Lane County’s forests being whittled down
By Roy Keene and Dominick DellaSala
Posted Jun 13, 2019 at The Register Guard
The Shotcash BLM timber sale would clear cut some 1,200 acres of ecologically healthy, still-growing, 60-80 year old timber within the heavily logged Mohawk River drainage. In a watershed checkerboarded with thousands of acres of clear cuts and almost entirely depleted of older forests, the BLM claims it needs more seedling plantations. We think this is a bad idea.
In its 1957 forest inventory, the United States Forest Service reported Lane County having a sawtimber volume of 97 billion board feet. Its 2001-2010 inventory reported only 64 billion board feet, a 34% decline. In the last half century of so-called “sustained yield management,” 33 billion board feet of Lane’s timber has been liquidated. The 2010 inventory shows 83% of the county’s remaining timber volume vested in federal forests. Having consumed most of their mature timber, Lane County’s mills now press federal lands. The BLM seems eager to accommodate the county at the public’s expense.
More roads, clear cuts and plantations will not only increase erosion and flooding in the watershed, but also the chances of bigger, hotter and smokier fires. As if to make this point, Lane County’s first forest fire this year was in a recent clear cut near Cottage Grove. Like many fires in dried out, slash-filled clear cuts, it burned intensely, spread rapidly, lofted smoke and threatened homes before containment.
The Shotcash timber sale proposal would result in more of this. Recent forest fire research connects logging with hotter, faster moving forest fires especially as the climate overheats. Scientists from Oregon State University discovered that severe fire weather (high winds, drought, high temperatures) and clear cuts contributed to unusually large amounts of intense burning in the 2013 Douglas fire complex just outside Roseburg. Other scientists examined over 1,500 wildfires over a four-decade period in 11 western states and found that areas with the most logging burned hottest in wildfires.
Shotcash proposes thinning as a more benign form of logging. Thinning typically removes half the timber or more from a stand in even-spaced fashion, produces sizeable log volumes and is advanced by the BLM, USFS, the timber industry, politicians and some environmentalists. They all claim that thinning forests reduces wildfire risk.
To the contrary, thinning depletes carbon, compacts soil, leaves flammable slash, and dries out forests in warm weather. Large wildfires are due mainly to extreme weather, not a lack of thinning. Thinning is discouraged by the Oregon Global Warming Commission.
The BLM claims that Shotcash will create 767 jobs, but this seems greatly exaggerated. In 2002, the BLM harvested 7 million board feet of timber in Lane County and the U.S. Labor Bureau reported 5,030 wood products jobs. In 2015, BLM increased harvest to 46 million board feet, yet wood product employment dropped to 3,266 jobs. Private forest logging in Lane remained nearly the same both years, averaging 434 million board feet. BLM timber harvesting makes very little contribution to Lane County’s total harvest levels or wood products jobs.
Furthermore, the BLM’s annual financial losses associated with logging Oregon and California (O&C) federal timber lands are substantial. Between 2012 and 2017, BLM reported timber receipts covering 24–42% of the agency’s annual timber expenditures. Adjusted for annual timber harvest levels, the loss to taxpayers was $202–$445 per thousand board feet (mbf). At $445 per mbf, the net costs to taxpayers from the sale of Shotcash’s 59 million board feet is over $26 million. Why should we accept logging at such a huge price?
Lane’s private forests total 856,000 acres, far more than the 250,000 acres of public forests the BLM manages. If these acres and timber harvests were fairly taxed, income to Lane County would easily exceed what the county receives from BLM logging.
The BLM Shotcash timber sale violates the spirit of the 1937 O&C Sustained Yield Act and other important federal lands values. Shotcash would whittle down the watershed’s timber volume; increase the risks of flood and wildfire; contribute global heating pollution; reduce recreational opportunities; and cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
It might be a sweet deal for local mills, but it’s a bad deal for the rest of us.
Roy Keene is a forest consultant and private timber appraiser and broker with 40 years of experience in Lane County. Dominick DellaSala, Ph.D, is the chief scientist at the Geos Institute, based in Ashland. He has published more than 200 science papers and books on forests, wildfire and climate change.