Representatives Greg Walden (OR-02), Peter DeFazio (OR-04), and Kurt Schrader (OR-05) and Senator Ron Wyden today described the Department of the Interior's Western Oregon Task Force recommendations as "too little, too late" for western Oregon's rural communities. The Task Force recommendations come more than one year after the administration's decision to withdraw the Bush-era Western Oregon Plan Revisions (WOPR) for managing BLM forest lands. When the Department of Interior announced it was withdrawing the WOPR, it also announced that the BLM would offer forest restoration and timber projects aimed at sustaining timber jobs and maintaining the industry's infrastructure for the next 18-24 months, while it continued to work on a long-term plan. However, the projects haven't resulted in any meaningful harvest levels and the Task Force recommendations simply outline a process to get a plan within the next 3-5 years.
DeFazio and Schrader were joined by Wyden and Walden in sending a letter to Secretary Salazar asking him to meet with the Oregon delegation to discuss their recommendations on how to move forward with a long-term forest plan. The delegation requested a meeting in May, but has not yet received a response.
"It's extremely disappointing that the administration's task force doesn't provide a clear path forward for creating jobs in western Oregon's forests and mill towns," Walden said. "Instead their report suggests more bureaucracy, study, and delay at a time when unemployment remains well above the national average in Jackson and Josephine counties. It's doubly frustrating that while this report was being put together, timber sales dropped to historic lows. The sick forests and the economy in southern Oregon can't wait any longer."
"After one year of delay, the administration has not delivered on the short-term timber supply, and the Task Force's recommendation is to plan to have a plan," DeFazio said. "This is not acceptable. This needs to be a priority. We need a short-term timber supply, adequate funding in the budget to get the projects done, and a tangible plan forward for the communities that have been hanging in limbo now for nearly a decade."
"I am disappointed with this Task Force Report," said Schrader. "It contains little substance on creating a forest plan for Western Oregon that will help revitalize our rural forested communities. Western Oregon needs a science-based forest plan which allows for a sustainable and predictable timber harvest to create jobs, keep our forests healthy, and promote the use and development of clean and renewable biomass. A forest plan implemented with the recommendations included in the Task Force report would be nothing short of a death sentence for rural Oregon timber communities. The Department of Interior and the Bureau of Land Management must and can do better than this."
"This report and the studies it recommends will do nothing to keep our mills open and save family wage jobs in Southern Oregon," Wyden said. "I have made it clear to the Interior Department that we are facing a time-sensitive and very serious challenge in Southern Oregon, but I see no sense of urgency or responsiveness in today's report. I intend to make it very clear to both the Secretary and the President that this isn't going to cut it, and I will explore legislative alternatives on a bipartisan basis with my Oregon colleagues if Interior continues to ignore the urgency of our situation."
The full text of the letter is below:
July 22, 2010
The Honorable Ken Salazar
U.S. Department of Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Secretary Salazar:
We write to express our deep disappointment in the recommendations of the Western Oregon Task Force and to share our continued concerns about the lack of progress in offering a viable interim timber supply and developing a long-term forest plan for Western Oregon.
More than a year ago, the Department of the Interior withdrew the Western Oregon Plan Revisions (WOPR). At the time, the Department promised to offer an interim supply of timber while the Administration developed a long-term strategy to provide a predictable and sustainable supply of timber to rural communities in Western Oregon.
The Department of the Interior's plan hasn't delivered. Timber-dependent communities in rural Oregon stand at an economic precipice. Many existing forest management projects in the Medford and Roseburg Bureau of Land Management (BLM) districts cannot move forward due to ongoing litigation. In the current fiscal year, the Medford BLM district has sold two million board feet of timber; the Roseburg BLM district has sold 22 million board feet. Both are near historic lows.
Without immediate and decisive action by the Administration, there is little prospect of moving forward with responsible timber projects that are needed to improve forest health and that are economically viable for industry. Absent action, Western Oregon will continue to lose jobs, timber industry infrastructure, and know-how.
The prospects of a long-term forestry plan in Western Oregon are equally dismal. The sole product after 12 months of study and deliberation by the Department and the Task Force is a recommendation for additional studies, plans, and task forces. This is simply unacceptable for our rural communities. One year after WOPR was withdrawn, we are no closer to a long-term strategy for restoring forest health, offering a predictable supply of timber, and putting Oregonians back to work in the woods than we were in July, 2009.
Based on recent meetings with the BLM Director Bob Abbey and Mike Pool and in reviewing the Task Force's recommendations, it is our understanding that a long-term forest plan could take as long as three to five years to develop and implement. Such a timeline does not reflect the strong sense of urgency required to meaningfully respond to the economic and forest health crises we face in Western Oregon. We see no reason the Department cannot produce a long-term forest plan for Western Oregon in the next 12 months. We simply cannot afford another year of inaction.
In May, 2010 the Oregon Congressional delegation sent you a request for a sit down meeting to discuss your plans for replacing WOPR, to express our collective concerns about the lack of viable timber sales in the Medford and Roseburg BLM districts and to offer recommendations on how the Department can move forward with a long-term forest plan. To date, we have not received a reply. We once again request a meeting to engage in a constructive discussion about the Department's next steps to offer an interim timber supply and to develop a long-term forest plan for Western Oregon.
Mr. Secretary, our communities face some of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Our public forests are overstocked, fire-suppressed, and unhealthy. We are losing timber industry infrastructure, know how, and family wage jobs. We need action, and we need it now.
Peter DeFazio Kurt Schrader
Member of Congress Member of Congress