The WOPR: Why does the Oregon Legislature still want the Bush Administration to have it their way?

By Jonathan Jelen of Portland, Oregon. Jonathan is the old-growth campaign coordinator for Oregon Wild (formerly known as the Oregon Natural Resources Council.)

Back in November, we voted for change. We voted for change on the national level. And statewide in Oregon, we voted for change. So why is one of the first environmental issues that the Oregon Legislature chooses to tackle providing life-support to one of the Bush Administration’s most egregious attacks on our public lands: the Western Oregon Plan Revisions or the WOPR (“Whopper”)?

After eight long years under the Bush Administration, there were certainly a variety of reasons that compelled us to support a drastic change. And the environment certainly was at the top of the list for many of us. From their persistent denial of global warming to constantly ignoring the science related to clean air, clean water, endangered species, and forest protection, the Bush Administration cemented a reputation of environmental hostility.

The result: Oregonians across the state turned out in mass to vote for change. But that’s not all they did - they volunteered their time, they hosted house parties, they canvassed their neighbors, they phone banked for hours on end, and they wrote checks to campaigns that they supported. In November, all that hard work paid off and we now have a chance to finally put the Bush Administration and so many of its failed policies behind us.

So with that sentiment in mind, it’s all the more troubling that the Democratically-controlled Oregon Legislature is looking to support the WOPR, a poster child of the Bush Administration’s most hostile, last-minute attacks on the environment. The WOPR blatantly ignored the science (even when it was BLM’s own scientists doing the study) of how to manage the forests that embody the spirit of Oregon. And despite an outpouring of public protest, the Bureau of Land Management pushed through this Bush plan on December 30th, 2008.

The WOPR:

Right now, the WOPR is headed for the courts. Several conservation groups, including Oregon Wild, are suing over the WOPR’s lack of compliance with environmental regulations. Governor Kulongoski, who submitted a consistency review in December that was very critical of the WOPR, has also recently announced his intention to challenge the plan administratively. But in the meantime, the first WOPR timber sales have begun with the Coos Bay BLM submitting a sale that plans to clear-cut roughly 1,400 acres of coastal forests.


We’ve already lost up to 90% of our historic old-growth. We rely upon these forests for clean drinking water, critical salmon and other wildlife habitat, world-class recreational opportunities, and critical carbon sequestration and storage in our fight against global warming.

Roughly 20% of all global warming emissions are the result of deforestation. In recent decades, CO2 emissions resulting from human-induced changes to forests rival those from the transportation sector. Currently, Oregon’s forests alone capture 51% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the state. If we enact proper protections, Oregon’s forests could sequester much, much more. The older forests of the Pacific Northwest store more carbon per acre than any other ecosystem on earth and protecting them can be Oregon’s greatest contribution to mitigating global warming.

Visit OregonWild.org for more info on forests and global warming.

Instead of supporting this failed policy, the Oregon Legislature should instead support a common sense solution that balances logging with the need to protect our few remaining stands of old-growth forest for all Oregonians. Doing so would promote more diverse and complex forests in tree plantations, provide long term employment for logging contractors, and produce a certain and sustainable supply of logs for decades to come - all without destroying Oregon's precious few remaining stands of old growth forest or opening up roadless wild lands to new logging projects.

The Siuslaw National Forest in western Oregon could serve as a model for plantation thinning. The Siuslaw hasn't had a timber sale appealed since 1997, and yet they consistently produce as much timber as any other National Forest in western Oregon.

In November, voters demanded change, not a tribute to the Bush Administration’s failed environmental policies. It’s time for the Oregon Legislature to answer the call.

For more information, please visit OregonWild.org.

Comments

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    This was the expectation with his Interior appointee. Why did the Sierra Club cave in? As far as I'm concerned, all the critique leveled at the malted brewing tax increase applies here. And the Metolius. Seeing a pattern yet? These are the times that separate the Party from the Progressives.

