by Steve Pedery of Portland. Steve is the Conservation Director for Oregon Wild. Since 1974, Oregon Wild has worked to protect the wildlands, wildlife, and waters that make Oregon a special place. The organization recently won it's second "Two Chiefs" award from the USDA Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service, for work to promote conservation-based management of public lands.
If an Oregon politician wants to propose a radical change in logging in our state, such as opening up 1.5 million acres of federal public lands to clear-cuting, do they:
Hold public hearings and seek public input, giving Oregonians a chance to weigh in on the idea?
Engage scientists and conservation groups to ensure the plan won’t cause serious damage to clean water, salmon, and wildlife?
Try and sneak the logging plan through by working with House Republican leadership to attach it to an unrelated piece of legislation, and move it in the dead of night with no input from the public or scientists?
Most Oregonians would probably go with option 1 or 2. On July 11th, Representative Kurt Schrader attempted to use option 3 when he sought to attach the biggest logging bill in Oregon history as a stealth “rider” to the Farm Bill currently being debated in Congress.
The plan would open 1.5 million acres of Bureau of Land Management lands in Oregon to clear- cut logging.
Earlier this year Reps. Schrader, DeFazio, and Walden unveiled so-called “logging trust” legislation. Their bill proposed to transfer 1.5 million acres of publicly-owned Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in western Oregon into a logging trust. These lands would be exempt from strong federal environmental rules that protect endangered species and clean water, and instead be managed under the weak Oregon Forest Practices Act (where clear-cutting is the norm.) Backers of the bill argued that the environmental damage it would cause would be offset by linking it to Wilderness and Wild & Scenic Rivers designations for special places like the Wild Rogue and Molalla River. You can read Oregon Wild's detailed analysis of the bill here.
Conservation groups strongly opposed this legislation because of its clear-cutting provisions and the harm they would do to Oregon’s wildlife, clean water, and forests. Of particular concern was the fact that Reps. DeFazio and Schrader had conducted no public hearing, sought no meaningful input from scientists, and had not given Oregonians a real opportunity to weigh in. In response, backers of the logging trust legislation committed to a more open and transparent process.
Unfortunately, last night Rep. Schrader abandoned those commitments to transparency in favor of a stealth approach. With no public hearings, or even notice to Oregonians of his plans, Rep. Schrader dropped the Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers protection portion of the legislation, and then offered the logging bill as an unrelated rider to the Farm Bill.
It was a bizarre and stunning move for a variety of reasons.
First and foremost, the Bureau of Land Management, and the public lands the agency stewards, is a part of the US Department of the Interior, not the Department of Agriculture (that is the US Forest Service). Legislation attempting to ram-rod clear-cut logging on BLM lands has no legal or logical relationship to the Farm Bill, which is supposed to fund things like crop insurance and child nutrition programs. That Rep. Schrader overlooked this basic fact is deeply troubling.
Second, the clear-cut logging rider is bad public policy. It would gut the Northwest Forest Plan, moving lands that are currently set aside as wildlife reserves and protected river corridors into old-school logging management, where the overriding directive is to log in order to generate funds to bail out county budgets. In the current US House of Representatives, the precedent set by this legislation (liquidating public lands that belong to all Americans to solve local political problems) would almost certainly spark copy-cat legislation, putting public lands across the country at risk.
Finally, Oregon is a state that prides itself on government transparency and accountability. That an Oregon elected official, particularly Rep. Schrader, would try and move such a monumental piece of logging legislation through a stealth budget rider, in the dead of night with no public notice, is disturbing.
The good news for Oregon’s environment is that Schrader’s logging gambit was rejected by the House Agriculture Committee as being not germane to the Farm Bill. The bad news is that an Oregon elected official like Rep. Kurt Schrader thought it was acceptable to try and sneak such a monumental piece of logging legislation through Congress with no public process or hearings. Will Schrader try to do the same thing again?
In the past, Rep. Schrader has supported pro-environment legislation to protect public lands, such as his Molalla Wild and Scenic River bill. Let’s hope that in the future Oregon sees a little more of that Kurt Schrader, and a little less of the politician who tried to sneak through controversial logging legislation in the middle of the night.