Culture of Corruption
Politics and money override forestry science
BY FERGUS MCLEAN
If clearcutting all trees more than 120 years old on federal land in Lane County between I-5 and the Cascades is your idea of good forestry, you might like BLM’s proposed Western Oregon Plan Revisions (WOPR). That’s nearly all the older trees in the lower McKenzie, Mohawk, Fall Creek and Middle Fork Willamette basins.
What can they be thinking? You might well ask. BLM is accepting comments on the WOPR Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) until Jan. 11.
The WOPR proposes an array of highly questionable policies to replace the Northwest Forest Plan. (Triple the clearcuts without leaving any trees at all? More than two-thirds reduction in riparian buffers? Cutting 11,000 acres of Lane County old growth first and thinning younger stands later?)
The Forest Plan was created in 1994 as a scientifically sound compromise among dozens of top industry, academic and government scientists. Its basis was protecting the public waterways — the Aquatic Conservation Strategy — and an old growth ecological bellwether: northern spotted owls. Forest Plan timber harvest targets have never been hit, and the WOPR is the Bush administration’s effort to up the timber cut.
The WOPR appears, frankly, incredible and inexplicable. Chances of it surviving scientific and legal scrutiny seem quite small. Scientists are already up in arms over WOPR. What are they thinking?
The puzzle becomes a bit clearer when you take a look at what else is going on over at the Department of the Interior, BLM’s parent agency:
• Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Julie Macdonald resigned April 30, the same day Sen. Ron Wyden called on Macdonald’s boss Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorn to testify before Wyden’s Senate committee on allegations of Macdonald’s interference in scientific findings related to the Endangered Species Act.
• Dozens of denied listings are under review within the agency, including the recent downsizing of northern spotted owl reserves — which directly affects the huge increases in timber cuts planned under the WOPR.
• Macdonald, who help write a denial of a fish listing which directly affected her own northern California ranch, spent the last several months of her abbreviated tenure at Interior interviewing for lobbying jobs working for trade groups in the industries she was supposed to be regulating.
• It appears that there is a culture of corruption in Interior which places political interests over science. The WOPR appears to be an example of this culture at work. Wyden has successfully demanded an ethics investigation by Interior’s inspector general. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has a separate investigation under way.
The WOPR’s economic analysis was done by timber industry consultants from Boise, ignoring the work of highly respected Eugene economist Ed Whitelaw of EcoNW, who has long argued old-growth timber is more valuable to the local economy standing than turned into lumber.
Promises that timber revenues from logging under the WOPR will provide much needed money for county government are hollow as the WOPR’s flaws guarantee protracted lawsuits and could even result in a reduction in county timber revenue — but we can depend on the ecological damage WOPR would wreak.
Your comments can help. Just Google BLM and WOPR and make a quick comment on BLM’s excellent website. Ask for scientific evidence why the environmental protections of the NW Forest Plan were discarded. Request that they address the WOPR’s effect on forest fires, global warming and the survival of old-growth ecosystems. Demand that cumulative effects of WOPR policies on upper Willamette spring Chinook salmon be considered.
Here’s a tip of the hat to Sen. Wyden and our long-suffering BLM footsoldiers who are trying to do the right thing.
Fergus Mclean is a Dexter forester working on creating the Jeffrey Mentzer Old Growth Park on BLM land 1/2 mile west of Low Pass on Highway 36.