    They've left us in a real quandry. How do you be the intransigent obstacle to this misguided policy that you were with the Bushies, without being tarred as "not with the hope and change program". Most don't care. The few that do are probably reading this thread.

  • Sean Stevens (unverified)
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    For all that want to do a little lobbying on behalf of the forest, Oregon Wild has an action page targeted the Legislature.

  • Laura V. (unverified)
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    Here, here!

  • RobbyK (unverified)
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    Well said! There is no reason that our state is not represented by folks as green as the people they represent. It's time to put bad Bush ideas behind us. Especially where the environment is concerned.

    The timber folks hold way too much political sway in this state. While there is room for a sustainable logging industry, their lobbyists and advocates have lost all credibility, and their own industry is suffering for it. We should follow models like the Siuslaw.

    The environmental folks have held the moral and scientific high ground for quite some time. Now they hold the economic high ground too! Our National Forests are owned by the public and even in the free market, the public has spoken! According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation generates 5 times more revenue in our National Forests than logging -- Almost as much as the entire federal bailout.

    At times choices do have to be made. Logging half a million board feet per year is at odds with saving old growth, protecting clean drinking water, recreational opportunities, and preventing the worst impacts of climate change. I prefer the latter. Thanks Jonathan!

  • Doug (unverified)
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    Good post! When will the folks in Salem come to terms with the fact that irresponsible liquidation of our old growth heritage has left us with thousands of miles of polluted streams, numerous endangered species, depleted carbon stores, and despoiled recreation and scenery.

    Our forests are not piggy banks to be raided at every opportunity as some seem to want. If we had been applying proper "accounting" during the clearcutting craze we would have long ago recognized the problems with water, wildlife, and carbon are clear signals that our forest accounts are overdrawn.

    It's now time to invest is restoration that improves the forest and puts people to work.

  • Josh Reynolds (unverified)
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    Wow!!! This isn't about the Bush administration but instead about the actual law, the O & C Lands Act of 1937. Before you Portlanders start slapping each other on the back and try to be some sort of purist, please read the law and then comment. The legislature, whether D or R actually understands this.

  • edison (unverified)
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    Josh Reynolds: "Wow!!! This isn't about the Bush administration but instead about the actual law, the O & C Lands Act of 1937. Before you Portlanders start slapping each other on the back and try to be some sort of purist, please read the law and then comment. The legislature, whether D or R actually understands this."

    WOPR is nothing more than a sweetheart deal the Bushies cut (no pun intended) with the timber industry in 2003. The carrot is possible O&C funds, shortsighted at best and ignores the true cost of what is proposed. Here's hoping it gets slapped down in court. Oh and Zarathustra is spot-on about Obama's Interior Secretary Salazar - he may be better than Kempthorne, but it remains to be seen just how much.

  • BOHICA (unverified)
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    Where does all the lumber go? With the depressed housing market and the resulting construction collapse, who's buying it? Is it shipped overseas, turned into toilet paper?

    One of my pet peeves has been the stupidity of building houses out of wood. Granted there are uses for wood in home construction but, every time I see some tornado, fire or hurricane ravaged community, I can't help but wonder, if the houses had been built out of a more durable material or designed to withstand these forces of nature, might there be less devastation?

    One example is a dome house.
    http://www.inhabitat.com/2005/10/10/monolithic-domes/

    An interesting find from the recent spate of hurricanes in the U.S. is that a particular type of building structure seems to hold up surprisingly well to the ravages of extreme wind and water. The reinforced-concrete dome - or “Monolithic Dome” as one company has branded it - has shown time and time again that it is up to the task of surviving extreme weather conditions like hurricanes, earthquakes, and even tornadoes. After hurricane Katrina blew through Biloxi, Mississippi, the concrete-domed New Life Family Church, was one of the few large buildings in the area left standing. A couple in Pensacola, Florida are so taken with Monolithic Domes that they rent out their “Dome of a Home” in order to spread the dome gospel. The “Dome of a Home” has been through three major hurricanes - Dennis, Ivan and Katrina, and survived all intact.

