As a County Commissioner I recognize and appreciate the role that the U.S. Forest Service has performed in forestry in United States. I am not alone in this appreciation. I have talked with many people in my county and throughout the region who also appreciate the hard work of local forest managers.
However, complex federal laws and regulations have made it nearly impossible for our local federal forest managers to do their jobs. Whatever good intentions might have been behind some of these regulations, they do not work now. They often contradict each other and they invite legal challenge. These laws and regulations have caused gridlock.
Litigation, administrative appeals, and institutional fear have resulted m bureaucratic paralysis. This inaction is unsafe for our forests. In my area virtually all efforts to manage the forests have been obstructed. Yet roughly half of the 6,000,000 acres of forest in the four National Forests in the Blue Mountains--3,000,000 acres of trees--are infested with insects and dangerously overcrowded. Previous hearings have already discussed the forest health problem. Suffice it to say that grid lock has allowed the perpetuation of a forest health time bomb, an invitation for catastrophic wildfires that will damage these ecosystems to the point where it will severely limit their return to a healthy status.
Congress needs to rework the appeals process for forest management. The process of consultation among multiple federal agencies, the National Forest Management Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act as they relate to planning regulation, as well as the Endangered Species Act. Each of these components should be working together to protect the environment while allowing the public lands that we all jointly own to provide for the needs of our nation. The land management agencies should carry out their management with minimal consultation with the "regulatory agencies".
With that in mind, I will now respond to each of the twelve questions you asked us to consider in our testimony.
We have some examples that show these concepts in action. One of these programs is Oregon Benchmarks.
If the objective of Congress is to improve the efficiency and the performance of the Forest Service, I would strongly recommend that you review the conference report of the Association of Oregon Counties Eastside Forest Health Conference. This conference included Forest Service managers all the way from our local area up to the Chief, other federal regulatory agencies, the State Forester and county commissioners. The conference discussed forest management operations and identified legal barriers to the implementation of forest health management . The conference generated a legislative action plan to allow public land managers to move forward in forest health management. The top five priorities identified in the Legislative Action Plan include: (1) the inflexibility of the Endangered Species Act, (2) the manipulation of resource management through litigation (3) budget inadequacies and uncertainties, (4) hindrances to public involvement caused by the Federal Advisory Committee Act, and (5) susceptibilities of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to legal challenge and administrative appeal.
One approach, besides the Benchmarks, would be for Congress to allow the federal lands to be part of the Oregon Option Plan. This Plan would allow Oregon to manage the federal public lands so they would be free of federal red tape such as the conflicting, overlapping laws that have hindered quality forest management solutions in the past. In turn, Oregon would be accountable for results in terms of achieving forest management outcomes.
Particular resources that now receive forest practice protection include environmentally sensitive sites, riparian areas, and stream corridors. air, soil, and water quality, and fish and wildlife habitat. These protections are included in a family of rules known as the Oregon Forest Practices Act. The Forest Practices Act was the first of its kind in the nation, and continues to be one of the most effective among states with similar regulations. The act applies to all commercial forest operations on state and private forest lands in Oregon. Monitoring shows a high degree of compliance with the act.
Under the leadership of the Oregon Board of Forestry and State Forester Jim Brown, the Department of Forestry enjoys strong support from a broad cross section of stakeholders It seems the State of Oregon realizes that good science is a necessary basis to solve issues concerning the management of forests in Oregon. This is also true of our neighboring states of Washington, Idaho, and California. The need for scientific information does not mean that social processes, including policy-making, must stop until science achieves some perfect, final answer. The process is one of successively improving approximations.
The Forest Trust Land Advisory Committee was created in response to provide an important forum for county government before the Board of State Forestry. The membership is comprised of three members, appointed by the Governor, who are elected officials of county governing bodies from counties containing state-owned lands. The Committee is working with the state do address the trend of reduced timber harvests and associated timber tax revenues. reductions in timber revenues are coupled with state property tax reductions at a time when increased costs for running programs associated with forest health, fire, and Forest Practices Act and Endangered Species compliance are being realized.
The State of Oregon chooses to look at the various programs and operations of the Department of Forestry as a series of interwoven businesses all working toward the goal of providing stewardship for Oregon's forests. An overview of the "businesses" is:
The private and state forests in Oregon are generally healthier, more resilient and more productive than the federally managed lands. When I say more productive, I mean that those lands are more attractive to look at, offer opportunities for recreation, have diverse habitat and support varieties of wildlife and vegetation. These lands are also more productive in terms of providing commodities and jobs.
