The debate is beginning once again over endangered species habitat and county budgets in Oregon.
On Friday the Bureau of Land management released draft options to manage its public forests.
At stake are 2.5 million acres of public forests that have a special designation as "O&C Lands" -- so named for the Oregon & California Railroad that once owned them. By law, half of all logging revenues from those forests go to counties. But logging levels dropped sharply in the 1980s and '90s, leaving counties struggling to pay for basic services.
The BLM’s Mark Brown said the alternatives put forth in the newly released draft environmental impact statement all seek to balance economic and conservation goals.
“What BLM is announcing… is a set of alternatives or options about what we could do," he said. "Later on we’ll convert that into what we should do, after we’ve received public feedback.”
The BLM's draft plan lays out a range of possible combinations of areas where logging would be permitted and areas set aside as forest reserves -- especially around streams and old-growth stands. The fight going forward will be about which of the alternatives is chosen and how that alternative is changed in the process.
One environmental group said it would be closely scrutinizing the BLM's proposals.
“We will be taking a close look at these plans to make sure that they protect our streams and salmon, save what is left of our old growth forests and promote a restoration program for these forests, ” said Joseph Vaile with the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.
The BLM's preferred option is what it's calling "Alternative B." As written, it would set aside 72 percent of the O & C Lands into reserves, while making 22 percent available for logging. Timber sales under this alternative would provide Oregon counties with an estimated $36 million per year. But Brown acknowledged the specifics could change based on public feedback.
All the options also include basic habitat protections for protected species like the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet, Brown said. These include “large block reserves” and recognition of the value of older forests when it comes to helping species recover from the threat of extinction.
“You’ll see across these alternatives, different approaches to achieve this objective,” Brown said. These range from clear-cut logging to a more selective approach to logging that leaves some trees.
The draft management plan covers O&C Lands near Coos Bay, Eugene, Medford, Roseburg, Salem, and Klamath Falls.
The BLM will be taking public comment on the draft alternatives through July 23, 2015. The agency has planned 16 public meetings throughout the region in May and June.
- May 19: Open house, Roseburg
- May 20: Open house, Eugene
- May 21st: Open house, Salem
- May 26: Open house, Klamath Falls
- May 27: Open house, Medford
- May 28: Open house, Coos Bay
- June 9: Socio-economics workshop, Salem
- June 10: Socio-economics workshop, Roseburg
- June 11: Recreation workshop, Roseburg
- June 16: Forest management workshop, Salem
- June 17: Forest management workshop, Medford
- June 18: Recreation workshop, Medford
- June 23: Recreation workshop, Salem
- June 24: Recreation workshop, Eugene
- June 25: Riparian workshop, Eugene
- June 30: Elected officials workshop, Salem