Q&A Cascadia Wildlands: Understanding the WOPR in Oregon

This week I finished up a Q&A with Cascadia Wildlands Project’s Conservation Director Josh Laughlin. It’s going to eventually be rolled up into an essay I’m working on about the WOPR.

Who are the biggest supporters of the BLM’s Western Oregon Plan Revision (WOPR) locally in the Eugene, OR area?
Locally you’ll hear the most cheerleading from Lane Commissioner Faye Steweart. Commissioner Stewart has been actively endorsing the WOPR as a solution to county funding woes. It’s a really dangerous proposal to log more old growth to fund essential county services. It’s not something people should get their hopes up for because it is not something that is going to happen. Oregonians should not have to choose between these services and or old growth. We are an advanced society and should be able to both.

I haven’t heard Commissioner Bobby Green actively endorse it. Commissioner Sorenson is openly opposed to it [Register-Guard op-ed], as does Commissioner Fleenor.

Can you explain how county funding issues relate to timber sales?
You have to jump back a few decades to see how this scenario evolved. There are tons of Federal BLM and Forest Service Lands. Historically, instead of the Federal government paying taxes to these counties, they offer 50% of timber sale receipts on BLM lands to fund roads and sheriffs.

An old growth logging frenzy occurred from the 1950s-1980s. Wyden and others stepped in and decoupled timber sale receipts from essential services — the concept of clear cuts for kids wasn’t working out. Species were headed toward extinction. Congress appropriated money in lieu of timber sale receipts as a stop gap measure, but that money is drying up. Wyden and DeFazio are trying to reauthorize this critical funding, but finding that money in DC has been a challenge. The rest of Congress sees the funding as pork for Oregon, and that money is likely to dry up. They’re working on a five year extension currently, but aren’t overly optimistic.

So is there a solution to Oregon’s county funding issue?
If the federal government isn’t going to play fair and pay up in leiu of being taxed on their federal lands within our counties, the counties need to get creative to fund essential services. I’m trying to come to the table with solutions like where the federal government will pay for old growth forests as an investment for future recreation opportunities and to mitigate global climate change. Washington D.C. is very interested in this issue right now. If Capital Hill is serious about mitigating pollution and addressing global warming, let’s pay to keep the iconic old growth standing and nationwide we reap the benefits of mitigating a warming earth.

Does old growth sequester carbon and store it efficiently than the traditional carbon offset practice of planting more trees?
My limited understanding of the issue is that old-growth is a great carbon storage mechanism and is less renowned for its ability to efficiently sequester it. At some point, these old forests hit a bell curve and find an equilibrium where sequestration is balanced out with carbon output due to decay. The important point is that these old trees store incredible amounts of carbon in their biomass and soil. There are major carbon outputs once these forests are logged off, both through stumpage decay and through the processing of the tree itself.

Let’s be sure not to fall into the industry myth that we need to clearcut and replant with young forests that aggressively sequester carbon to mitigate global warming. It is true that younger trees are efficient sequesterors, but this train of though fails to recognize the major steps backwards that occur, in terms of carbon emitted, when the big old trees are logging to make way for the young fiber farms.

Where are the old growth stands that would be cut under the BLM’s Alt 2 closest to Eugene?
There is an Area of Critical Environmental Concern in the Coburg Hills — an area set aside for its outstanding values for wildlife habitat, meadows, and older forests. This would become a timber management area under WOPR. If you go just east of Eugene toward Marcola, there are patches of storybook old growth forests that would be clear cut under this plan. We’ve spent considerable time taking the WOPR maps out into the field and there are dozens of opportunities to see old growth slated for clearcutting within 45 minutes Eugene in the Siuslaw and the McKenzie River watersheds. There is a spot out highway 36 not far from the community of Alvadore where there’s a fragment of old growth BLM forest that the BLM wants to offer up to logging now. Keep in mind, some of these are fragments 5 acres. The industry is coming in to mop up what they didn’t get during the old growth logging heyday.

