Andy Kerr

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

Western Oregon BLM Federal Public Forestlands:


USDI Bureau of Land Management holdings in western Oregon (modern map [unfortunately it lumps O&C and CBWR lands as O&C—see below]) total 2.6 million acres in 19 Oregon counties (the 18 west of the Cascade Crest and also Klamath County). These are lands are national forests (lower case) in that they are federal public forestlands, but they are not (yet) National Forests managed by the USDA Forest Service.

For history, facts and policy recommendations for Western Oregon BLM lands, read Larch Occasional Paper #2 Transferring Western Oregon Bureau of Land Management Forests to the National Forest System.

Not all BLM lands in Western Oregon are created equal.

• 2.1 million acres are Oregon and California Railroad (O&C) lands;

• 0.1 million acres are Coos Bay Wagon Road (CWBR) lands (map produced by Oregon Wild; and

• 0.4 million acres are Public Domain (PD) lands.

Each as a distinct legal history that influences present management. The O&C lands were originally granted by Congress to the Oregon and California (later Southern Pacific) Railroad facilitate construction of a railroad from Portland to the California border. The CBWR lands were originally granted by Congress to the State of Oregon to facilitate the construction of a wagon road betweeen Roseburg and Coos Bay. The PD lands are lands that have never left the federal estate.

Both receiving entities violated the terms of the O&C and CBWR land grants and the federal government took back the lands. Today BLM manages the various types of lands under a set of someone conflicting congressional statutes. Actually, the laws themselves don't really conflict; the conflict arises between stakeholders on how the lands should be managed and for what purposes.

Below are links to pages that elaborate on the history, values, policies, controversies and solutions surrounding the management of Western Oregon Bureau of Land Management federal public forestlands.


The "O&C" Era began in 1866 and continues through the present. Here's a abbreviated historical timeline.

Almost 0.5 million acres of National Forest System lands in Western Oregon are "O&C" lands for the purposes of revenue sharing. In every other way, they are National Forest System lands.

Ecological and Hydrological Values

The ecological and hydrological values are what conservationists are fighting for. They are many, varied and irreplacable and summarized here.

A 7-page paper by by Doug Heiken, Conservation and Restoration Coordinator for Oregon Wild, Western Oregon BLM Lands Make Vital Contributions to Conservation of Species, Ecosystems and Watersheds, speaks to the importance that Western Oregon BLM holdings play in the functioning of Pacific Northwest forest ecosystems and watersheds across the landscape and over time.

From the abstract:

If the proposed O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Act (DeFazio et al) is enacted into law, the result with be a wholesale unraveling of the Northwest Forest Plan. Under the law, any reduction of conservation for Endangered Species Act-listed species on federal public forestlands would have to be offset by increasing conservation on non-federal lands. Western Oregon federal public forestlands under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management play a vital and irreplaceable role in the conservation of species, ecosystems and watersheds.

From the conclusion:

The ecological contribution of BLM forest lands is often under-appreciated, in part because they are located in a checkerboard with intensively managed private forest lands. While the checkerboard ownership pattern may be less than optimal, it still provides significant ecological benefits for both terrestrial and aquatic communities.

Scientific reviews have consistently found that BLM lands play an important role in the overall conservation effort that spans the region from the Cascades to the Coast. Therefore previous policy documents, including the Northwest Forest Plan, and critical habitat designations, have wisely included BLM lands in the conservation scheme and contemplated significant future contributions from BLM lands in terms of restoring streams and watersheds, restoring old forest, avoiding the need to list additional species of fish and wildlife, providing connectivity between the larger contiguous blocks of habitat on the National Forests, and mitigating for relatively low quality habitat provided on adjacent non-federal lands.

To suddenly treat BLM lands differently, more like private lands, would be a radical departure from decades of consistent policy. It would very likely trigger a reassessment of conservation strategies on the National Forest, and require increased conservation requirements on private forest lands. In short, a nearly 20-year period of regulatory stability provided by the Northwest Forest Plan would come to an end, and uncertainty would prevail.

Forest Management

While USDI Bureau of Land Management  is far worse than that of the USDA Forest Service, it is positively wonderful compared to the management of private industrial timberlands in Oregon.

