Stitching Back Together Western Oregon's Patchwork Public Lands
Western Oregon BLM lands and their valuable public resources.
Discover our backyard forests and some of the places on BLM land special to Oregonians on our new website for BLM Backyard Forests!
What's at stake
When it comes to the management of public forest lands in our state, most Oregonians think of the U.S. Forest Service. But the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for more than 2 million acres of public land in western Oregon. Much of this has been heavily logged in the past, but nearly 1 million acres of intact ancient forests remain on these lands.
The low-elevation forests in the Western Oregon BLM region are critical connecting blocks to the largely mountainous National Forests in Oregon. Western Oregon’s BLM forests are some of the most productive in the world. They are also extremely diverse - found on the slopes of three distinct mountain ranges: the Siskiyous, the Coast Range, and the Cascades. The forests feature ancient, coastal hemlock on the Coos Bay District, biologically rich forests on the Medford District, and towering Douglas-fir forests on the Roseburg, Salem, and Eugene BLM Districts. They shelter important salmon streams, provide critical habitat for threatened wildlife, offer incredible recreation opportunities, and provide the scenic backdrop and drinking water for thousands of rural Oregonians.
These forests can also provide jobs and wood products as a by-product of forest restoration, such as thinning young plantations that have grown back after the clear-cutting of the past several decades.
History of O&C Lands
Want a more complete background on O&C lands? Click here.
One of the unique features of western Oregon's BLM land is its "checkerboard" pattern in the foothills of the Cascades and Coast Range. Those are the O&C lands (See larger map here). These lands were originally granted to the Oregon & California Railroad (O&C), but were revested to the federal government when the railroad didn't hold up their end of the bargain, and their management was set forth in the 1937 O&C Act.
When the Northwest Forest Plan was developed in the 1990s to protect fish and wildlife dependent on old-growth forest habitat and healthy streams, these lands were a part of this science-based management plan. Logging has severely affected much of this land, but the BLM still manages hundreds of thousands of acres of pristine and unspoiled old-growth "heritage forests." Unfortunately, some of the ancient forests that provide critical habitat for threatened fish and wildlife are still being targeted.
Under the Bush administration, logging interests and the BLM worked together to put these heritage forests on the chopping block. The Bush administration settled a lawsuit brought by the logging industry, and agreed to remove BLM forestlands in western Oregon from the Northwest Forest Plan's old-growth reserve system. Together, they developed the WOPR (short for the Western Oregon Plan Revisions) that would have opened up much of the old-growth forests remaining on BLM land to aggressive logging. This plan was found illegal and withdrawn by the Obama administration in 2009. After a court battle, the plan's demise has been upheld, but a new plan revision process is in progress.
County funding and public lands
For years, counties with O&C lands received funding based on the amount of timber harvested from these lands. This led to a perverse incentive to log more of our old-growth forests to pay for basic county services like schools, law enforcement and libraries. This lasted until the "Secure Rural Schools" Act of 2000, which recognized the historic obligation of the federal government to counties with large amounts of federal forest land, like O&C lands, and provided federal funding for these counties. The funding from this Act, reauthorized in 2008, runs out in 2012. (More info on this history here.)
Today, Western Oregon counties are facing a looming financial crisis due to the end of the federal “Secure Rural Schools” legislation and the vital support it provides. Some groups and politicians have tried to use this crisis to promote a return to old-growth and clear-cut logging on federal BLM lands as a means of generating revenue, which would put clean water, salmon, and Oregon’s tourism and recreation economy at risk. Oregon Wild recognizes the importance of finding a long-term solution to county funding while at the same time protecting old-growth forests and expanding restoration thinning in younger forests. Learn more here.