Citizens State of the City and County 2009

Forest Restoration and Preservation

Hi, my name is Samantha Chirillo, and I’m a Co-Director of Cascadia’s Ecosystem Advocates. You can find our written report and a more comprehensive presentation at www.sustaineugene.org

Tens of millions of acres of clearcuts, herbicide spraying, and monocrop tree farms and tens of thousands of miles of logging roads -- courtesy of a century of industrial logging – destroy homes, disrupt transportation routes, and pollute our waterways.

It’s more than just the soil that’s washed downstream.

Such environmental degradation is a familiar pattern across the U.S. and coincides with a failed economic paradigm that is hurting low and middle-income families. Just like ships full of wood chips leaving from the Port of Coos Bay, their jobs have been exported overseas. The public is realizing that boom and bust economics are not limited to the BLM’s plans. Rather, they are pervasive across forestry and much of our economy. An economy that can support future generations must preserve the natural resources entrusted to us.

RESTORATION

We need to chart a new course for forest policy. First, we should redirect the taxpayer dollars spent on logging road construction as part of the federal timber sale program to create thousands of living wage jobs removing ill-maintained roads, thereby protecting our waterways and saving taxpayers in the long term. We should also create jobs to rebuild local trail networks to relocalize recreation and ultimately allow the public to harvest food and medicine from our surrounding forests. Any plans that the County has to create forestry jobs on private lands should increase biodiversity, carbon storage, and soil retention. We need real restoration and real living wage jobs that employ local people and ideally are worker-owned cooperatives.

Each year more than a billion taxpayer dollars fund the Forest Service’s new logging road construction so that private companies can haul the public’s trees. Meanwhile, based on 2003 figures, the Willamette and Suislaw National Forests alone disclose enormous backlogs of logging road maintenance of about $10 million for nearly 10,000 miles of roads.

These roads cost just as much to maintain as to decommission. Decommissioning half of the roads, which the Forest Service says it does not need, would reduce costs, perhaps in terms of human lives, certainly in repairs to homes and infrastructure, as well as minimize the need for water filtration for clean drinking water.

We applaud Congressman DeFazio’s plan to get funds appropriated in the stimulus package for a Watershed Restoration Corps. However, only $250 million per year for only 2 years for work nationwide is just not enough when the Forest Service claims it has a $10 billion logging road maintenance backlog nationwide. Moreover, some of the money in DeFazio’s proposal would go toward new roads. We need more funding limited to road removal.

Here’s an example of why we need to address logging roads and forestry practices, all of this is directly from the 2006 Landslide Forum. In 96-97, severe weather events triggered massive flooding and landslides on steep slopes, many destabilized by clearcutting and logging roads. Five people died in Oregon, more than1,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. Disaster assistance for the 96-97 floods exceeded $217 million statewide. ODOT spent $150 million for landslide-related road repairs in 1996. Salem had to shut down its water treatment facility for a month, and EWEB nearly did. Yet the 1998 Interim Task Force commissioned to address the events of 96-97 concluded that ODOF is not able to address public safety in its rulemaking about forest practices. With climate change, we may see more of these severe weather events, all the more need to abandon outdated clearcutting, remove logging roads, and have local emergency preparedness.

PRESERVATION

Of course, preservation is crucial to both mitigate and adapt to climate change and provide for the economic needs of future generations. Regarding public forests, we initially must stop all native forest logging and reject ideas for large-scale conversion of forest biomass to electricity and liquid fuel. On private lands we need to stop clearcutting and herbicide poisoning of communities and waterways; we need to throw out forest economics based on greed, including unwieldy, inequitable carbon offsetting and certification programs, and start simply rewarding responsible management that preserves resources for future generations.

Forests and oceans are the two biggest carbon storage systems on the planet, and damage to both is jeopardizing our climate security. Because biodiverse forests of the Pacific Northwest store more carbon per acre than any forests on Earth, we have a responsibility to preserve our forests for carbon storage.

But our forests also help ensure regional climate security by creating, retaining, and channeling precipitation so that we have clean water to drink and to irrigate and by retaining fertile soil. We need our forests for local food security.