County Revenues

A lot of the controversy surrounding Western Oregon BLM federal public forestlands has to do with county revenues. Depending upon the kind  (O&C, PD, CBWR) of BLM lands, permanent provisions of federal law dictate what share of timber sale receipts the counties will receive. These shares can be quite generous and has resulted over the decades in huge windwalls for the now timber-addicted counties. For O&C lands, the counties may receive 75% of gross timber receipts from the sale of BLM timber. Historically, they've only taken 50% and kicked back the rest to BLM.

The idea of federal timber sale revenue sharing with the counties is that they are supposed to be payments in lieu of taxes, as counties cannot tax federal property. If the O&C lands were still in private ownership and taxed as private timberland, the counties would receive a small fraction of what they now receive from—and demand of—the federal goverment.

Historically, county payments from the federal government have come in the form of a share of timber receipts. The result has been a frenzy of clearcutting.

Probably the most timber-addicted county is Curry County, however when one compares their tax rates, income levels, poverty levels and other metrics to Multnomah County, one can only reach the conclusion that Curry County is free-riding off the rest of the taxpapers and needs to do its fair share.

The O&C Counties, timber industry, Three Clearcuteers (DeFazio, Walden and Schrader), Professors Norm Johnson and Jerry Franklin (they analyze range, but do not recognize a particular level of logging) and conservation organizations all have recommendations for the amount and kinds of logging for Western Oregon BLM forestlands. Based on history, congressional funding, log prices, social acceptance and other factors, it is impossible to support the timber-addicted counties in the manner to which they had become accustomed. Given average log prices, much more than has been ever clearcut before, even during the heyday of the 1980s when two square per week of Oregon ancient forest was felled each week. Here are the numbers.

Timber Supply

For similar reasons, the Oregon timber industry believes that the O&C Lands Act of 1937 is the 28th Amendment, if not the 11th Commandment. It is just a congressional statute and one that has long outlived its usefulness. The timber industry and the counties interpret the statute as a timber first! statute. They are wrong.

The various major stakeholders have staked out positions has to how much logging they want.

The timber industry says they were "promised" one billion board feet annually to come off of the federal public forestlands that are under the Northwest Forest Plan. There was no such promise and timber goals have been reduced to reflect federal pollicy changes and on-the-ground realities.

The timber industry doesn't like to discuss the relationship between their desparation for cheap federal timber and the export of unprocessed raw logs to China and Japan from private lands in Oregon.

Wrong Solutions

Congressmen Peter DeFazio, Greg Walden and Kurt Schrader ("The Three Clearcuteers") are proposing to transfer nearly 1.5 million acres of federal public forestlands in Western Oregon that are managed by the Bureau of Land Management to a timber trust for the benefit of counties and corporations. The legislation would also transfer ~218,000 acres of National Forest System lands to a timber trust. Here is what's wrong with their proposal qualitatively and quantiatively.

Governor John Kitizhaber convened a group of interests representing the timber industry, O&C counties and certain elements of the conservation community. They did not agree to any solution, which is not surprising because the Governor's Principles were in internal conflict. A 94-page staff report prepared for the Governor collected the information considered by the Governor's O&C Task Force. The take-home message of the report was:

Given the results of the modeled scenarios above, generating $110 million for County revenues entirely with Federal timber receipts and respecting environmental laws and their existing interpretation appear to be mutually exclusive. (page 62)

The possibility of persuading Congress to eviscerate the environmental laws in Congress is almost nil. If history—aka court precedent—is any guide, then persuading a court (make that convincing an appellate court) to reinterpret them to mean that clearcuts are good for salmon, owls, murrelets, voles, et al., while not zero chance, is extremely low. If a court did interpret the O&C Act to mean that 500 million board feet per year is a minimum, it would mean the resumption of clearcutting of older forests—something that is no longer socially acceptable in Oregon.

Right Solutions

There are too many counties in Oregon. Merging them would result in efficiencies of scale that could deliver services to citizens at lower costs.

Senator Ron Wyden has not come up with any solution yet, but does have a superior set of prinicples to resolve the controversies.

Most conservationists support increased logging of federal public forestlands within the Northwest Forest Plan (range of the northern spotted owl), if it the right kind of logging that is ecologically restorative.

There are approximately 55 primary wood-processing facilities in Western Oregon. Most have retooled to second growth. Nine dinosaur mills remain that have a business model that depends upon the logging of large trees from old forests on federal public forestlands. These mills need to die.

