Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

The Conservation Record of Representative Peter DeFazio (D-4th-OR): 1987-2013 

For a PDF of this page, click here.


The issue that has long separated the adults from the children in Oregon electoral politics has been logging on the ~16 million acres of federal public forestlands in Oregon. During the late 1980s (Representative Peter DeFazio was first elected to the House in 1986), two square miles of ancient forest were being clear-cut every week on Oregon’s federal public forestlands. The bad news for the conservation of nature—especially that of federal public forestlands—is that DeFazio is now the Ranking Member of the Committee on Natural Resources of the U.S. House of Representatives. While DeFazio’s overall voting record for conservation is generally very good, since he first took office in 1987 his record pertaining to the conservation of federal public forestlands in his own congressional district has devolved from leadership to opportunism and now to general hostility.

Please do not misunderstand: DeFazio is very good on the environment and conservation much more often than not. However, he’s also been a problem—sometimes a very big problem. The last ugly vestiges of the old Oregon timber industry live on in DeFazio’s district. For example, of Oregon’s 54 remaining softwood lumber mills, 9 have business models that require milling large logs from large trees that come from old forests—and all 9 are in DeFazio’s district. Historically and presently, more federal logs are produced on federal forestlands in the Oregon 4th District than in any other congressional district. This causes DeFazio to behave in ways hostile to federal public lands and imperiled species.

DeFazio has been a leader on some issues very important to the conservation community, including wolves (none of which are yet in his district, which has little livestock grazing on public lands). Though he appears to be generally interested in wolf conservation, his heightened interest in wolves of late is perhaps an attempt to offset his very bad proposals on forest issues that would affect the Endangered Species Act–protected northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet, and several Pacific salmon stocks.

Fourteen Successful Elections and Counting

When DeFazio first ran for Congress, he was a Lane County commissioner. Before that he had worked for then-Representative Jim Weaver, who represented the Oregon 4th from 1975 to 1986. Weaver won every election to the House, but well-financed Republican challengers generally always opposed him. The seat was never a safe one for Weaver, and this took a biennial toll on his staff, including DeFazio.

Weaver’s retirement left an open seat. The real contest was in a three-way Democratic primary where county commissioner DeFazio faced a state senator and a state representative. Most of the liberal and progressive organizations sat out the primary. The same was true for most conservation organizations, save for one small and scrappy group that informed its members that while all candidates were good, DeFazio would be best in Congress. He won his primary 34%–33%–31% and then easily won the general election.

In all his subsequent elections until 2010, DeFazio was handily re-elected. Several times he even achieved the Republican nomination for the seat by write-in. His margin of victory was 66% in 1996; 70% in 1998; 68% in 2000; 64% in 2002; 61% in 2004; 62% in 2006; 82% in 2008; 54% in 2010; and 59% in 2012.

Elections matter not only for public policy but also for politicians. DeFazio’s two closest elections, in 2010 and 2012, were defining moments for him. His public lands conservation “leadership” started out strong when he entered the House of Representatives in 1987 but has devolved to cravenly as he has grown more accommodating of the desires of the timber industry, which he perceives as having the power to jeopardize his chances in future elections.

Summary of DeFazio’s Conservation Record

In General

DeFazio’s lifetime (1987–2012) rating with the League of Conservation Voters is 90%. His rating for 2012 was 86%. In 2012, he (wrongly) voted in favor of

• weakening the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act pertaining to the St. Croix River in Wisconsin;

• the so-called Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012, which would have, among many other sins, allowed motorized vehicles in wilderness areas and weakened the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA);

• various environmental assaults in the transportation bill, including approving the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and exempting coal ash from regulation; and

• preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from exercising a veto over the most egregious projects damaging to water quality.

In an earlier Congress, he voted against the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade climate bill (American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009), then the only viable political vehicle in the House of Representatives to address climate change.

Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers

DeFazio was far more of a leader for permanent congressional protections for public lands in his early years in Congress. During recent years—even when the Democrats were in the majority in Congress—DeFazio wouldn’t even lead on the few bills he did introduce, leaving them to languish despite the high likelihood that those bills would have passed out of committee. Today, he is generally attempting to use wilderness areas and wild and scenic rivers that include BLM O&C lands (Wild Rogue, Devil’s Staircase) as hostages for his public land-grab bill (see “DeFazio’s Anti-Public Land, Anti-ESA, Anti-CWA, Anti-NEPA Legislation” below).