LOCAL FORESTS

That’s one reason why we applaud the City’s purchase in 2008 of half of the development-threatened Amazon Headwaters Forest parcels, and we look forward to the protection of the other half in 2009. As this forest is situated on a landflow, the protection of this forest also protects the downhill residents from landslide risk.

This forest provides unique local educational and recreational opportunities, it makes forest appreciation accessible. We want to help build community by doing manual invasive weed removal which will save the City money and labor and also protect the ecosystem and the public from herbicide poisoning.

PUBLIC FORESTS

Unfortunately, the timber industry (with help from the BLM & Forest Service, the media, and some elected officials) have taken advantage of the public’s instinctual fear of fire by expanding logging in our public forests. Today, the US Forest Service’s # 1 priority is planning and implementing logging operations of unprecedented scale under the guise of “fire fuels reduction” and extraction of the leftover forest biomass to meet grossly consumptive energy demands. Hydrologist Jonathan Rhodes and the Sierra Club have already documented the negative impact to waterways from public forest thinning. The impact of thinning alone on carbon storage is largely yet unknown.

Backcountry native forest “thinning” -- such as the “Oakridge Thinning and Fuels Reduction Project” -- will neither “fireproof” our forests nor protect communities from the natural and inevitable presence of wildfire. Any form of native forest logging, even “thinning,” can actually increase the intensity of wildfire by opening up the forest to sunlight and wind, which dry out the forest and can hasten the spread of flames. According to experts -- including the Forest Service’s own scientists -- the best way to protect homes and lives from wildfire is to take firesafe precautions within 100 feet homes. CEA has already held one fire home demo of this sort. (This would be another ideal job creation program, with service priority given to low-income, elderly and alter-abled homeowners).

In addition to removing billions of board feet via remote thinning projects, DeFazio also proposes to spend $466 million on research and development of three new, centralized wood-to-energy conversion facilities that will require a constant inflow of woody biomass.

It is a myth that the biomass left over after logging is “waste.” Rather, such biomass is a crucial source of carbon that fungi and microbes recycle and store in the soil. We cannot expect to store carbon while converting forest biomass to electricity or liquid fuel for so little return on energy invested.

The labor paradigm in our forests, just like our factories, is also in drastic need of change, as well – from one of timber removal by helicopter and migrant worker coercion and abuse to one of many living wage jobs employing rural citizens who have a say in their treatment and their pay.

PRIVATE FORESTS

An archaic Oregon Forest Practice Act and a timber industry-dominated Oregon Board of Forestry mean our state’s primary logging method is clearcutting followed by the application of toxic pesticides, which poison rural communities and deprive all Oregonians of the public resources acknowledged by state code of clean water, healthy fish runs and abundant wildlife. In 2007, a "small" timber harvest year, a half billion board feet of timber was logged from Lane County. This is about the same as the extraction volume for the entire WOPR. Lane County's timber harvest is the largest in the State, constituting 13% of Oregon's total. Eighty percent of the timber harvested in Lane County is off industry lands, nearly all of it from clearcutting. Of course, the Oregon Forest Practices Act prohibits any county in Oregon from implementing its own forestry regulations in except in urban areas.

In 1999, the Oregon Legislature and John Kitzhaber signed HB 3575 into law that exempted landowners who own more than 5,000 acres from paying the privilege tax on the timber that is extracted from those lands.

Another financial incentive in the form of $1.2 billion biennial property tax subsidies also props up large timber comapanies’ outdated clearcutting and pesticide practices. These clearcut subsidies also allow them to flood the market with cheap lumber, making it nearly impossible for small, ethical foresters who use selective logging (without pesticide application) to compete.

Re-enacting a harvest tax (like Washington has) for industrial forestland owners of over 5,000 acres on clearcutting, streamside logging and short rotations would provide a substantial funding mechanism to the state that is fair and simultaneously encourages large timber companies to employ more ecologically socially sound forestry practices. Passage in 2009 of state legislation for a NEPA-like public involvement process, which many other states have, would also be helpful to achieve climate, watershed, and economic security.

Ultimately, we must save and restore the forest, not only to limit our “carbon footprint,” but also to have healthy and resilient watersheds best capable of adapting to the effects of climate change.

Thank you for your time. You can find a more comprehensive presentation and the written Forest Report at www.sustaineugene.org We’ll be making a few edits and would appreciate your feedback.