But the primary solution is that the federal, state and county governments all need to do their fair share to resolve the county funding crisis. Shared responsiblity means each would pick up one third of the tab. The fed's share could come out of administrative savings gained by transferring western Oregon BLM lands to the Forest Service. The state's share could come from levying a severance tax on timber, not unlike Washington and California do. The counties' share could come by slightly raising their generally way-below-what-everyone-else-pays property tax.

Blowback on Non-Federal Timberlands

If the Three Clearcuteers' (DeFazio, Walden and Schrader) proposal, or anything near it, is enacted into law (perhaps abetted by a position that Governor Kitzhaber might soon take)—which would drastically decrease the conservation obligations for Endangered Species Act-listed species on federal public forestlands in western Oregon—then conservation obligations would necessarily drastically increase on state and private timberlands throughout the range of the imperiled species (western Oregon, northwestern California and western Washington).

Here is a letter from January 11, 2013 letter to Governor John Kitzhaber from the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Earthjustice, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, and Western Environmental Law Center. I would characterize these particular conservation groups as law-and-order organizations that hold environmental lawbreakers—be they federal or state agencies or private timberland owners—accountable to the law.

The letter boils down to this:

• The Northwest Forest Plan took on most of the conservation obligations for several Endangered Species Act-listed species (northern spotted owl, marbled murrelet and several stocks of Pacific salmon), relieving non-federal timberland owners of much of what they would otherwise be obligated to do under the law.

• Western Oregon BLM lands are inextricably part of the Northwest Forest Plan and effectively privatizing more than half of the O&C would eviscerate the Northwest Forest Plan.

• Without the conservation protections of the Northwest Forest Plan on federal public forestlands, logging restrictions must increase on both nonfederal (state and private) timberlands and remaining federal public forestlands managed by the Forest Service.

• While the Three Clearcuteers proposal would exempt the 1.5 million acres of federal public forestlands that would be effectively privatized from the "take" provisions of the Endangered Species Act, the take provision would still fully apply to all other timberlands in the region.

• Habitat conservation plans (HCPs), safe harbor agreements (SHAs) and incidental take permits issued under ESA to nonfederal timberland owners are predicated upon the Northwest Forest Plan being intact. If this circumstance changes, those plans and agreements are legally vulnerable.

• The legal blowback of blowing up the Northwest Forest Plan will not be limited to western Oregon, but will include northwestern California and western Washington as well.

Excess Milling Capacity in Western Oregon

Exacerbating resolution of the Western Oregon BLM issue is that while the number of mills and number of jobs have declined by one-half between 1995 and 2012, milling capacity has increased by one-quarter. See here.

Federal Public Versus Industrial Private Land Management

Proponents of privatizing (trustifying) federal public forestlands, perhaps because they don't want it to appear it's just about the money, often make assertions how that nature is better served by private management. Such assertions are absurd.

National Conservation Orgnizations Oppose DeFazio Timber Trust

27 organizations, including but not limited to The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Geos Institute, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, League of Conservation Voters, Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands, Soda Mountain Wilderness Council and Endangered Species Coalition, sent a letter to House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation Chair Doc Hastings and Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva, in which they state their opposition to the DeFazio timber trust proposal.

National Conservation Organizations Oppose DeFazio Timber Trust

27 organizations, including, but not limited to, The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Geos Institute, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, League of Conservation Voters, Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands, Soda Mountain Wilderness Council and Endangered Species Coalition, sent a letter on April 11, 2013 to House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation Chair Doc Hastings and Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva, in which they state their opposition to the DeFazio timber trust proposal. The letter (attached) notes:

Eliminates and/or restricts the responsibility and authority of federal natural resource management agencies over federal lands by creating a timber trust on 1.479 million acres of O&C forest lands currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and US Forest Service in Western Oregon. The trust would be managed for the sole purpose of maximizing revenues from logging for the benefit of 18 counties in Western Oregon where these lands are located.

In addition, an estimated additional ~54,000 acres of public forests currently managed by the BLM would be transferred to and managed with a similar mandate to maximize annual revenues by Coos County with revenues going exclusively to Coos and Douglas Counties.

