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Conservation Groups Cheer New Wyden Forest Legislation

Eastern Oregon bill builds on historic agreement between timber industry, state and national conservation leaders

Months of negotiations lead to historic agreement between long time foes, Sen. Wyden to legislate compromise.

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Portland, Ore Dec 16, 2009

State and national conservation leaders expressed strong support today for new legislation introduced by Senator Ron Wyden that would build on common ground reached between conservationists and the timber industry. The Oregon Eastside Forest Restoration, Old Growth Protection and Jobs Act would protect old growth forests and refocus national forest management in eastern Oregon on science-based restoration. Future logging would remove primarily smaller diameter trees and serve landscape-wide forest and watershed restoration goals. The legislation follows months of intense negotiations between conservationists, timber industry leaders, and Senator Wyden’s staff.

“We have found common ground on old-growth protection and scientifically sound restoration thinning projects, and now we look forward to working with Senator Wyden to turn this agreement into law,” said Andy Kerr, a veteran forest campaigner and key player in the negotiations.

The proposed Oregon Eastside Forest Restoration, Old Growth Protection and Jobs Act applies to National Forest System lands within Oregon not covered by the Northwest Forest Plan. In all, the legislation will set new management priorities on six National Forests covering nearly 10 million acres of federal public land. The terms of the bill call for enhanced conservation of old-growth forests, watershed protection, and a restoration focus for all future management activities. Conservationists expect the new legislation to dramatically increase the pace of forest and watershed restoration in eastern Oregon.

Specifically, the bill expands upon and makes permanent existing protections for trees larger than 21 inches in diameter. In addition, the bill creates a science advisory panel that will draw upon the best available science to develop restoration guidelines for the Forest Service, and help ensure future management actions are consistent with the bill’s restoration goals. The legislation also addresses the environmental harm caused by the extensive system of largely unmaintained Forest Service logging roads, barring the agency from building new roads.

The legislation’s centerpiece is a requirement that the Forest Service begin planning landscape-level restoration projects that will improve forest and watershed health that has been degraded by decades of misguided management. These plans, which could encompass tens of thousands of acres, will seek to restore old-growth characteristics, protect and enhance fish and wildlife habitat, restore natural fire regimes, and make forests more resilient to climate change.

The plans are expected to result in science-based restoration thinning projects which will increase the volume of small-diameter wood available timber mills in Eastern Oregon, and to provide increased certainty of timber supply in both the short and long terms.

The Oregon Eastside Forest Restoration, Old Growth Protection and Jobs Act differs from other forest legislation proposals in a number of key ways. The legislation is based on an historic agreement among conservation organizations and timber companies, does not attempt to weaken environmental safeguards like the Endangered Species Act or the National Environmental Policy Act, and ensures Americans retain their rights to challenge federal agencies in court if they believe the agencies are breaking the law.

This legislation comes at a critical moment in the debate over eastern Oregon forests. A century of misguided management is being compounded by global warming, increasing the urgency to protect remaining old-growth and watersheds for the benefit of native fish, wildlife, and people.

Statements from conservationists involved in negotiations:

Steve Pedery, Conservation Director with Oregon Wild
“We’ve been working with forest managers, community members, and the timber industry for over a decade in the Siuslaw, protecting old-growth and restoring areas damaged by past mismanagement. This legislation will allow us to take that successful model and apply it to forest lands across eastern Oregon that have been put at risk by reckless logging and fire suppression.”

Mary Scurlock, Policy Director for Pacific Rivers Council
“Eastside streams and the species that rely on them still suffer from the legacy of past mismanagement, and this bill keeps us moving toward recovery of aquatic ecosystems. Fifteen years ago we were using the courts to shut down logging on eastside forests over harm to salmon, but today we’ve got broad agreement that maintaining stream protection benefits everyone.”

Randi Spivak, National Center for Conservation Science and Policy
“This legislation requires that forests be managed according to the best available science. Watersheds, wildlife, clean and abundant water and other forest values will all improve with scientific management as well as create jobs.”

Rick Brown, Defenders of Wildlife
“Eastern Oregon has both forests and communities that are at risk. This bill will help meet two important goals – restoring biological diversity in forests and family-wage jobs in local communities.”

Find out more of the legislation details in this Fact Sheet.

Read a Question & Answer document about the bill.

Read the full text of the legislation here.


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