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Oregon timber panel fails to make recommendation

SALEM -- In the end, three months wasn't enough time for Gov. John Kitzhaber's O&C Timber Panel to achieve the monumental task of crafting a proposal for management of 2.6 million acres of Oregon & California Railroad Lands in Oregon.

February 12, 2013

SALEM -- In the end, three months wasn't enough time for Gov. John Kitzhaber's O&C Timber Panel to achieve the monumental task of crafting a proposal for management of 2.6 million acres of Oregon & California Railroad Lands in Oregon.

In October, Kitzhaber formed a 14-member panel of timber industry executives, conservationists and O&C county commissioners, nicknamed the "Gang of 14." Using directives from Kitzhaber and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, who is the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the group was tasked with negotiating a possible proposal to increase harvest on the federally managed lands.

O&C lands span 18 counties in Western Oregon, including 42,205 in Polk County. Timber harvest on those lands were a significant source of income for counties before environmental concerns reduced the cut in recent decades.

The panel's goal was to find a compromise providing more funding to counties as well as environmental protections for old growth, riparian areas, and other ecologically sensitive environments.

The panel didn't offer a recommended plan, but did explore seven management strategies, estimating in each a reserve acreage, harvest level and county revenue.

In a letter to Oregon's Congressional delegation, Kitzhaber suggested those models -- and the panel itself -- be used to formulate a bill establishing a final management plan.

The panel met once or twice a week beginning on Oct. 26 until Jan. 15. A report on the panel's findings was issued Feb. 6.

"Given the short timeframe, it was difficult for them to develop a detailed proposal," Kitzhaber wrote in the letter, also dated Feb. 6. "However, their work contains information that has been invaluable in helping shape my thinking on this issue and that should be similarly useful to Congress."

The 94-page "O&C Land Report" outlines the panel's research and each of the management models explored.

The least lucrative for counties is the "status quo" model, which allows harvesting 185 million board feet a year -- mostly thinning projects -- generating $13 million for counties for the next 25 years before harvest declines even more.

The most productive, in harvest terms, allows 700 million board feet a year providing $165 million to counties.

Kitzhaber urged Oregon's Congressional delegation to use the report to fuel action. If not reauthorized, federal timber payments -- funding provided to counties to replace harvest revenue, including $800,000 for Polk County this year -- will end this fiscal year.

"The O&C Lands Report adds to years of data, study and analysis of the issues," Kitzhaber wrote. "More studies are not needed. Instead, we need to use this information to settle on a solution that has economic and environmental benefits."

O&C Management Models:

Model Reserve acres Harvest acres Timber supply Revenue

A 1.44 million 772,634 185 mbf* $13 million

B 1.02 million 1.6 million 700 mbf $165 million

C 1.02 million 1.4 million 565 mbf $127 million

D 1.1 million 1 million 205 mbf $27 million

E 959,923 1.1 million 261 mbf $34 million

F 1.07 million 1.1 million 261 mbf $67 million

G 1.03 million 1.2 million 240 mbf $36 million

Source: O&C Lands Report *mbf = million board feet

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