Over the next ten years, 140,000 acres of forest 80-400 years old are slated to be logged. This goes against the interest and values of people of Oregon. Also, this is just one component of a systematic effort to dismantle the Northwest Forest Plan. They’ve gone after the Aquatic Conservation strategy, they’re trying to take out designated old growth and streamside Reserves. It’s against all the best available science and will dismantle the landmark NW forest plan of 1994.

That plan was put in place to keep the marbled murrelet and spotted owl from going extinct. These Bush Administration efforts, coupled with the Barred owl incursion, sudden oak death, climate change; we may be up shit creek in terms of recovery. That is why we must stop the WOPR and safeguard our remaining older forests on BLM lands.

What is the definition of old growth?
This is a complex question and it depends who you ask. It also depends where you are. Are you talking about the east side or west side? To keep things simple, here in the westside temperate rainforests, there is a near consensus amongst scientists that older forest characteristics begin to develop around 80 years, and around 200 years, you’ve got nearly all the attributes and components of a healthy old growth system, including large downed wood, uneven aged canopies, mixed tree diversity, and of course, a myriad of species, some of which require dense canopies and large wood for their survival. In general, chaos and and heterogeneity has taken over where nothing is uniform and complexity dominates. In the two hundred years, that evolving forest may have experienced a wildfire event or two that helped shape the important structure within the old-growth web of life.

Is the BLM accountable to public opinion?
I think there is a predetermined outcome with the WOPR. It’s designed to appease the old growth logging industry from the get go. The only reason they’re doing a public comment period is because the National Environmental Policy Act compels federal agencies to engage the public, to analyze alternatives and solicit feedback. It’s clear from the beginning of this process that the intention of the settlement is to increase growth logging, no matter what the public thinks.

What are the options if this does happen?
They’re going to pick a hybrid — call it “Alternative Two Light.” They’re going to find where they’re most legally vulnerable to lawsuit and capitulate to demands and concerns and proceed with Alternative 2 Light, which will radically increase old growth logging in the region. I think it’s destined to fail. There are a number of old growth-dependent species teetering on the brink of extinction. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you what happens to them when you liquidate thier remaining habitat. There is also the Clean Water Act to consider. The Riparian Reserve program under the NW Forest Plan has been successful in bringing back water quality for imperiled salmon runs. How will the WOPR face the obligations they need to meet? This is a Bush administration backroom deal that is already dying a slow death.

What political figures are the most important in changing the fate of the WOPR?
Sadly, none of our elected officials have come out in opposition to this. The issue has totally been framed around solving county funding woes. It’s really hard for them to come out and oppose WOPR, becasue our counties are starving for funds.

Yet, it’s clearly not something Wyden and DeFazio support because they’re working on a bill that protects old growth forests. It would be really powerful for our Governor, who has to review the WOPR before it’s signed into law, to take a strong stand for Oregon’s old growth and what this icon means for our nation.

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About mstansberry

Matt Stansberry currently lives in Eugene, Oregon with his wife and son.
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3 Responses to Q&A Cascadia Wildlands: Understanding the WOPR in Oregon

  1. Matt:

    A correction about timber receipts:

    Rules are not the same for the BLM and Forest Service.

    To put it simply –

    When a tree is sold on National Forests (USFS) 25% of the reciepts go to counties to be used only for roads and schools.

    When a tree is sold from O&C Lands (vast majority of lands managed by BLM in western Oregon) 50% of the receipts go to a pot that is divided annually among the 18 O&C Counties based on a formula ” . . . in the proportion that the total assessed value of the Oregon and California grant lands in each of said counties for the year 1915 bears to the total assessed value of all of said lands in the State of Oregon for said year . . .” (from O&C Act). There are no strings attached to that money. Each county can spend it any way they want.

  2. Pingback: Hardhitting Journalism . . . Upstream in Oregon Examines WOPR. One Mule Team Still in Starting Gate. « One Mule Team . . .

  3. mstansberry says:

    Thanks for the clarification Alan, I appreciate you taking the time.
    -Matt

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