Inventoried Roadless Areas, and Late Successional Reserves and Riparian Areas designated under the Northwest Forest Plan, are all subject to inclusion in the Trust. Exempted from inclusion are wilderness areas, national wild and scenic rivers, lands within the National Landscape Conservation System; areas of critical environmental concern; national parks and federal lands in national monuments. Trust lands are barred from future designation as a National Monument under the Antiquities Act. Lands in the Trust would be managed by a Board of Trustees appointed by the Governor of Oregon. The trustees are legally bound by a fiduciary obligation to “maximize annual revenue” from timber production, and are required to use any timber harvest technique including clearcutting to meet this obligation.

All Federal environmental laws including NEPA and ESA would be waived and these public lands would be managed as if they were privately owned timberlands. Opportunities for public input would only be provided pursuant to the Oregon Forest Practices Act, which amongst other limitations does not require alternatives analysis. Riparian buffers of 5% per acre under the Oregon Forest Practices Act would reduce riparian protections on the 1.48 million acres of Trust lands relative to the current levels of protection (37% per acre) afforded by the Aquatic Conservation Strategy of the Northwest Forest Plan.

The Act would eliminate any protections for endangered species. More than 600,000 acres of critical habitat for one or more terrestrial species protected under the ESA would be managed as industrial forestlands. The ecological effects modeling done for Governor Kitzhaber’s O&C Panel show the Trust proposal would clearcut 27 percent of the designated critical habitat for the threatened northern spotted owl in the O&C landscape in the next 50 years and eventually 44 percent of that ESA-designated habitat. Moreover, over the next 50 years about 20 percent of nesting habitat for the threatened marbled murrelet in the O&C landscape, and the proposal would alter the management of over 600 miles of rivers and streams that have been identified as critical habitat for ESA protected coho salmon. In some cases, Trust lands would receive fewer environmental protections than private lands because the bill shields the timber trust from certain provisions of the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act that apply to private timberland owners. For example, the legislation further waives application of the ESA standard for private timberlands (Section 9) pertaining to the northern spotted owl, requiring only compliance with the Oregon Forest Practices Act whose requirements do not ensure compliance with the federal ESA.

Judicial review is limited by creation of a 60-day statute of limitations for any challenges. Judicial review of management decisions by the Trustees could be brought only by O&C counties, except to the extent a claim could be brought against a private landowner for the same action. 

Any land exchanges between the Forest Service and the timber trust are exempted from FLPMA, NEPA, APA, the ESA and other federal statutes.

Positive elements of the bill: BLM lands in Western Oregon not transferred to the timber trust (824,866 acres of forests generally older than 125 years) would be transferred to the Forest Service. These lands would be managed under existing federal laws and the Northwest Forest Plan. An unknown subset of these lands would be permanently protected, if they were defined as “old growth forest” by a committee established by the bill. The bill would establish 88,620 acres of new Wilderness, 128 miles of new Wild and Scenic Rivers, and repeal some provisions of the Oregon and California Lands Act of 1937.

The "positive elements" of the DeFazio timber trust noted at the the last paragraph do no outweigh its negative elements by orders of magnitude.

Rough and Ready Mill Closure

The Rough and Ready Sawmill in Cave Junction announced their closure in April 2013, citing a lack of adequate federal timber supply. It's more complicated than that as I note in an op-ed that appeared in the Grants Pass Daily Courier, entitled Sawmills Must Adapt to Stay Relevant. R&R is (was) one of the last of the large log mills that required large logs from large trees that came from old forests. R&R was prominently featured in Logjam: Nine Oregon Logging Mills Stuck in the Past, a report that I coauthored for Oregon Wild.

Proposed Tribal Forests for Cow Creek Band and Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Tribes

Senators Wyden and Merkley intend to introduce legislation to transfer over 32,000 acres of federal public forestlands in Western Oregon to two Native American Tribes. While most conservationists support the concept in principle, we do have concerns about the overall magnitude of the land transfer and the impacts of such transfers on conservation values. Some of the particular parcels being suggested for transfer have high conservation values, such as old-growth forest, designated Critical Habitat for imperiled species, conservation reserve status, etc. The loss of such values to the public are the same whether transferred to private ownership, into a "trust" that is managed as private industrial timberlands or to a Native American tribe. For more information go to my page on Oregon Tribal Forests.

