognizes that the governance of the national forest system is increasingly dysfunctional, expensive, inconsistent, confused and frustrating.

Surely, those who cobbled together this “compromise” did so with the best of intentions. And Wyden has the courage to address the impasse. But the proposal sidesteps the real problem and opens a Pandora’s box. This solution will prove to be neither feasible nor long-lasting while further confusing the situation. Should the national forests become “local forests” managed under separate laws and overseen by advisory panels financed with federal dollars and staffed with federal employees? Who cut this deal — which is proposed as law supplanting current prescribed planning and management processes?

I don’t question the proponents’ integrity or motivations. I applaud their willingness to step forward. But the approach is flawed, inappropriate, less than fully informed and has implications for the management of the entire national forest system. It should be debated in that context.

If current laws, regulations and legal precedents continue in force, success is questionable. Proposed actions remain subject to legal challenge. And unless Oregon’s congressional delegation routinely earmarks funds to execute Wyden’s plan, the anticipated results are unlikely.

The deal assumes status-quo conditions – political, economic, ecological and legal. But dramatic change is but one insect and/or disease outbreak, one fire season, one mill closure, one appeal, one successful legal challenge, one budget, one new research result or one shift in market conditions away.

The deal hinges upon trade-off s between interest groups. Those who wanted environmental protection got their wishes – upfront. Those who wanted a “guaranteed” supply of raw material or a certain number of acres to be “treated” are, in gambler’s terminology, “betting on the come.”

What happens when this deal plays out? Who cuts the next deal? Will Wyden be there – ready, willing, and able – to enact the deal into law?

A similar tact is being taken by Sen. Jon Tester in Montana – but in a very different approach. Imagine such individualized deals made into law for 154 national forests by uncoordinated actions of dozens of senators who come and go with elections.

Clearly, the governance of national forests is dysfunctional due to numerous, overlapping, contradictory laws continuously and variously interpreted by the courts. That’s the problem. These bills are “sick canaries in the mine shaft” – indications that something is dangerously amiss.

Would it not be better to recognize and comprehensibly address that dysfunction?

Jack Ward Thomas is chief emeritus of the U. S. Forest Service.



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