Very Junior Member Schrader Gets More Done Than Very Senior Member DeFazio

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-5th-OR) came to Congress in 2009 for the 111th Congress, which was controlled by the Democrats. Taking his new-member orientation to heart, he introduced legislation to designate a segment of the Molalla River in his district as a unit of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Schrader promptly moved it through the House Natural Resources Committee, and the House of Representatives passed it. In Schrader’s second term—with the Republicans in control—he got his bill out of committee (even though he’s not even a member of the House Natural Resources Committee). In contrast, DeFazio, a senior member of the House Natural Resources Committee then in his 12th term, got only one of his five public lands conservation bills through the House—even when the Democrats were in the majority.


How Far Each Bill Got in Each Congress (Party in Majority)










Chief Sponsor

Copper Salmon

Passed House





Oregon Caves


Reported to Floor




Devil’s Staircase*

Not Yet an Issue

Reported to Floor




Wild Rogue*






Chetco River







Not Yet an Issue

Passed House

Reported to Floor



* Included in DeFazio’s public land-grab Oregon O&C Trust, Conservation, and Jobs Act.


Forest Management

DeFazio came of age during the timber wars. As a staffer in the early 1980s for his predecessor Representative Jim Weaver, who waged several successful and highly controversial wilderness and wild-and-scenic-river campaigns, DeFazio learned to fear Big Timber. In the 1988 Appropriations bill, DeFazio supported a rider shielding from judicial review an Environmental Impact Statement analyzing the detrimental impacts to water, fish, and wildlife of damaging post-fire logging. When conservationists successfully enjoined the logging of northern spotted owl habitat—a.k.a. ancient forests—in 1989, DeFazio joined with every other member of the Oregon congressional delegation to enact the 1990 “Rider from Hell,” which shielded the clear-cutting of thousands of acres of old-growth forest from the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

In July of both 2004 and 2006, DeFazio introduced legislation pertaining to federal forest management in the Pacific Northwest. The bills were drafted without meaningful consultation with the conservation community. As the bills were introduced very late in each Congress (July 22, 2004, and July 28, 2006), DeFazio certainly had no intention of actually passing them but used them solely to strengthen his chances of re-election. He wanted to show the voters he was doing something, even though he wasn’t. During the 110th Congress, DeFazio circulated a Legislative Counsel draft pertaining to Pacific Northwest federal forest management that, on the whole, was fairly good. He never introduced it, even in the 111th Congress when the Democrats were also in charge. See “The Wilderness, Wild and Scenic River, and Forest Management Record of Representative Peter DeFazio, Term by Term” below for a more detailed record.

DeFazio's Anti-Public Land, Anti-Endangered Species, Anti-Clean Water, Anti-Public Process Legislation1

In September 2013, DeFazio, along with Representatives Greg Walden (R-2nd-OR) and Kurt Schrader (D-5th-OR), persuaded the U.S. House of Representatives in the 113th Congress to pass H.R. 1526, the O&C Trust, Conservation, and Jobs Act.2 The O&C lands are 2.1 million acres of federal public forestlands in western Oregon managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The lands were revested to the federal government after the terms of a federal land grant to the railroad were violated. The BLM O&C forestlands are managed by the BLM rather than by the U.S. Forest Service as part of the National Forest System.

DeFazio, Walden, and Schrader touted this legislation as creating jobs, sustainably funding counties, and protecting old-growth forests. While the bill would transfer older forests to the U.S. Forest Service to manage and give them some protection, this is not nearly enough to mitigate other key provisions of the proposal, including these:

• Placing 1.7 million acres of public O&C forestlands managed by the BLM and the Forest Service—including thousands of acres of older forests up to 125 years old—in a “fiduciary trust” that would be managed to maximize logging revenues for the benefit of the counties.

• Managing these trust lands as nonfederal private industrial timberlands under the Oregon Forest Practices Act (OFPA) with somewhat better stream buffers than OFPA requires (no lower regulatory bar exists). The stream buffers would be half of what is now mandated under the Northwest Forest Plan. This means significantly reduced stream protections harming water quality and salmon, increased use of chemicals, and clear-cutting vast areas of forest in perpetuity.

The DeFazio “trust” bill is a crime against nature. Seeking effective privatization and industrialization of 1.7 million acres (2,656 square miles) is an unforgivable breach of faith against this country’s public lands.


Why Conservationists are So Opposed to the DeFazio Bill

• The bill dismantles the scientifically based Northwest Forest Plan, which instituted a system of reserves for maintaining and regrowing old-growth habitat that fish and wildlife depend on.

