The Conservation Column
By Pepper Trail
Hey, how about some GOOD news for a change? No, I’m not kidding!
In February, the Senate passed the most important package of public lands conservation legislation in a decade, the Natural Resources Management Act (S. 47). This huge 662-page measure included lands in every state and passed 92-8—an extraordinary degree of bipartisan support.
The bill was strongly supported by Senators Wyden and Merkley, and included long-sought protections for Oregon lands and rivers. It would:
◾ Create the Devil’s Staircase Wilderness by designating roughly 30,000 acres of remote lands in the Oregon Coast Range.
◾ Permanently protect the Chetco River—a critical source of drinking water and habitat for endangered salmon in southwest Oregon—from mining and mineral extraction.
◾ Designate 250 miles of prime Oregon salmon- and steelhead-producing rivers and streams as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, including: about 120 miles of Rogue River tributaries; a 21-mile stretch of the Molalla River; 18 miles of Jenny Creek, which flows through the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument; 21 miles of Wasson Creek and Franklin Creek in the Siuslaw National Forest; and several important tributaries of the Elk River.
◾ Protect an additional 40 miles of Rogue River tributaries from mining and future dam installations.
◾ Designates nearly 100,000 acres of Forest Service land north of the North Umpqua River as the “Frank and Jeanne Moore Wild Steelhead Special Management Area” and ensures the river, and the surrounding area, will protect steelhead habitat and preserve recreation opportunities for generations to come.
The bill also permanently reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Up until now, the LWCF required repeated reauthorization from Congress to remain in existence, and inaction from Congress left the program to expire twice in the last three years. Funded by a portion of offshore oil and gas leases and at no cost to taxpayers, it returns $4 in economic value for every one dollar it invests in federal land acquisition.
“No other conservation program has invested so much in our public spaces at absolutely zero cost to the taxpayer,” said David Yarnold, president and CEO of National Audubon Society.
Since it was created in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has received strong bipartisan support from Republicans and Democrats. Altogether, $18.4 billion has contributed to the protection of some of the nation’s most iconic natural treasures from the Everglades National Park in southern Florida to the Painted Desert in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park to the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway that traverses Virginia and North Carolina. It has helped protect some of our most vulnerable birds across the country—from Golden-winged Warbler habitat in North Carolina to wintering areas for Bald Eagles in Washington State.
Here in Oregon, LWCF has invested approximately $304 million to expand public access to lakes and streams, build sports fields, trails and local parks, con-serve working forests and protect Oregon icons. From the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon Coast Wild-life Refuges and West Eugene Wetlands, to the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and Fort Clatsop National Memorial, LWCF funding has helped protect Oregon’s most precious public lands.
The Senate legislation also reauthorized the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act. This partnership-based program has benefitted 4.5 million acres of habitat across the hemisphere for the hundreds of migratory bird species that nest in the United States and spend the winter in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, or South America.
Unfortunately, the bill includes the controversial Alaska Native Vietnam Veterans Allotments Act (S. 785), which could transfer as much as 448,000 acres of public lands in Alaska to private ownership. National Audubon has stated: “While Audubon respects the legislation’s goals, we remain concerned about the approach to privatizing parcels of Alaska’s public lands in ways that could break up important protected wildlife habitat.” More information on this can be found at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/02/13/big-alaskan-land-giveaway-tucked-into-sweeping-conservation-bill/
The House of Representatives is expected to take up the legislation in the coming weeks, and passage is widely expected.
Siskiyou Crest Timber Sale Stopped in Court
There was also an important conservation victory for our region in the courts in January. The following is a press release by KS Wild: In late January, Judge Troy L. Nunley halted plans for post-fire, clear-cut logging in northern California’s Klamath National Forest. The court held that the Seiad-Horse timber sale project would illegally and irreparably harm aquatic resources with increased sedimentation, violate the Northwest Forest Plan’s restrictions on large snag removal from a late-successional reserve, and violate the National Environmental Policy Act for failing to analyze the effects of the project.
“We wish the Klamath National Forest would join with stakeholders and communities to reduce fuels around homes and ranches in Siskiyou County rather than pushing an extreme backcountry clear-cutting agenda,” said Susan Jane Brown of the Western Environmental Law Center. “This legal victory will halt destructive old-growth clear-cutting in the backcountry while allowing strategic fuels work along roads and near private property.” Following the 2017 Abney Fire, the Klamath National Forest authorized over 1,200 acres of clearcut “salvage” logging in the Sei-ad-Horse timber sale located within a protected “late successional reserve” that is not part of the timber base.
While surrounding national forests focused on emergency wildfire recovery and hazardous fuels reduction efforts along strategic roadways and near homes and communities, the Klamath National Forest threw out the rulebook and proposed logging in botanical areas, inventoried roadless areas, late successional reserves, essential wildlife habitat, and streamside riparian zones.
“We want to work with the Forest Service to thin dense second-growth timber plantations that exacerbate fire behavior,” said George Sexton, conservation director for KS Wild. “The Seiad-Horse timber sale would have in-creased fire hazard by removing old-growth forests and replacing them with dense tree farms. The court’s ruling protects wildlife, watersheds, and nearby communities from an egregious timber grab.”
“This is a win for Klamath River salmon and clean water” noted Kimberly Baker, Executive Director of the Klamath Forest Alliance “While this is a preliminary stage in the proceedings, we appreciate the court’s detailed and salient ruling.”
“For years the Klamath National Forest has ignored needed fuels work in the wildland urban interface zone while pursuing post-fire clearcutting in the backcountry. That ends now,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center. “Let’s change course and all pull together to protect forests and communities.”
Sounds like a plan, wouldn’t you say?