The Marbled Murrelet

The Endangered Species Act-threatened Marbled Murrelet is a bird about the size of a robin that lives both on and in the ocean as well as in older forests. The "MaMu" feeds in the Pacific Ocean just beyond the breakers and can dive 100 feet in search of fish. To feed their young, some of those fish caught by the mother or the father are flown back in shifts to the nest which can be up to 300 feet above the ground in an old-growth tree—that is can be up to 50 miles inland from saltwater. MaMu's are as dependent upon older forest as is the ESA-threatened Northern Spotted Owl (NSO). While the Critical Habitat designated under ESA for each species overlaps in places, the MaMu's needs are not taken care of if the NSO's needs are. The ESA-listed population of MaMu's in California, Oregon and Washington was listed in 1992 and have declined 29% in the past decade. The solution to reverse the course toward extinction is to both conserve all existing and to restored significant amount of previous older forest habitat. This means defragmenting the forest so it is once again large and intact blocks of older forest. It does not mean further classic clearcutting or its close variant of "variable retention harvest" (aka "ecoforestry).

The timber industry recently won a lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service. ( I just have to say that the timber industry is suing a hell of a lot more than conservationists these days on matters pertaining to Pacific Nothwest federal public forest lands.)

The victory turned on a rather narrow and obscure issue, but USFWS tried to put off fixing the defect in its MaMu Critical Habitat rule until 2018, perhaps not coincidentally a couple of years into the next Administration. A federal judge rejected the sweetheart deal between USFWS and the timber industry.

Conservationists favor revising the MaMu CH rule as soon as possible because the evidence is in—the species continues to decline, which means that more habitat must be conserved and restored to reverse the extinction trajectory. Additional necessary conservation measures must include:

• Protecting existing suitable habitat, both occupied and unoccupied, from logging and other harms.

• Recruiting additional suitable nesting habitat, by letting mature and younger forests grow.

• Preventing fragmentation (including clearcutting or commercial thinning) of the land around suitable habitat, maintaining protective cover from nest predators.

• Increasing the size of and strengthening the standards for buffers surrounding the nesting sites.

• Maintaining federal ownership and Forest Service, BLM, and U.S. Park Service management control of murrelet habitat on federal lands.

These recommendations from the letter to President Obama from the American Bird Conservancy and signed by over a hundred other conservation organizations.

The North Oregon Coast Range Distinct Population Segment of the Red Tree Vole

A red tree vole in the North Oregon Coast Range West of Corvallis. ©Stephen DeStafano.

This petite example of very charismatic megafauna [yes, it’s looking at you {really!}]) is a red tree vole in the North Oregon Coast Range. The US Fish and Wildlife Service have determined that the distinct population segment (DPS) of the species that ranges in the Oregon Coast Range north of the Siuslaw River is warranted for protection under the Endangered Species Act. However, the agency has found that it has higher priorities in other species in even more peril. Any resumption of clearcutting or its variants on federal public forestlands in the range of the DPS could force USFWS to list the species. Go here for more information.

Clearcuts Schmearcuts

It was the great environmentalist William Shakespeare who must have said, "a clearcut by any other name would look as bad." No matter what is called by foresters, bureaucrats and/or politicians, the public doesn't like clearcutting. It is instructive to look at the separate, but once intertwined controversies of clearcutting on federal public lands and the logging of old-growth forests on public lands. Antipathy toward clearcutting escalated in the 1970s and continues to this day. In the By the early 1990s, both laws to conserve species and water quality combined with public antipathy toward old-growth logging to end it. Most old-growth forest liquidation was by clearcutting. Today, old-growth logging is—almost, but not quite—a thing of the past. However, older (80-120 years old) forests are still at great risk. These forests, though not classic old growth, have important habitat values and are the old growth of the future. Polls have shown that a majority of Oregonians don't want to see trees over 100 years of age logged. Because of controversy over logging of federal public forestlands, for the Forest Service (and much of the BLM) has eschewed clearcutting. Today ,the return of widespread federal clearcutting is being advocated by certain elected officials for lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management in Western Oregon. Clearcutting is so 20th Century and it's time for political leaders, land managers and the timber industry to move on.

