Greg Walden on Forest Practice

This letter helps elucidate the current interplay of stakeholders over forest practice and really shows us the workings of a headless committee with entrenched positions and no guidance as to best practice. Very much an interest argues his interest and extracts concessions from elected representatives who are rarely able to see other than short term financial interests.

That is exactly how we destroyed so much of our ecological heritage.

At the same time activists with their own agendas attempt to merely interfere with any economic process.

There is a crushing need to create a system of representation that is bound to the land itself and can speak to the interests of the land, one river valley at a time. A river valley needs it rivers to be protected and spared excessive damage. It needs to have its forests periodically burned over to maximize diversity and to allow maturation of high quality timber. Its agriculture needs to also be optimized. These are simple things if you are speaking for the valley, but complex if you are shaping a corn field or building a subdivision.

March 30, 2009
The President
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President,

While the entire country is reeling from the drastic downturn in the economy, few communities have been as hard hit as those in rural Oregon. As an example, in Oregon’s Crook, Grant and Harney counties, unemployment rates stand at 20.7 percent (the highest in the state), 18.0 percent and 20.5 percent (the second highest in the state), respectively. These communities are surrounded by vast federal timber lands, where little work is allowed in the forests.

The Oregon Employment Department conducted a study in 2007 following several mill closures in eastern Oregon and found that 200 jobs lost in eastern Oregon would have the same economic impact as 26,400 jobs lost in the Portland, Oregon area. When you lose your job in a rural, forested eastern Oregon community like Burns, Oregon, the next closest city is 130 miles away. That’s the same distance as between Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. There is no place to go. We need to put Oregonians back to work on the vast tracts of federal lands they neighbor.

While the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided needed funding for forest thinning work, know that in one forest alone, the Malheur National Forest, at the current rate of treatment it will take about 25 years to deal with today’s excess biomass build up. As a result, we can expect more summers with catastrophic and costly fires. Enclosed please find a copy of a letter from Harney County Judge Steve Grasty to me and my colleagues that details that county’s plight and his call for specific help.

Today, 47 percent of the U.S. Forest Service budget is spent fighting fire. Wildfires in the United States release an average of 290 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, which is equivalent to four to six percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning.

Last week, the House approved the FLAME Act, which sets up a separate account within the Forest Service to pay for the cost of fighting larger fires. This week, the House Appropriations Committee will consider funding for the Forest Service. It is my hope that your administration will support separate funding for the FLAME Act, or grant emergency spending status to catastrophic fire fighting costs so that the Forest Service does not have to rob from its other accounts to pay for fire fighting.

I would also call on your administration to make full use of the expedited treatment authority within the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) as another way to both promptly reduce the threat of wildfire in our forests and put our people back to work. Please encourage the Forest Service to take full advantage whenever feasible of the HFRA authority.

Within the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act is legislation (the Forest Landscape Restoration Act) that grants the Forest Service the authority to identify landscape size treatment projects up to 50,000 acres. Given the vast federal forest lands in Oregon, I would encourage your administration to identify two such areas within my state. Our forests are in desperate need of attention, and this legislation is a good starting point.

Mr. President, right now the United States is the largest per-capita consumer of wood in the world, importing nearly 40 percent of our wood products from other countries that don’t care one bit about NEPA and other environmental reviews. In a April 1, 2007 story titled, “Corruption stains timber trade,” the Washington Post reported that, "at the current pace of cutting, natural forests in Indonesia and Burma —which send more than half their exported logs to China—will be exhausted within a decade…" China's manufacturers then process this wood, using coal-fired power plants that have no emissions controls. Afterwards, the manufactured wood products are shipped to the United States on diesel-powered ships.

Why does American policy encourage this when we could sustainably manage and utilize our forest resources under the protections of our environmental laws to ensure the survivability of our rural communities and lessen the outsourced wood trade’s impact on the atmosphere? American federal forest policy is not working for the ultimate benefit of forest health, the environment, or our rural communities.

I would encourage your administration to strengthen the green andsalvage sale programs so that our mills and the people who work forthem can count on a sustainable supply of logs in the Northwest.

I commend you for the statements you've made about the needs in our forests and rural communities and I urge you to utilize all the power of your office to get the appropriate agencies to rapidly supply timber for our remaining wood products mills and provide an abundance of forest biomass for renewable energy production. Time is of the essence as wildfire season is just around the corner. It's a very sad commentary that many communities consider the influx of firefighters during the summer months as the only economic stimulus they can rely on.

I look forward to working with you and your team to bring long-term economic stability to America’s forested communities.

Best regards,

Greg Walden

Member of Congress

Representative Greg Walden represents the Oregon’s Second Congressional District, which is composed of 20 counties in eastern, southern, and central Oregon. He is a member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

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