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New Report to Solve the Western Oregon County Payments Impasse

Shared Responsibility: The Conservation Community’s Recommendations to Equitably Resolve the O&C County Funding Controversy

Reports and Info:

As Oregon county governments receive their last checks from federal taxpayers under the expired county payments program, a coalition of seven local, state, and national conservation organizations has unveiled a balanced strategy to resolve the county funding conundrum.  Given the growing trend in Congress to end Oregon’s county payments program, the groups are promoting a shared responsibility approach, where county governments, the State of Oregon, and the federal government would each take responsibility for resolving a portion of the problem.

This common sense proposal stands in stark contrast to the legislative proposal in the House (H.R. 1526) endorsed by Representatives Peter DeFazio, Greg Walden and Kurt Schrader. They are in favor of re-linking county funding to clearcutting public forestlands, with weakened protections for endangered species and clean water.

In a September 2013 letter to Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), more than 180 scientists expressed their strong support for retaining protections of O&C forests in the Northwest Forest Plan (1994), which would be undermined if H.R. 1526 becomes law. Read the press release and the scientists’ letter.

Historical Background

For decades the Pacific Northwest has taken center stage in debates concerning logging, primarily on federal lands. In particular, controversial logging of mature and old-growth forests began in earnest during the post-WW II logging and housing booms. In just five decades, logging had reduced the region’s irreplaceable old forests to 15-20 percent of their historic range.

By the 1990s, high rates of logging on National Forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands resulted in the listing of the northern spotted owl as a federally threatened species.  Additional concerns over the viability of hundreds of other old-forest dependent species ushered in the Northwest Forest Plan in 1994, which greatly slowed logging on federal lands.

Attempts by the Bush administration to weaken this plan, undercut protection for the spotted owl, and endorse dramatic increases logging in southwestern Oregon were overturned in the courts and/or rescinded by the Obama administration.

Now the Obama administration is poised to reformulate the Spotted Owl Recovery Plan and revisit Oregon BLM policies. Our President and Chief Scientist, Dr. Dominick DellaSala has served on the Spotted Owl Recovery Team to help review and revise the recovery plan.  Dominick’s Oped describes how the spotted owl faces extinction if politics continue to be put ahead of science.

In July 2012, Dominick, Randi, Board Member Barry Noon, and two Board Members of the Society of Conservation Biology met with Fish and Wildlife Service scientists in D.C. to discuss the designation of “Critical Habitat” for the spotted owl.

Our overall goal is to insure that the Spotted Owl Recovery Plan and the Oregon BLM’s revised plan provide adequate protection for older forests and associated species, while increasing investments in job-creating activities.  We envision future forest management as restorative in nature, with a focus on thinning young tree plantations, reducing fuels and small trees in fire risk areas, removing failing roads that erode sediment into streams, and containing invasive species.

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