Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., pressed the U.S. Forest Service to speed up timber harvests and blasted the agency's baffling decision to require states to return Secure Rural Schools payments, in a hearing today.
In the administration's budget for the 2014 fiscal year, the Forest Service proposed reducing timber harvests by nearly 15 percent, to 2.38 billion board feet, far below the 3 billion board feet the agency called for in its "Restoration Strategy," for forests. It also recently asked for states to return 5.1% of payments under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, months after the agency sent out the full payment amounts.
"Essentially you have communities that are already on the edge of bankruptcy, that are desperate to do more work in the woods and have asked for some predictability from the federal government," Wyden said. "And in response, the Forest Service is saying, "Not only will we cut less timber, we'd also like some of that money we gave you back.'"
Under questioning from Wyden, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell agreed that a collaborative approach is the best way to increase timber harvests, as opposed to putting federal lands in private management. Wyden has called for collaboration between communities, conservation groups, the timber industry, tribes and other stakeholders, modeled on work currently underway in Eastern Oregon which has resulted in increasing harvests and jobs, and less litigation of proposed sales.
"We've seen a collaborative approach succeed in Grant County on the Malheur Forest, and it seems clear that's the best way to increase the cut and get the jobs we need," Wyden said after the hearing.