Wood First Bill, Lack of Sawmills: Federal Forest Problem

May 10, 2011

Wood First Bill, Forest Service contract breach, WOPR suit
by Rex Storm, Forest Policy Manager
Associated Oregon Loggers

‘Wood First’ Bill Advances in Legislature: Championed by Oregon Forest Industries Council, the Oregon legislature is considering a bill (HB 3429) that would establish a preference for wood as the material for state building construction (“to the maximum extent practicable”). Although forest products are Oregon’s second-leading traded good, the OR Concrete & Aggregate Products Assoc. has attacked the measure. Strong support from the House Agriculture Committee suggests that the bill could pass.

US Forest Service Breaches Contract: The US Court of Federal Claims awarded $9 million for breach of contract to an Oregon national forest timber purchaser, Scott Timber (Roseburg Forest Products). The court ruled that Scott Timber incurred expenses and lost profits on plywood & lumber sales, because the Forest Service breached three timber sale contracts that were suspended. USFS liabilities included unreasonably withholding litigation risk knowledge prior to award, unreasonable delays in litigation-caused surveys, and unreasonable delays in lifting suspensions.

Lawsuit Again Challenges BLM WOPR: Environmental groups quickly filed a lawsuit challenging the BLM’s Western Oregon Plan Revision (WOPR)—after a federal judge in March invalidated the Obama administrations 2009 illegal plan withdrawal. Earthjustice attorneys say their lawsuit is a precaution to block the BLM from implementing the plan, or attempting to increase harvest above the current 200 million bdft/year—even though the BLM forests are growing over 1.2 billion bdft/year.

Forestry Budgets Debated in Legislature: Oregon’s forest industry, including AOL, seeks sufficient state general funds to pay the traditional shared proportions of Oregon Dept. of Forestry’s programs—a 50-50 balanced cost share for ODF base fire protection, and a customary 60-40 cost share for ODF forest practices administration. ODF’s public-private forestry programs have been share-cost with forest landowners paying through property and harvest taxes. Over the last decade, the state legislature has reneged on paying its public share of this funding.

Democrats Eye Wilderness Instead of Economy: A package of Wilderness bills were introduced in Congress by Oregon Democrats Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Jeff Merkley, and Rep. Peter DeFazio. The same bill package failed to advance in the 2009-10 Congress. The proposed Devil’s Staircase Wilderness would lock-up 30,000 acres of the Siuslaw Nat. Forest near Reedsport. The bills would also increase the Oregon Caves national monument by transferring 4,000 acres from a national forest, as well as add Wilderness in the Rogue River-Siskiyou NF.

Industry Wants New Firefighting Equation: A bill in the Oregon Legislature proposes to change the funding formula for forest fire costs, so that the state and landowners would equally-split costs beginning with the first dollar. Under the current broken formula, for 18 years forest landowners have been stuck paying over 80% of large-size forest firefighting expenses—landowners paid $153 million, while the state paid just $31 million. Because most forest fires are caused by public users, non-forest owners and lightning, the funding formula is intended to be equally split between the state and forest owners. But, in recent years the Legislature has reneged on paying its general fund share.

State Forest Purpose under Debate: Oregon’s Legislature is considering a bill that would focus the statutory purpose for State Forests as primarily producing timber revenue for counties & schools. State Forest purpose has been diluted over the past 40 years, by a political tug-of-war where urban special interests have made absolute wildlife habitat and water demands—thereby reducing harvest to less than half annual timber growth volume. AOL testified to support HB 2001, which would clarify the purpose of State Forests to be primarily timber production.

Review of Short-Term State Forest PlansOregon Dept. of Forestry is accepting public comment on their draft short-term Annual Operations Plans (timber sales), for the nine agency districts that manage 821,000 acres of state forest lands. Additionally, ODF’s proposed 10-year Implementation Plans (harvest program objectives) for the Astoria and Forest Grove districts are also open for public comment. Written comments will be accepted until May 25. More information is available on ODF’s website: http://www.oregon.gov/odf/state_forests/

Diesel Price Still Rising: The average price of Oregon diesel fuel jumped 19 cents per gallon in the last month to $4.28 per gallon, up 5% in a month, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report (4/18/11). This rate is 32% above diesel prices at this time last year. Oregon’s diesel fuel price at the pump ranks the 7th highest in the US, compared to the nationwide average of $4.13/gal. Daily fuel & gas prices are reported online at: http://www.fuelgaugereport.com

National Forest Planning Rule Proposed: The US Forest Service released a 94-page draft planning rule for managing 155 national forests. AOL, forest users, federal forest county governments, and the forest industry are unified in criticizing the problematic draft rule—which proposes to govern the revision of national forest management plans nationwide. The rule would update a 1982 planning rule, which the FS has twice failed in attempts to update—due to environmentalist lawsuits and courts. A public comment period on the draft rule ends May 16.

