science environment

New Western Oregon Plan Sets Path Forward For Contested Forestland

By Jes Burns (OPB)
Ashland, Oregon April 12, 2016 7:45 p.m.

The Bureau of Land Management released a new proposal Tuesday for managing the former Oregon and California Railroad forestlands in Western Oregon.

The so-called “O&C Lands” have traditionally been used to generate money for local counties, but since the 1990s, those revenues have been shrinking.


Counties and timber companies have been pushing hard to increase logging on the 2.6 million acres that comprise the O&C Lands. Conservation-minded groups have argued for preserving more fish and wildlife habitat.   The new proposed resource management plan will likely not make either extremely happy.

Here’s what the BLM says it will do:

Logging rates will rise overall (but not nearly as much as counties had lobbied for):

The BLM says the timber harvest will increase from 203 to 278 million board feet per year, meaning money available to the counties from sales of that timber would increase from about $12 million to $26 million annually. Note a steep majority of the increase in timber sales will come from restoration projects in areas set aside for fish and wildlife habitat , not from increasing logging in areas managed for timber.  

The total amount of land set aside for fish, water and wildlife will grow:


These “reserves” will increase from 66 percent to 75 percent of the total O&C land base.  

The total amount of land set aside to shade streams and protect them from logging will shrink:

The BLM is changing up how the land around rivers and streams is managed, with the goal of providing more certainty that fish and water will be protected. But buffer zones will effectively shrink, and wildlife that depends on those streamside areas will not be a conservation priority.  

Recreation opportunities will increase:

BLM is designating 20 percent of the O&C Lands for development of both motorized and non-motorized recreation.  

Layered protections expanded:

About 80,000 acres will be designated and protected as  Lands with Wilderness Characteristics and Wild and Scenic Rivers protections will be given to six new river segments.    

Federal land managers say they believe they set the harvest as high as it can go without getting stymied by legal challenges.

"In order to provide a sustained yield of timber, we must take care of our other legal responsibilities such as the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act," said BLM's Mark Brown.

He said if these legal obligations are ignored and environmental lawsuits are filed, then certainty about payout levels to the counties goes out the window.  

Still counties in Western Oregon have come out swinging. Even though the plan is yet to be finalized, they say they will challenge it in federal court. These counties have traditionally relied on logging in these public forests to help pay for public safety, rural education and other services. Many are still struggling to fill the budget gap created when logging levels dropped.

The protest period for the Western Oregon Resource Management Plan will close 30 days from this coming Friday. BLM will then work to resolve any submitted protests and issue a record of decision later this summer.