Focus on forest, not just plans

By Jayson Jacoby, The Baker City Herald

Disdain for the U.S. Forest Service's draft plan for managing the Wallowa-Whitman, Umatilla and Malheur national forests is widespread.

Commissioners from 10 Eastern Oregon counties, including Baker, don't much like it.

Local residents have expressed their concerns in letters to the editor and other forums.

Most recently U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, the Oregon Republican whose congressional district includes the three Blue Mountains national forests, summarized some of the most common complaints in a letter to Regional Forester Jim Peandntilde;a. Walden wrote that the three national forests "are in poor condition and dire need of proper management that will restore forest health, reduce catastrophic wildfire, and sustain the economies in these rural communities. Unfortunately, it seems that this plan falls short of meeting these needs of the forest and the communities."

We understand why people are worried.

We agree that the forest plan, which will replace management plans for the three national forests that date to 1990, should emphasize more strongly the need to do more logging and other work, including prescribed burning, to reduce the risk of large blazes.

But we're also convinced that we won't make meaningful progress toward fixing our forests, no matter what the forest plan says, without advancing in two other arenas: Forest Service budgets, and federal legislation.

Forest plans, for all their heft (the draft plan for the Blue Mountains forests goes 1,300 pages or so), are in effect lists of goals forest managers would like to accomplish.

Forest plans are definitely not promises.

You need only glance at the current, 24-year-old plan for the Wallowa-Whitman to understand.

That plan, for instance, calls for yearly timber harvests of about 140 million board-feet.

Coincidentally, the Wallowa-Whitman hasn't come close to that level of logging since 1990, the year the forest plan was approved.

In most years since then the forest hasn't managed even one-third of the volumes listed in the 1990 plan.

This discrepancy is due largely to factors that happened after 1990 - primarily federal guidelines designed to protect salmon, bull trout and lynx, all of which were listed under the Endangered Species Act in the 1990s.

But the forests of the Blue Mountains have also suffered from a shortage of money needed to plan large logging, thinning and brush reduction projects, and from the lack of a federal law that at least in part insulates such projects (in particular timber sales) from appeals and other legal challenges.

Walden has introduced bills intended to start dealing with those problems, and he has advocated for Congress to allocate more money to manage Eastern Oregon forests.

We urge everyone who is dissatisfied with the draft forest plan to also devote time and energy to lobbying for the decisions in Washington, D.C., that in the long run would do more to improve public forests than any plan, no matter how long it is.

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The Baker City Herald
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