    Another option in some area would be underground or earth sheltered houses. For fire prone areas, it seems to me that building codes should require extreme fire resistant materials and landscaping. Maybe some areas do, but when I see the results of the wildfires in California, there just seems to be something wrong if so many houses get burned down.

    These alternative houses are generally made with cement and are highly energy efficient. But they don't conform to the American dream of the single family dwelling with the white picket fence. Permitting officials scratch their heads when presented with these designs. We've never done this, how can it be viable!

    And quit making paper out of trees!

    From a Wiki on industrial hemp

    In 1916, US Department of Agriculture chief scientists Lyster H. Dewe, and Jason L. Merrill created paper made from hemp pulp, which they concluded was "favorable in comparison with those used with pulp wood."[18] [5] Jack Herer later summarized the findings of the bulletin in his book "The Emperor Wears No Clothes."[19] Herer wrote:

    In 1916, USDA Bulletin No. 404, reported that one acre of cannabis hemp, in annual rotation over a 20-year period, would produce as much pulp for paper as 4.1 acres (17,000 m2) of trees being cut down over the same 20-year period. This process would use only 1/4 to 1/7 as much polluting sulfur-based acid chemicals to break down the glue-like lignin that binds the fibers of the pulp, or none at all using soda ash. The problem of dioxin contamination of rivers is avoided in the hemp paper making process, which does not need to use chlorine bleach (as the wood pulp paper making process requires) but instead safely substitutes hydrogen peroxide in the bleaching process. ... If the new (1916) hemp pulp paper process were legal today, it would soon replace about 70% of all wood pulp paper, including computer printout paper, corrugated boxes and paper bags.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemp#Fiber

    But a John Belushi would say, "But noooo" we can't have that evil weed growing without draconian regulations imposed by the DEA, which from a quick Google shows they have never issued a permit to grow industrial hemp. They would rather spend their time busting Alex White Plume who wanted to grow industrial hemp on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

    "Have I told lately how much I hate these people?" - Mike Malloy

    So my question again would be, where's the market?

    Rant over.

    PS What's with this error message, "We're sorry, sorry we cannot accept this data." If I copy the test, close the page, and reopen it and then post, it accepts it.

  • Scott Jorgensen (unverified)
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    It probably has more to do with the fact that half of the counties in this state have significant tracts of government-owned land under the 1937 O&C Act and rely on timber dollars to fund basic services like sheriff deputy patrols and libraries. And the WOPR wasn't a sweetheart deal-it was the settlement of a lawsuit arising from the fact that the 1 billion board feet of timber promised under the NW Forest Plan never materialized after bad-faith negotiations by environmental groups. Of course there's no demand for timber right now--there's no demand for much of anything. But to assume that there will be no demand once the housing market stabilizes is ridiculously naive. How do you suggest that rural counties fund themselves or creat jobs, anyway? WOPR? No. Destination resorts? No. Development outside of the invisible, imaginary Urban Growth Boundary? Not allowed under M49. Ecotourism? Washing dishes for tourists three months out of the year at minimum wage is not an industry, regardless of how high you make the minimum wage, and this concept has yet to produce revenues for rural counties after 15 years of trying. But I may be asking the wrong people. It almost seems that over 20 years of "progressive" leadership hasn't resulted in much progress: http://statesmanjournal.com/article/20090218/UPDATE/302180001

  • Clackamas (unverified)
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    "How do you suggest that rural counties fund themselves or creat jobs, anyway?"

    How about a modern tax structure? Property taxes in said counties are a tiny fraction of those in Lane, Clackamas, or Deschutes. Because the so-called "O&C" counties have a lot of FEDERAL public lands in them, lands that belong to ALL Americans, it does not entitle them to a sweetheart deal where they receive a giant cut off the top of any logging revenues, or justify advocating for clear cutting the last old-growth off those lands.