• The bill was developed behind closed doors. Such a dramatic change in forest management should be subject to public and scientific input.

• The bill will lead to more intensive logging in municipal watersheds, which will increase costs to taxpayers to treat dirtier water and potential landslides.

• The “sweeteners” being offered with the bill (some old-growth protection, some new wilderness and wild-and-scenic-river protections) do not outweigh the negative impacts.

• The bill is a big setback for the restoration of forests, watersheds, and fish and wildlife habitat that has been taking place for the past decade, and for the partnerships that have been built to support this work.

• The forests at stake in this bill are important to the protection of watersheds and the conservation of fish and wildlife. They currently store carbon to mitigate the effects of climate change, offer the public places to recreate, and provide important habitat for threatened wildlife and salmon. Under the bill, ~1.5 million acres of forests will be subject to intensive logging instead.

• The Oregon Forest Practices Act, under which the trust lands will be managed as nonfederal private industrial timberlands, allows for much more intensive logging than on public lands—including clear-cutting and pesticide spraying.

• The bill effectively removes protections currently afforded to these federal lands under the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and other federal laws that require public participation, scientific consultation, and safeguarding of threatened fish and wildlife.

• Public forestlands should not bear the full brunt of funding counties. Alternatives should be explored, including reforms of property and industrial timber taxes, limits on log (and job) exports, and consolidation of the BLM with the Forest Service.


The Term-by-Term Wilderness, Wild and Scenic River, and Forest Management Record of Representative Peter DeFazio

1987–88 (100th Congress [D]): In his first term, DeFazio a conservation leader

Wilderness and wild and scenic rivers. DeFazio started out a conservation leader. During his first term, he introduced legislation to designate 12 miles of the Klamath River (actually in the Oregon 2nd, but nonetheless a top conservation priority for Oregon conservation organizations) as wild and scenic. Though the bill failed, it (and some other factors) provoked U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield to lead the designation of more than 40 wild and scenic rivers, totaling more than 1,500 miles, which DeFazio led through the House. (The Klamath didn’t make it as a wild and scenic river in this bill because of Hatfield. Later, via another route, it is now part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.) 

Forest management. Conservationists were focused on wilderness and wild and scenic rivers as the primary legislative ways to bring down the timber cut, which was roaring along with two square miles of Oregon ancient forest being clear-cut per week on federal public forestlands.

1989–90 (101st Congress [D]): When the owl hits the fan, DeFazio not much different from Senator Hatfield

Wilderness and wild and scenic rivers. It had been the custom of the state’s very senior senator to enact wilderness bills into law each year he was up for re-election (1972, 1978, 1984). Such was anticipated for 1990 as well, but the controversy over the northern spotted owl (a surrogate for the old-growth forest clear-cutting controversy) erupted and there was no wilderness bill in 1990. 

Forest management. Hatfield led the effort to pass the infamous “Rider from Hell,” which limited judicial review to allow the destruction of thousands of acres of old-growth forest. DeFazio supported it. To be fair, so did then-Rep. Ron Wyden from Oregon’s 3rd District, but Wyden has evolved (as has Oregon on the whole) rather than devolved on the issue.

1991–94 (102nd [D] and 103rd [R] Congresses): Oregon timber wars rage on

Wilderness and wild and scenic rivers. No time for wilderness or wild and scenic rivers now as the timber wars raged on with conservationists generally prevailing much more than not in the courts of law and public opinion. One exception: While in office 1991–94, Rep. Mike Kopetski sought to protect the highly contested Opal Creek ancient forest as wilderness and got the bill passed in the House, but it later died in the Senate. DeFazio introduced no wilderness or wild-and-scenic-river legislation.

Forest management. A series of lawsuits and Endangered Species Act listings, numerous tree-sits and demonstrations, and national and international media attention spurred President Clinton to create the Northwest Forest Plan, the most comprehensive landscape conservation plan ever implemented by a government agency.

1995–2006 (104th through 109th Congresses [R]): Relative peace reigns on federal public forestlands

Wilderness and wild and scenic rivers. Senator Hatfield won wilderness protection for Opal Creek (~30,000 acres) in 1996; Senators Wyden and Smith and Representative Greg Walden of the Oregon 2nd District protected Steens Mountain (~500,000 acres) in 2000. DeFazio deserves significant credit for helping with this legislation affecting public lands far from his own district.

