Today many of our western National and state forests are trending toward, or currently in “preservation,” a state of arrested decay being overwhelmed by insect disease, dense canopies, stifling wildlife diversity, lack of access for management, and reduced water absorption. Public access is being reduced intentionally as roads and trails are being abandoned due to lack of legislative priorities and funding. Just recently, a federal Office of Environmental Justice has been created to “prioritize the cases that will have the greatest impact on the communities most overburdened by environmental harm." If environmental harm = environmental regulations this would make sense! Why does the federal government wish to have total control over every part of our lives and the environment? Why does the federal government have so little trust in local County government?
The Hood River County Tree Farm, comprised of 31,117 acres, primary purpose is for the production and sale of timber. Perhaps a misnomer title, the Tree Farm has an adaptive management plan that not only provides timber resources and revenue for Hood River County, OR, but opportunities for collection of special forest products for both commercial and private use: firewood, posts, poles, rails, mushrooms, boughs, plants, cones and ornamental rock. Additionally numerous recreation opportunities abound hiking, camping, hunting, cross country skiing, bike riding and OHV use. The comprehensive Forest Management Plan is the working plan for active management consisting of Timber Production, Recreation, Natural Resources, and Public Relations. The goals of the plan, a guide for the Hood River Forestry Department, include: a healthy diverse forest providing long term revenue to the County, a natural resource stable and resilient to the effects of pests, pathogens and fire, a well-maintained system of roads and trails, and informing the public for knowledgeable and supportive forest management activities.
Wow! Sounds like a great idea and beneficial for the County, active management of renewable resources, and recreation. Recent studies have shown the multiple benefits of local, and County, management. The Property and Environment Research Center (perc.org) has published “Charter Forests: A New Management Approach for National Forests” where designated National Forest lands would be managed: freed from the traditional tight controls of the US Forest Service, remain in federal ownership, relieved from regulatory requirements that inhibit the adoption of innovative and locally responsive forest management, operate under less restrictive hiring practices, and, additional charter board oversight. Take a peek at this management approach:
Tribal management of public lands for timber harvest. Another study details “Two Forests Under The Big Sky” tribal vs federal management of forest lands in Montana. Hint, the tribes do a much better job of managing forest lands for timber production and ecological value. https://perc.org/2009/07/01/two-forests-under-the-big-sky-tribal-v-federal-management/ In 2019, The Oregon Bureau of Land Management transferred 32,000 acres of public land management to several Oregon tribes under the federal Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act. The required Environmental Assessment noted “NEPA compliance is not required for this land reclassification, because there would be no reasonably foreseeable effects of the proposed action that are related to the natural and physical environment, and the relationship of people with that environment…”. The tribes will conduct timber harvests and retain the receipt!
Canada, our so-called progressive country to the North, has illustrated the benefits of long-term leases and licenses (called tenures), and decentralized controls of public forest management. Tenures transfer management from the public, to the private sector. This includes industrial forest companies and small community organizations.
I don’t blame the US Forest Service for the degradation of natural resources, sub-minimal timber harvest, and massive wildfires across the West. Their hands are tied due to continual lawsuits involving purported violations of NEPA, (National Environmental Policy Act, 1969) and the ESA (Endangered Species Act, 1973). Both laws signed by President Richard Nixon, Republican. These laws have evolved into a regulatory nightmare providing for routine environmental organization litigation machines that are ongoing in the federal court system across the nation. The original purpose of the “forest reserves,” to protect watersheds from erosion and flooding, and to preserve the nation’s timber supply from over-exploitation. (The Forest Reserve Act of 1891.) Before the implementation of the 1994 North West Forest Plan to preserve habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl, the Skamania County national forest timber harvest was a total of 326 million board feet annually. Today the average annual is less than 17 million board feet. According to the US Forest Service the Owl population is now 60% less than in 1994!
The ongoing litigation and regulatory machine, and new state and federal forest policies continue the effort to completely control all activities on state and federal forests, with very little, if any, local management. Our Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz is a proponent of the Department of Natural Resources “Legacy Forests” which would remove timber harvest from the state forest trust lands. Some say the federal “Good Neighbor Authority” is a good for our forests. Good for the timber companies, bad for local management. The state and Forest Service would still control timber harvest. No timber harvest revenue for the Counties.
We know tribes and Counties can be quite effective at managing forest resources for the benefit of the forests, wildlife, watersheds, public access, and timber harvest. Why are these federal and state legislators so afraid of local control?