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Town hall session takes up BLM forest plan.

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

Taxing the federal government for the land it owns in Lane County, cutting more trees on public lands to help prop up county budgets, paying counties for carbon credits when they don't cut trees on public lands - these were just a few of the ideas that surfaced at a town hall meeting in Eugene on Thursday.

The topic: a proposed increase in logging on Bureau of Land Management forests that may help fill fiscal gaps for Western Oregon counties.

The 90-minute session featured speakers such as Lane County Commissioner Peter Sorenson, Jackson County Commissioner Dennis C.W. Smith, Cascadia Wildlands Project Executive Director Jay Lininger and Bureau of Land Management Eugene district Manager Ginnie Grilley. About 70 people attended.

Since the Northwest Forest Plan in 1994 drastically reduced the amount of logging on public lands, counties in heavily forested areas have relied on payments from the federal government to make up for lost revenue. But those payments may be at an end unless Congress renews them next year, and many people are looking for rescue from a new management plan currently under review at the BLM that would triple the amount of logging on more than 2 million acres.

"I support BLM as long as they can do it in an environmentally correct manner," said Hal Reed, a Lane County resident who has closely followed the county's budget challenges.

But Reed was a minority in the group at Thursday's meeting. In a straw poll of the audience, 39 said they opposed more logging while just 12 said they supported it.

Longtime forest advocate Peggy Robinson said she'd rather pay more taxes and see thinning on younger forests, while leaving older trees and stream buffers intact.

The group did support making federal payments to counties permanent with 33 endorsing that idea and just nine opposing it in the straw poll.

Commissioner Sorenson argued for continuing federal payments to counties - essentially a property tax on federal lands that other states with a heavy federal presence, whether in land or buildings, would be likely to support.

Commissioner Smith said the federal government would never be talked into paying such taxes and warned that counties can't continue relying on stopgap funding that was never intended to be permanent.

Lininger, from Cascadia Wildlands Project, argued against the BLM logging plan, which he said would leave the oldest trees without adequate protection from logging.

It fell to the BLM's Grilley to explain why the agency is in a position to consider cutting more trees after 12 years of logging restrictions. The short version: The agency hasn't been meeting the timber production goals required by law.

The long version goes like this: For the last dozen years, the BLM has managed its Western Oregon forests under the direction of the Northwest Forest Plan, a comprehensive strategy designed to preserve the state's oldest trees for the benefit of species most likely to die off under the intensity of logging in previous decades.

Timber industry groups sued the BLM for complying with the Northwest Forest Plan, saying the agency was failing to follow a 1937 law that requires them to manage the Western Oregon lands primarily for timber production and to share the timber revenues with the counties.

The Bush administration chose to settle the suit rather than defend it, and the agency agreed to revise its forest management strategies.

It released a draft environmental impact statement this month that spells out three management alternatives. All would increase the amount of logging, but the BLM has indicated a preference for the one that yields the most timber - more than 700 million board feet annually.

Among the questions raised by the audience:

How can the BLM legally ignore the Northwest Forest Plan?

Federal law requires agencies to periodically refine their management plans and modify them, Grilley said.

One audience member, a former logger, said that since forests grow 10 billion board feet annually statewide, with loggers cutting just 2 billion board feet, more harvest should be allowed.

Lininger said the cutting should be done in stands of younger trees, which would open up plantations, allowing the remaining trees to grow faster and reducing the fire hazards that crowded plantations represent.

The session wrapped up with no conclusions, but Grilley invited people to get more informed about the BLM's proposal.

The 90-day public comment period on it ends Nov. 10. The agency expects to finalize its plans at the end of 2008.

While the discussion was long on problems and short on solutions, it was a good initial airing, Lininger said.

And that was the goal, said Michael Smith, a community organizer who set up the meeting with Sorenson and former local radio host Brian Shaw, who moderated.

"We wanted to help frame the debate at a local level," Smith said.


Online: The draft environmental impact statement on the Western Oregon Plan Revision is available online at The Web site has a feature that allows people to look up sections of the plan and comment on it.

Open house: At the Eugene BLM district office, 2890 Chad Drive, on Sept. 8 from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. with overviews presented at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Another session will occur on Sept. 19 from 3 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. with overviews set at 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Planning team members will be available to answer questions.
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Title Annotation:Environment; Officials discuss the pros and cons of increased logging on public land
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 31, 2007
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