    Harney County has a lot of federal public lands in it to. So do counties in Nevada, Arizona, Montana, etc... Should we trash whatever natural resources can be found on public lands in those states so that their counties to do not have to adopt modern tax policies?

    Say the WOPR does go through, and over the next 20 years we intensively log those lands. What is the counties long-term plan for funding and economic growth after that?

    Bottom line is that Oregonians today want to see salmon and other wildlife restored, clean water protected, and old-growth forest preserved. The WOPR is the opposite of that, and the O&C counties (and the politicians who carry their water) should stop trying to drag Oregon back to the logging policies of the 1970's.

  • Scott Jorgensen (unverified)
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    Clackamas-

    Counties are very limited in how they can structure their taxes, and those limitations come from the state. One prime example is the hotel bed tax. Specific percentages of that are mandated to go towards specific functions, and counties don't have the flexibility to use those on things such as law enforcement. I agree wholeheartedly that we need a top-to-bottom tax restruturing in this state, and I think that would have been a top legislative priority before the economy started tanking. now the emphasis is on stopping the free-fall, and any tax restructuring will have to wait until things stabilize somewhat...but by then, the legislature will be too busy trying to spend the money any way it can.

  • Sean Stevens (unverified)
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    For all those interested in this magical O&C Lands Act, let's remember a few things:

    1) It was written in 1937, and, as the movie says, "we've come a long way, baby." We've got new laws that have added protections for these lands (ESA, NEPA, Clean Water Act, etc). 2) If you read the text of the O&C Act, you can clearly see a built in "multiple use" mantra--not the "dominant use" paradigm that many timber advocates would have you believe. 3) There is no other way to describe the settlement that resulted in the WOPR than a "sweetheart" one. The argument made by timber lobbyists in their lawsuit had been rejected by federal courts three times before the Bush administration lawyers decided it sounded good to them and settled out of court. The law and the WOPR are two different things.

    Josh Reynolds--I recommend you read the law AND the case law and see why the WOPR came about under the Bush administration and not before.

  • Scott Jorgensen (unverified)
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    Actually, Sean, there was a fairly recent U.S. Supreme Court case, National Homebuilders Association vs. Defenders of Wildlife. A hell of a lot of attorneys that I know seem to think that particular ruling means that if there is inconsistancy between the ESA and a more specific, pre-existing law, such as the O&C Act, that the ESA would be trumped. The O&C Act called for permanent, sustainble timber harvests for the sake of funding local governments and creating jobs. But heaven forbid anybody other than the government try to create jobs in Oregon...of course, you need someone to tax in order to pay the people who work for the government, and I'm still waiting for some solutions here on how to do that.

  • (Show?)

    Maybe I missed it, so correct me if I did, but where in this post is your evidence that the state legislature supports this plan? I see a lot about why it is a bad plan, and I see that the Governor isn't a fan, but no evidence that the legislature thinks differently.

  • Bend Bill (unverified)
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    Voters - especially Oregon voters - overwhelmingly repudiated the failed ideology of the past administration, and its anti-science/anti-reality boneheadedness. Bureaucrats and elected officials who didn't get that message will hear it at the polls.

  • Sean Stevens (unverified)
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    Scott-

    The NHA vs Defenders case is definitely an interesting one. Seems like there is alot of uncertainty over how that ruling will be applied down the road. And, it is not as simple as a pre-existing law "trumping" another law. Interesting analysis here from the Harvard Law Review.

    Of course, in reading the O&C Act, there is very little about it that would "trump" the ESA (or other subsequent laws) anyway:

    O&C lands "shall be managed...for permanent forest production, and the timber thereon shall be sold, cut, and removed in conformity with the principal of sustained yield for the purpose of providing a permanent source of timber supply, protecting watersheds, regulating stream flow, and contributing to the economic stability of local communities and industries, and providing recreational facilities..."

    An excellent look at the O&C Act as it relates to the WOPR was provided in a Register Guard op-ed in April. Granted, it comes from environmental attorney for Earthjustice, Kristen Boyles. However, Kristen is usually on the winning side (the legally correct side) in court, so her opinion carries a little more weight.