The Oregon riparian zone rules are based on stream evaluations of actual local conditions and help managers find solutions, rather than restrain them and prevent them from managing the forests under their charge. PACFISH has similar language, but the interpretation of the language has been confused by the public, and somewhat within the Forest Service. The Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project is charged with developing a replacement to PACFISH with a process performance based strategy cognizant of local conditions and site capabilities. Their challenge is to develop a workable strategy that results in flexible management within the riparian zone.
Ensuring the practice of sustainable forestry is in the broad public interest and can be achieved through a partnership among diverse landowners, contractors, and the companies that purchase wood. Most large private landowners subscribe to sustainable forestry practices in some form. The most common practice is for industrial landowners to conform to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative of the American Forest and Paper Association, which establishes the industry as the leader in progressive forest management in the United States. Through adoption of such forestry principles the industry's commitment to sustainable forestry is clear and complete. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative will have terrific long-term payoffs for improved forest conservation in the United States, and provides a workable flexible model of forest stewardship for all landowners
All landowners have responsibilities which require protection of resource values for theirs and future generations. To ensure that forest landowners may use but not diminish the value of forest land, modern forestry programs should be designed to protect the environment effectively at modest costs to owners and taxpayers. Regardless of forest ownership type, laws and regulations of many kinds are contributing to increasing management costs: implementing forestry best management practices, Endangered Species Act compliance, general wildlife and amenity protection interests, sustainable forestry programs, and perhaps ecosystem management advances. We need to allow landowners flexibility to meet their management objectives and environmental concerns with compromising their ability to cover costs.
Part of the answer to this question must come from you; the members of Congress. We need your help. You must ask yourself whether you will be able to repair the conflicting and contradictory regulations and laws that are at the heart of our federal forest management problems, rather than pass the problem off to the states.
Oregon is well positioned to take the challenge of managing the public lands, especially the Oregon and California Railroad Grant Lands (O&C) that are contained within the state. The Oregon Department of Forestry and the State Forestry Board have a solid working relationship with county officials and the public. In making such transfers there are several areas which would need attention and discussion.
In my experience the local federal forest managers take their jobs seriously. They take personal pride in their local area. One good incentive would be to return the results of their labors to their local area. Right now, a manager who does a good job sees all the visitation fees and harvest venues go to the general funds. It would make clear sense for a manager who has been achieving good results to be motivated to continue to do a good job by returning a portion of these funds back to the local area to support additional quality forest management efforts. These incentives do not need to be based purely on harvest outputs. Managers who sustain forest health over a period of time should be rewarded for that performance.
I have known the Chief of the Forest Service for years. He is a personal friend. Forest Service officials have great ideas and much experience. They could, and would, do a better job if they were given more discretion. This would allow the professionals--from the Chief on down--to do the kind of job they can, and want to do.
If Congress is interested in the Pilot Project, I would be more than eager to submit a formal proposal. A number of pioneering pilot projects have been conducted for the forest in our area. The Blue Mountains forest health study, as well as the Upper Grand Ronde conservation Strategy for the Endangered Snake River Spring Chinook Salmon, was conducted in our area. Currently, the Grande Ronde Model Watershed Program, which started in 1992, is the latest initiative between Union and Wallowa counties..
Another demonstration project would be for Congress to pursue the transfer of the management of O&C lands to the state. You should keep in mind that doing so will not improve the management of these lands if the current conflicting and complicated structure of Federal laws is kept in place. Whatever the course, the current, conflicting and complicated structure of federal laws must be corrected
This brings us to the heart of the problem. Congress must correct the current structure, rather than give it to someone else to deal with. Congress must still reform the burdensome laws which have created this crisis for land managers in order to enable a pilot project, or demonstration project to be successful. If you decide to transfer lands to the state to be managed without any significant changes in federal laws, we would be in strong opposition to those efforts. The states would need to be fully empowered to implement forest management programs consistent with current state laws.
Union County has enjoyed a strong working relationship with both the Federal and State land managers. It is our belief that federal land managers are capable resource professionals if they are given the opportunity. They should be given that opportunity. Federal laws have simply produced a situation which puts federal land managers in an impossible position and potentially impose additional regulatory constraints to state and private lands.
Congress needs to rework the appeals process for forest management, the process of consultation among multiple federal agencies, as well as the Endangered Species Act, the National Forest Management Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act as it relates to planning regulations. Each of these components should he working together to protect the environment while allowing the public lands that we all jointly own to provide for the needs of our nation. And first and foremost, the federal land management agencies should be given the authority and responsibility to manage the people_s land with clear policy guidance from Congress.
Thank you for this opportunity to present local and regional views on federal forest land ownership and management. We appreciate your commitment to resolving current gridlock problems. It will be a daunting task.