Balanced solution needed for timber’s future

By David Montgomery from http://registerguard.com

In recent guest viewpoint columns, environmental extremists have argued that the only solution for our struggling timber counties is to raise taxes on rural Oregonians. They don’t hide their real agenda, which is to shut down our federal forests to any sustainable management, regardless of how harmful it would be to our forests and no matter how painful it would be to rural working families.

It’s this kind of extremism that has scuttled any compromise or solution to the grave crisis facing our communities.

Oregonians can’t afford another 20 years of gridlock and extremism in our federal forests. It’s time for our leaders at all levels to travel down the middle road and achieve a balanced solution.

As Oregonians, we must refuse to be held hostage to those who say “no” to everything and file lawsuits that have led to unhealthy forests and devastated rural economies.

Extremists deploy several straw-man arguments. They claim rural counties want to clear-cut old growth forests in “boom-and-bust logging cycles.” They make claims about raw log exports to China, even though they know it is against the law to export federal timber. Those making these claims are either misleading readers or haven’t been paying attention to bipartisan proposals for a permanent and sustainable solution.

Raising property taxes won’t meet the needs of cash-strapped rural county governments or restore economic vitality to these communities. In fact, raising taxes has the opposite effect. Property taxes are generally lower in rural communities because there are fewer jobs and economic opportunities compared with our urban counterparts. This rural-urban economic disparity is a fairly recent phenomenon, and is directly attributable to the near-­shutdown of federal timber harvests brought on by extreme environmental groups.

Fortunately, Oregon has leaders who are listening to rural Oregon and working on a compromise for the O&C forests managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber has called for congressional legislation to restore sustainable timber harvesting on the O&C lands to support mills, jobs and forest health while providing real financial stability to rural counties. More jobs means more taxpayers — and that is what stimulates the economy.

In Washington, D.C., Democratic Reps. Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader and Republican Rep. Greg Walden have introduced a long-term plan for the O&C forests and our rural counties.

Their proposal permanently protects all of the old growth on O&C lands — more than 1 million acres. The remainder would be managed on a sustained yield basis to provide more than 500 million board feet of timber, more than 5,000 jobs and $165 million to the counties every year into the future.

The annual timber harvest called for in the legislation is actually less than half of what these forests grow each and every year.

Sen. Ron Wyden is in a unique position to help deliver a permanent solution. As chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, we hope Wyden will move beyond mere extensions of county timber payments to restoring sustainable forest management as a way to improve forest health, provide revenue to counties and create jobs for rural Oregonians.

Oregon is unlikely to ever return to historic logging levels on federal lands. We can only hope that the pattern of environmental extremism will also become a thing of the past. Shutting down our forests and sacrificing economically depressed, forested communities is not the answer.

We need a balanced solution, and we need Congress to act now. Oregon’s forests are not in a state of decline. But much of the 18 million acres of federal forests in Oregon will eventually reach a state of decline — not because of overcutting, but because of neglect.

When the O&C Act of 1937 was implemented there was approximately 44 billion board feet of standing timber on the O&C lands. From 1937 to 1990 approximately 54 billion board feet were harvested. Currently, there is approximately 73 billion board feet of timber on those lands.

Environmental extremism is the primary reason that many Oregon mills are closed and many rural communities have become ghost towns. The construction industry has to import 40 percent of its wood building materials from outside the United States, mostly from Canada.

The argument that log exports are the cause of the raw material shortage does not hold much water. Wood is traded on a world market, just like other commodities. Some wood is sold in the form of raw logs, and an increasing volume as finished products. We live in a shrinking world with modern communication and transportation.

I ask citizens to seek the truth about our timber supply, and look at the radical environmentalists’ propaganda with a skeptical eye.

David Montgomery of Noti, president of Montgomery Timber Management, has worked as a professional forester since 1969.

Balanced solution needed for timber’s future