READER’S VIEW FOREST POLICY
Spotted owl did collapse timber industry
I write to set the record straight. Niels Nokkentved, whose guest opinion piece appeared May 27, simply does not know what he is talking about. Following the dialectic of the environmental movement, he would have readers believe the listing of the spotted owl had nothing to do with the neglect our federal forests are now suffering or the plight of our rural communities which those forests surround.
I have lived in Oregon for all of my 62 years, mostly in small rural communities. I have witnessed firsthand the appalling damage done by misguided federal forest policy to our forests, our communities and our families. Here are some facts.
The Northwest Forest Plan, implemented in 1994, was designed to assure the recovery of the northern spotted owl. The plan allocated only 15 percent of the 24.5 million acres of federal land it covers to multiple use management and set aside 85 percent for special uses. This drastic reduction in manageable land reduced the amount of timber available annually from 4.5 billion to 1.1 billion board feet. This reduction, coupled with the fact that less than 40 percent of the projected 1.1 billion was ever made available for harvest, led to the closure of 261 mills supporting at least 50,000 jobs in western Washington, western Oregon and northern California.
Based on a conservative production estimate of at least 500 board-feet per acre per year, growth on the Northwest Forest Plan acres since 1994 has been in the neighborhood of 12.1 billion board feet per year. The annual harvest has been only about 4 percent of growth. The resulting buildup of dead and dying trees in Northwest forests has led to catastrophic fires burning millions of acres, much of it prime spotted owl habitat.
The Pacific Northwest is the premier timber growing region in the world. We have the laws and standards in place to assure good environmental management and protection of air and water quality when we harvest. Yet today, America is importing 40 percent of its softwoods from Canada. We are in a prolonged period of high unemployment in America — and especially in Oregon, Washington and northern California. Poverty in rural areas of the Northwest continues to fester. More than 25 percent of rural Oregon families are on food stamps and a record number of our children depend on free school lunches and even breakfasts to meet their basic nutritional needs.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to nearly triple the critical habitat set aside for protection of the spotted owl from 5.3 million acres to nearly 14 million acres. This despite the fact that owl numbers have continued to decline rapidly due to catastrophic wildfire and predation by the more aggressive barred owl. Curtailing harvest well below that envisioned by the Northwest Forest Plan has not helped the owl because habitat is not the limiting factor.
In closing, I suggest if Mr. Nokkentved is going to write about Oregon and Washington, he get out of Idaho and come visit some of our unhealthy forests and communities and witness the devastation firsthand. It is only a three-hour drive to visit the community of John Day, where I lived for 18 years and was the mayor for two. I watched the demise of the federal timber program and watched that community lose its timber industry, its infrastructure and its identity, while surrounded by a sea of dead and dying federal timber. It’s time to get it right.
Tom Partin is president of American Forest Resource Council in Portland.