  • Jonathan (unverified)
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    Russ: "Maybe I missed it, so correct me if I did, but where in this post is your evidence that the state legislature supports this plan? I see a lot about why it is a bad plan, and I see that the Governor isn't a fan, but no evidence that the legislature thinks differently."

    The Legislature held some hearings on a WOPR resolution the week before last. Brian Clem (D-Salem) was leading the charge. No vote is scheduled as of yet, but there is still the intent by Clem and others to push for a full resolution. Hopefully, clear heads in the Legislature can prevail and move on to more constructive business that will actually benefit Oregonians.

  • (Show?)

    no evidence that the legislature thinks differently.

    And what does it mean exactly to say "the legislature thinks" or "the legislature wants"?

    There are 90 individual members - with 90 independent brains. I'd like to hear who, exactly, we're talking about. They can't be of one unanimous view.

    (This is right up there with "The White House said today..." as if the big white marble building could speak. Humans speak, not buildings.)

  • Cheryl B (unverified)
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    This article states we should use common sense: "promote more diverse and complex forests in tree plantations, provide long term employment for logging contractors, and produce a certain and sustainable supply of logs for decades to come - all without destroying Oregon's precious few remaining stands of old growth forest or opening up roadless wild lands to new logging projects."

    Also common sense would be to require established industries to have a back-up plan for developing their local communities to need less. Our current economy is demanding this of the rest of the world. This would reduce fear and increase level headed-ness when faced with work shortages due to decreased available resources that we need for other reasons (such as a live-able planet for humans).

    No industry will ever be immune to pressure to either upgrade their activities or can them--the car industry is one of the latest examples, in addition to banking, actually I think just about everything is under scrutiny now. There are hundreds of ways to fix an issue (increase wood salvage from landfills, use materials that are abundant rather than those causing controversy) and it's too bad that the creativity that might possibly arise from the underbrush gets burned before it can be more than a sapling. Metaphor intended.

  • Doug (unverified)
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    There is absolutely nothing in the law that forced BLM to do the WOPR. It was a backroom deal through and through. The O&C Act explicitly requires "watershed protection" "regulated stream flow" "recreation facilities" etc. Not just timber supply.

    The Homebuilders case (where an another law trumped the ESA) is a red herring. That case does not apply to the BLM because the Homebuilders case involved a situation where the agency lacked discretion, but the BLM has lots of discretion to find the proper balance between timber, watersheds, water flow, recreation, ad community stability. And the courts have said clearly that in exercising it's discretion BLM must comply with the ESA and all other environmental laws.

    The Clinton administration realized that timber harvests crashed because of overcutting that lead to endangered species listings, so they concluded that sustainable future timber flow depended on avoiding future species listings, so they adopted a reasonable plan to do that, which required extensive protection of old forests, AND THE COURTS UPHELD THIS PLAN.

    Finally, don't forget that the counties are have been "decoupled" from timber receipts since 1993 and they just got a four year extension. And realize that timber is now a small part of the overall economy, and federal logs is a small part of the timber industry. We are NOT confronted with a Sophie's Choice between our forests and our jobs. We can choose the highest and best use of our federal forests without threatening our economy.

  • Scott Jorgensen (unverified)
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    Still not seeing any proposed solutions for funding Oregon counties. Perhaps EarthJustice can purchase some carbon offsets from the counties during the next major catastrophic wildfire...

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    Posted by: Laura V. | Feb 18, 2009 5:53:33 PM

    Here, here!

    OK!

    Great rant, BOHICA. It's also a complete squandering of our heritage and traditions to take a crop that was the most important raw material in our English forebearers' world empire, so much so that it was legal tender in the 13 colonies, and make it illegal simply because it would be hard to tell it from the drug strains. Hmmm. That would make the DEA's job tough. Better cut down the forests.

