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BLM Lands In Oregon May Lose Protection

The Bush administration is attempting to remove environmental restrictions from 2.4 million acres of Oregon's federal forests scattered throughout the Cascade, Siskiyou and Coastal mountains, land which have a checkered history.
BLM Lands in Oregon May Lose Protection

By Annette McGee Rasch

The Bush administration is attempting to remove environmental restrictions from 2.4 million acres of Oregon's federal forests scattered throughout the Cascade, Siskiyou and Coastal mountains, land which have a checkered history.

This patchwork of western Oregon managed by the Bureau of Land MAnagement (BLM) contains 800,000 acres of ancient forest lands that may be headed for the chopping block as the agency revises management plans to eliminate old-growth and streamside protections.

Over the last decade, these low-elevation lands had been amanaged under the mostly defunct Northwest Forest Plan. Now timber planners in the BLM's Coos Bay, Roseburg and Medford districts are targeting critical spotted owl habitats, places that are also key watersheds for salmon recovery.

Back in the days of the early settlers, sweet heart deals allowed railroad companies to sell these public forest lands as they please-and much of it went illegally to infant timber corporations.

Checkerboard:

in 1886 Oregon recieved a huge land grant that included every otehr square mile in a 40 mile lowland swath stretching from Portland south to the California border.

When the corrupt sales were brought to light in 1903, the federal government reclaimed the remaining scattered lands. The Oregon & California Railroad Act in 1937 put management of these forests into the hands of the General Lands Office, which merged with the Grazing Service and ultimately incarnated into the BLM in 1946.

Today, the lands in question represent some of the most biologically productive forests in the world and are critical connecting blocks to the largely mountainous national forests of western Oregon. They feature ancient coastal hemlock in the Medford District and towering Douglas first in the Roseburg, Salem, and Eugene districts.

The BLM will accept public comments until an Environmental Impact Statement comes out, expected within months. To express your concern for fish, wildlife and fuuture recreation opportunities, write to Bureau of Land Management, Oregon/Washington State Office, ATTN: Western Oregon Planning Revision (OR930.1). PO Box 2965, Portland, OR 97208.

Using blazes like Oregon's 2002 Biscuit fire asa pretext, Oregon Republican Congressman Greg Walden last month introduced a measure that would sweep aside wildlife protection in order to speed up post-fire logging and raodbuilding in natural forests.

A few weeks later, Oregon's Republican Senator Gordon SMith also introduced a bill akin to Walden's measure. Environmental critics said both measures were unnecessary when it comes to reducing fire risk, and instead would streamline salvage logging to target large trees.

Walden's Forest Emergency Recovery and REsearch ACt, HR 4200, would waive the National Environmental Policy Act, eliminating meaning ful review and public input, after such normal natural events as rainstorms, drought and fires. It would require "forest recovery"--logging and road-building--to begin within 60 to 120 days after a fire, with little time for analysis or to see how the forest is recovering on its own.

Udall Alternative:

Meanwhile New Mexico Democratic Congressman Tom Udall has introduced an alternative bill, the National Forests Rehabilitation and Revocery act, HR 3973, which calls for responses to such natural events as fires based on science and community collaboration.

It would set up five pilot projectds monitored by a naional scientific community to test rehabilitation needs.

*Critics of Walden's bill, co-sponsored by Washington Congressman Brian Baird, point out that no emergency requires logging after norlam events such as fire. What's more, logging after such natural disturbances is neither restoration nor recovery.

They argue that logging sensitive recovering forests degrades aquatic habitat be ause of runoff, spreads invasive weeds. creates tree farms-- and winds up as a money loser for the tax payer.

Biscuit Bust:

The Biscuit fire salvage project, for example, demonstrated that such logging pollutes water, erodes soil, harms fish and wildlife and actually slows forest recovery.

Most citizens living within areas affected by wildfires believe that the focus should be on making people safe. Instead, the Walden bill would enable the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to redirect fire protection funding to liquidate remaining old-growth public forests. It also would allow "temporary" roads in roadless and old-growth areas.

Smith's measure, called the Forests for Future Generations Act. calls for shorter timelines for rehabilitation projects and encourages resolution of desputes through mediation and not delaying court action.

The Walden bill is now moving quickly, with a hearing by the House Agriculture Committee. It could go to the House floor for a vote as early as December 12th.

To tell your Congressperson what you think, call (202) 224-3121 or Walden at (202) 225-6730;
email walden.house.gov/contactgreg


For more info, go to www.americanlands.org