The essence of variable retention forestry (VRH) proposed by Norm Johnson and Jerry Franklin is a logging prescription that removes most trees on most parts of a cutting unit. They seek to mitigate this intense logging by both leaving some retained "clumps" of trees and/or leaving individual trees.

A clearcut is a matter of degree. To a professional forester, if all the trees have been removed from a cutting unit, then its a clearcut. Leave a few trees and and a forester calls it something else. Logging one tree doeth not a clearcut make, nor doeth thinning a forest make a clearcut—up to some point. While it is not usually clear when such a point is reached, it is usually clear when that point has been exceeded. At such point, so many trees have been logged and so few trees are left that the cutting unit is ecologically and aesthetically much closer to a clearcut than the forest it was.

Imagine four "management" units—all 60 acres in size. An acre is about the size of an American football field or a city block in downtown Portland.

The first unit has all the trees removed on all acres. It's a clearcut, no contest.

The second unit has no trees removed on any acres. It's a forest, no contest.

The third unit has all trees removed on two thirds of the area with the remaining 20 acres left in several clumps. It's either a 40-acre irregularly shaped clearcut or a 60-acre clearcut with holes. (By the way, nothing restrains managers from coming back later and logging the 20 acres initially spared.)

The fourth unit has all trees removed on all acres save for four trees per acre, so 240 trees are left widely scattered across those 60 acres. It's a very economically  inefficient clearcut where the remaining trees have little little ecological or aesthetic value.

Now imagine a fifth management unit. It's a plantation of younger trees that were artificially planted with all the same species of the same size and same age and at the same spacing. It's a biological desert.A significant volume of wood is logged out by thinning and very small (gasp) clearcuts of a 0.5 to a few acres. Any non-planted species are favored to increase stand diversity. The result is a stand put on a track to become a forest with more complex structure, i.e. toward older forest conditions.

This fifth kind of logging is not just imaginable, it's happening now and could increase.  There are hundreds of thousands of acres of such management units. Such logging can be restorative to nature, provide commercial logs to most (just not those nine remaining dinosaurs in Western Oregon who's business plan requires cutting down older forests) mills, creates jobs and is socially acceptable.

Returning to clearcutting on federal public forestlands is unimaginable to the general public.

Here for your review is a 5-page paper by Oregon Wild entitled The Trouble With "Variable Retention Harvests or "When Is a Clearcut Still a Clearcut?". I should warn you that it contains 10 graphic images in full color, some of which are clearly obscene.

Rep. DeFazio's O&C Legislation

For my side-by-side response to Rep. DeFazio's defense of his O&C legislation, click A Conservationist’s Critique of Representative DeFazio’s Defense of his “O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Act”.

For my detailed list of objections to the DeFazio bill see Rep. DeFazio's Logging Trust Legislation a Collection of Crimes Against Nature, Good Government, Public Interest and/or the Federal Taxpayers.

The Eugene Weekly published an opinion piece I penned, entitled DeFazio's Devolution that summarizes by views of DeFazio's bill in Congress and DeFazio in Congress.

For more on Rep. DeFazio, see The Conservation Record of Representative Peter DeFazio (D-4th-OR): 1987-2013.

For why I am rather hard on Defazio, see U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio.

Senator Wyden’s “Principles for an O&C Solution”

In the relatively near future, Senator Wyden is expected to unveil his legislation pertaining to O&C lands in western Oregon. In October 2012, just as Governor Kitzhaber was undertaking his attempt to solve what so far has proved to be unsolvable, Senator Wyden issued a document entitled “Principles for an O&C Solution: A Roadmap for Federal Legislation to Navigate Both the House and Senate.” In anticipation of his legislation, we will examine the seven Wyden principles in seven successive O&C missives. Each O&C missive will state a Wyden principle followed by some observations, suggestions and/or recommendations from me. In this missive I examine the term “O&C”, a shorthand term that could mean anywhere from ~2.1 million acres to ~3.2 million acres of federal public forestlands in “western” Oregon, depending on the intent of the speaker/author.

Just what do we mean by O&C lands? Depending on what the speaker is saying or author is writing, it could be as little as ~2.1 million acres or as much as ~3.2 million acres of federal public forestlands in western Oregon. Here is the universe of lands that could be in someone’s definition when he uses the shorthand term O&C:

The Universe of Federal Public Forestlands Sometimes Encompassed by the Term O&C

Land Type

(Short Form)

Land Type 

(Long Form)


Geographic Extent



BLM Oregon and California Railroad Revested Lands



All counties west of the Cascade Crest except for Clatsop County, and also Klamath County (18 total counties).