    It is a fair point that a 300 acre hemp field would only have to contain a little 10 by 10 foot patch of drug strain to produce some major dubage. So what? This is a good example of why the WOD is necessary to keep people locked into a Nanny State mindset and not thinking up solutions themselves. If people think up solutions themselves, that's less canned solution that they're likely to consume, and it means the government has to do things it didn't want to or plan on. That's absurd. They would be serving us. In the US government service is about power, not service. I used to find "Yes, Minister" funny. Today, there is nothing funny about it.

  • Bill Hall (unverified)
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    I am one of the commissioners in Lincoln County. I want to say up front I've been endorsed by OLCV in both of my races, and I do not support the WOPR. It's not the long-term solution to the funding problems of our rural counties. I've been accused of hating logging--which I don't--when I try to tell people that even if we could magically return to the cutting levels of the 1970s, it wouldn't bring the same levels of employment. Our county once had something like 200 mill operations. Now we're down to one or two specialty mills. The mechanization and regionalization of production will always mean fewer timber jobs.

    I want to join Scott in saying that we do need a long-term, stable solution to our revenue problems. The federal dollars aren't the answer, either. The recent reauthorization didn't make rural counties whole--in the words of the Executive Director of the Association of Oregon Counties, it restored us to our previous level of poverty. It's a four-year phase down, with payments starting at 90 percent of previous levels, ramping down to about 50 percent in year four. And it only came a year after a one-year extension ran out--too late to avoid cuts in many counties. We're the smallest of the 18 O and C counties, so the hit to our general fund was slight, but we saw more than half of our road budget disappear and took the department down from a workforce of 50 to 30. That's mild damage compared to what's happened and is happening in many other rural counties.

    One point that's been lost in the finger-pointing at rural counties for refusing to tax themselves is that one of the big reasons behind giving them a share of timber revenues in the first place was that with a third or more of our land base in federal ownership, we can never develop to the level to generate comparable property tax revenues as the urban counties.

    In the heyday of logging, many counties chose not to levy the full six percent annual increase allowed by law because they were so flush with timber money. The passage of Measures 5 and 50, which cut property taxes and limited annual increases to three percent, permanently locked many counties into these unrealistically low tax rates.

    The alternative in some cases has been levies, which don't provide long-term stability either. The success rate of these levies has been poor. Yes, some of it is an anti-government sentiment and an unwillingness to pay higher taxes. But part of it has been a belief by rural voters that the threats of cuts are really scare tactics, and somehow the feds will come to the rescue at the last minute. And given the pattern of action these past few years, they've been right.

    So, yes, let's get that dialogue going about true revenue reform. Let's get the state budget out of these boom and bust cycles. And let's make sure local governments can adequately fund their basic services as well. Maybe if the environmental community could partner with the counties in helping to bring about that solution, we could start to build a bridge acoss the rural-urban divide.

  • Clackamas (unverified)
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    Bill, I wish we had more folks like you involved in local and state politics in Oregon. One thing in your post I would note:

    "But part of it has been a belief by rural voters that the threats of cuts are really scare tactics, and somehow the feds will come to the rescue at the last minute. And given the pattern of action these past few years, they've been right."

    How is the WOPR any different? What I see with Clem and other anti-environmental D's in the legislature is an effort to posture and look conservative to rural voters, knowing full well the plan is illegal and will be tossed out in court, and expecting that the pro-environment activists and donors who are the backbone of their political party won't notice what they are up to.

    And WOPR plays into the same anti-government mindset that got the counties into this mess in the first place.

    The sad truth is that no matter how bad our economy gets today in rural communities, 100 years from now, no one is going to care about Measure 5 or 50, or how hard it was to do the intelligent thing and fix our broken tax system. On the other hand, they will care if the only old-growth that is left is in a handful of parks and wilderness areas, wild salmon go extinct, and our county politics are still a basket case.

    <h2>The legislature and county governments need to get their acts together and actually try and solve some of the structural problems they face, rather than posture and cheer lead for Bush logging plans that will somehow magically solve our problems.</h2>
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