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Opinion: Follow Biden’s lead and protect Oregon’s old-growth on national public lands

Source: Oregon Live Opinion

Author: Casey KullaKulla, a former Yamhill County commissioner, is state forest policy coordinator for Oregon Wild. He lives near Dayton.

In that most wonderful time between Christmas and New Year’s, the U.S. Forest Service announced that it halted – for now – a controversial plan to auction off land for logging in the Willamette National Forest. Conservation organizations opposed the “Flat Country” sale, east of Eugene, because it allowed for cutting 1,000 acres of mature and old-growth trees across a 4,300 acreswath of the forest.

The Forest Service cited President Biden’s Executive Order 14072, issued on Earth Day 2022, to explain its reversal. The Executive Order states “conserving old-growth and mature forests on federal lands while supporting and advancing climate-smart forestry and sustainable forest products is critical to protecting these and other ecosystem services provided by those forests.” In plain language, President Biden ordered federal agencies to protect old forests and trees. I commend the Forest Service on listening to their boss and halting the sale, and I commend the Oregonians who spoke up to protect old forests and all the creatures (including us) who depend upon them.

Flat Country is not the only timber sale in the Pacific Northwest to target old trees for cutting; it is just the most prominent because of the opposition. And the Forest Service is not the only federal agency that should reconsider sales based upon the executive order; it is just the only one that has reconsidered. In Oregon, there are dozens of timber sales that are in planningout for bid or in the cutting stages with the Forest Service and the federal Bureau of Land Management, but the BLM has not announced any stoppages.

I confess that I was surprised to learn that we allow any logging of old-growth trees on public land in Oregon, and I was even more surprised to learn that not even spotted owl nests and habitat—the foundation of the Northwest Forest Plan—are safe from cutting on public land. It is time the BLM reassess its sales in light of the president’s call to protect old-growth, like the Forest Service did. BLM districts are expected to meet quotas of sales completed and timber cut, but they also need to listen to the president.

These old forests matter to all of us, even if we’re not a spotted owl. Old and mature forests clean our water and our air more effectively than those with younger trees.They make our weather and our place special. We spend time in them; the old forests nurture our spirits and health. Old forests store massive amounts of carbon, and they are much less prone to fire than commercial forests.

The hard-working and skilled loggers, road-builders, truck drivers and mill workers that work in our forests don’t lose out if President Biden’s forest agencies follow his direction and stop selling our old trees. Trees cut on federal land are a tiny fraction of the trees cut overall (but they are much older) in Oregon. But public forests need work. Hazard tree removal, road maintenance, thinning and inter-planting for health: all this work must be done by skilled local workers.

Local government budgets don’t lose, either. Most county budgets long ago moved on from federal timber receipts; it is true that some are locked in by property tax limitations and voter resistance to operating levies, while other resource-based counties are reinventing themselves by supporting recreation.

The Siuslaw National Forest in the Coast Range has over 30 years of managing public forests for habitat, drinking water, tree age, and carbon. Each timber sale improves forest health. Other national forests and BLM offices can use this model to manage without cutting mature and old-growth.

Oregon’s offices of the BLM should immediately review all pending timber sales in light of the president’s call to protect mature and old trees. Clearcutting and thinning old trees helps no one, but a healthy old forest is good for everyone.