Forest management. After the Northwest Forest Plan was finalized, a relative peace broke out as the timber industry continued to downsize (as it had begun to do years earlier through increased automation of mills) while the Oregon economy grew anyway. DeFazio introduced legislation in 2004 (Northwest Rural Employment and Forest Restoration Act) and 2006 (Rural Employment and Forest Restoration Act) pertaining to management of federal forestlands in the Pacific Northwest. The bills were drafted without serious consultation with the conservation community. As the bills were introduced very late in each Congress (July 22, 2004, and July 28, 2006), DeFazio certainly had no intention of actually passing them but used them to strengthen his chances for re-election.

2007–08 (110th Congress [D]): Stars align but DeFazio doesn’t move

Wilderness and wild and scenic rivers. DeFazio introduced legislation pertaining to expanding wild and scenic protection for the lower Rogue River (conservationists wanted wilderness protection, but DeFazio thought he would get less heat designating wild and scenic rivers), expanding the Oregon Caves National Monument, and protecting the Chetco as a wild and scenic river. Hearings were held on the Rogue and the Oregon Caves but not the Chetco. DeFazio’s bill to establish the Copper Salmon Wilderness in his district was enacted into law very early in the 111th Congress but is mentioned here because the heavy lifting was done in the 110th Congress.

Forest management. During the 110th Congress, when Democrats were in the majority, DeFazio’s natural resources counsel was Susan Jane Brown, previously and afterward a card-carrying conservationist and environmental litigator. Much of her work was focused on drafting legislation to address Pacific Northwest federal forest management. On the whole, the draft Pacific Northwest Forest Legacy Act publicly circulated by DeFazio was fairly good; the largest disagreement between conservationists and DeFazio was over the fate of “mature” (~80- to ~150-year-old) trees. The bill was never introduced and no explanation was offered.

2009–10 (111th Congress [D]): DeFazio experiences the biggest scare of his political life

Wilderness and wild and scenic rivers. DeFazio reintroduced legislation to expand wild and scenic protection for the lower Rogue River, designate the Devil’s Staircase Wilderness, expand the Oregon Caves National Monument, and protect the Chetco as a wild and scenic river. No hearings were held on the Rogue or Chetco bills. Devil’s Staircase and Oregon Caves were reported out of committee.

Forest management. Though still in the majority, DeFazio dropped all interest in his draft Pacific Northwest Forest Legacy Act from the previous Congress. His interest faded even before he knew he faced the first serious challenge to his re-election in his career in the House of Representatives.

2011–12 (112th Congress [R]): DeFazio strikes the match and timber wars re-ignite

Wilderness and wild and scenic rivers. DeFazio’s new legislation in the 112th Congress pertaining to the lower Rogue River wild and scenic expansion now included a wilderness component (which conservationists always wanted) as wilderness was in the companion legislation sponsored by Senator Wyden. The Devil’s Staircase, Oregon Caves, and Chetco River bills were reintroduced. Hearings were held on the Rogue, Devil’s Staircase and Chetco bills. Soon, however, DeFazio conditioned his support of Devil’s Staircase and Rogue River legislation on enactment of his public land–privatizing O&C Trust, Conservation, and Jobs Act.

Forest management. In February 2013, DeFazio joined with Representative Greg Walden (R-OR) and persuaded the House of Representatives to enact the O&C Trust, Conservation, and Jobs Act. DeFazio aggressively advocated for its enactment, but in the end only 17 Democrats voted for the bill, which was passed by the Republican majority.

2013–14 (113th Congress [R]): DeFazio fans the flames

Wilderness and wild and scenic rivers. Early in the term, DeFazio reintroduced legislation to protect the Chetco as a wild and scenic river. He reintroduced the Oregon Caves, Devil’s Staircase, and Wild Rogue bills on June 25, the day of Representative Markey’s Senate race victory. Representative Markey was then the Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee. After his election to the Senate, the position was given to DeFazio.

Forest management. In September 2013, DeFazio’s O&C Trust, Conservation, and Jobs Act passed the House of Representatives, almost exclusively with Republican votes.


Not only does DeFazio’s conservation continue to trend in the wrong direction, it has accelerated.

1 For an excellent summary see Spivak, Randi. Nov. 7, 2012 (revised from Mar. 12, 2012). Summary Analysis and Critique of the O&C Trust, Conservation, and Jobs Act. Geos Institute, Ashland, OR. Additional analysis can be found at Oregon Wild’s web page on the matter.

2 Congressional Record—House. September 19, 2013 H5721-H5755.