Court Reinstates BLM Plan: On March 31st, US District Court Judge Bates ruled that the Obama administration had illegally withdrawn the Bureau of Land Management’s Western Oregon Plan Revision (WOPR). The WOPR was to boost timber sale from 200 million bdft/year to 500 million. The Judge agreed with industry plaintiffs by voiding US Interior Secretary Salazar’s withdrawal of the plan, and allows the BLM to increase timber harvest on 2.5 million acres of BLM forests. At press time, the Interior Dept. had failed to announce whether any harvest increase would occur.

Lack of Sawmills: Federal Forest Problem: In March, a top USDA official said the millions of acres of unhealthy Western national forests is major problem for the US Forest Service. Many states across the Interior West lack the sawmills to purchase federal timber sales necessary to harvest and grow national forests. For twenty years, the USFS has ignored the loss of the forest industry infrastructure (mills & contractors). “Now the Forest Service is going to have to pay someone to do it, if they can’t sell that timber,’ said Robert Bonnie, senior advisor to US Ag. Secretary Vilsack.

WGA Calls for Restoration: The Western Governors’ Association (WGA) released a report by its Forest Health Committee, which says that more large-scale federal forest management is needed. The WGA also announced it would support large-scale restoration of federal forests, because millions of acres of federal forests are so unhealthy that they harm the environment and put human life and property in harm’s way. The governors said they would promote federal agencies investing in large-scale restoration treatments to the achieve maximum area treated.

More Forestry Mergers: A greater number of mergers and acquisitions in the global forest products industry are expected in the future, according to a new study by the accounting firm PwC (formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers). Last year in North America alone, 66 deals worth $3.2 billion were completed, up 47% from 2009. In 2010, merger/acquisition transactions included 15 Canadian deals worth $1.8 billion, including AbitibiBowater’s $940 million sale and Eacom Timber’s acquisition of Domtar Corp’s lumber business.

Forestry Groups Receive Grant Funds: A new federally-funded $293,000 grant aims to improve educational outreach for Oregon forest landowners, managers and operators. The ‘Partnership for Forestry Education’ is five government and private organizations—including AOL—that will leverage their efforts using the grant funds to address under-served aspects of forestry education. The 2-year partnership delivers workshops, written materials and websites concerning: Oregon’s forest regulations, vegetation & residential forest management, and woodlot & succession planning.

Forestry Ads at MLS Soccer: Portland’s new expansion Major League Soccer team—the ‘Portland Timbers’—has a new forestry sponsor, Oregon Forest Resources Institute. OFRI is a Timbers sponsor for its 2011 season, taking advantage of the Timbers already popular themes using axes, cross-cut saws and a chainsaw-toting mascot. MLS soccer fans region-wide will see many forestry messages in team literature, signage, radio broadcasts, website, and at Jeld-Wen Field on a huge “Timbervision” screen.

OFRI Promotes Forestry: Educational advertising is key to OFRI’s mission. This spring, OFRI is airing more TV ads that were first broadcast in 2009, showing generations of Oregon forestland owners & workers. One ad features father-and-son loggers Bob & Kirk Luoto talking about how they care for the forest. This year’s ad program sees increased TV, Internet, OPB radio, and MLS soccer exposure. OFRI is the agency whose mission is to improve public education about forestry; it’s funded by a portion of Oregon’s timber harvest tax. For more information: http://www.oregonforests.org

Loggers Visible at Beaver Sports: Associated Oregon Loggers in recent years has sponsored a modest advertising campaign at Oregon State University Beavers baseball and football sports venues. Thousands of OSU sports fans each year see logging messages and images of a chainsaw-toting Bucky Beaver mascot cutting a third down cheer. The ads keep forestry and logging visible in the minds of active sports fans from all walks of life.

Environmental Benefits of Wood Products: A new eight-page publication, Environmental Benefits of Wood Products, underscores the environmental advantages of wood products over other building materials, such as steel and concrete. Wood outperforms other materials, based on its carbon benefits and its low energy production requirements. The publication explains wood’s benefits, through a full life-cycle analysis of renewable Oregon grown wood products. Published by Oregon Forest Resources Institute, this free publication is available online from: oregonforests.org

Senators Seek BLM Wilderness: Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) co-sponsored a bill in Congress that would designate two Wilderness areas, located near the John Day River in the Prineville Bureau of Land Management District. S.607, ‘Cathedral Rock & Horse Heaven Wilderness Act’ proposes the 4,560 acre Cathedral Rock and 2,815 acre Horse Heaven Wildernesses. To complete private in-holding acquisition, the bill would authorize three exchanges of 11,840 acres of non-federal land from its willing owners for 14,445 acres of federal BLM land.

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