BLM O&C lands were granted to the O&C Railroad in 1866 and revested to the federal government in 1916 because the railroad violated the terms of the land grant; these lands are included in the O&C Lands Act of 1937. The lands are also generally subject to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) except for the management of timber and the disposition of revenues.


BLM Coos Bay Wagon Road Reconveyed Lands


Coos and Douglas counties.

BLM CBWR lands were granted to the State of Oregon in 1869 and reconveyed to the federal government in 1916 because the state violated the terms of the land grant; these lands are also included in the O&C Lands Act of 1937. The CBWR revenue-sharing formula differs from that of the O&C formula and was fixed in 1939. The lands are also generally subject to the FLPMA except for the management of timber and the disposition of revenues.


BLM Public Domain Lands


All counties (including Clatsop County, which has no O&C) west of the Cascade Crest and also Klamath County (19 total counties).

BLM PD lands have never left the federal estate. The FLPMA applies to these lands.


BLM Acquired/Other Lands


Benton, Clackamas, Columbia, Coos, Curry, Douglas, Josephine, Klamath, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Polk, Washington and Yamhill (15 total counties).

BLM A/O lands have been acquired by purchase or special Acts of Congress and are managed by the BLM. They have this status because land is generally never returned to the public domain. The FLPMA applies to these lands.


BLM Split Estate


Benton, Coos, Curry, Douglas, Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Lane, Linn (9 total counties).

BLM SE lands are those where the BLM owns the subsurface (mineral) estate, while nonfederal owners own the surface estate. The FLPMA applies to the subsurface of these lands.


Forest Service Oregon & California Lands


Benton, Clackamas, Coos, Curry, Douglas, Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Lane, Linn, Polk (11 total counties).

USFS O&C lands were first granted to the O&C Railroad and then revested to the federal government; they are within several national forests that were proclaimed between the land grant and revesting to the federal government. The national forests with USFS O&C lands include the Mount Hood, Siuslaw, Willamette, Umpqua, Rogue River-Siskiyou and Winema national forests. Under current law, these USFS O&C lands are National Forest System lands in every way, except that the revenue sharing formula for the counties is from the O&C Lands Act (75% of gross timber receipts) rather than the 1908 Act (25%) that applies to all other lands in the National Forest System.


Which lands will Senator Wyden’s “O&C” legislation include (see map)?

• All BLM lands in western Oregon, which includes BLM O&C, BLM CBWR, BLM PD and BLM A/O lands?

• Just BLM O&C and BLM CBWR lands?

• BLM O&C, BLM CBWR and USFS O&C lands, but not BLM PD or BLM A/O lands?

The DeFazio-Walden bill addressed all western Oregon BLM lands, except for those BLM PD lands in Klamath County that are outside the purview of the Northwest Forest Plan (within the range of the northern spotted owl), which are generally—but not quite totally—east of US 97.

Attached is a map that will aid comprehension. Alas, this BLM map does not depict USFS O&C lands nor distinguish BLM CBWR lands (it lumps them with O&C).

If the legislation he offers is good, Senator Wyden should address all BLM lands in the 19 Oregon counties containing O&C lands and other BLM lands. If not, then it should be limited to no federal public forestlands in western Oregon…. ;-)

Each Wyden Principle is reproduced below and is followed by some observations, suggestions and/or recommendations from me.

Wyden Principle #1. STABLE FUNDING FOR COUNTIES: Oregon’s rural counties must be assured a stable level of funding from the Federal government due to the large extent of public lands they contain. Those funds can come through public lands receipts or through another mechanism created by this, or other, legislation. In the current fiscal climate that funding will not be able to replace historic levels of receipts, nor will timber receipts be able to fully provide for all county funding needs. Recognizing that Oregon’s rural communities are suffering with high unemployment and unique economic challenges, they also need to do their part in reducing disparities in tax rates and developing a reasonable level of revenue from local activities. However, the Federal government must do its share to compensate counties for the impacts of federal lands and policies governing those lands.

The local obligation to educate children and fill potholes should no longer be conditioned on clear-cutting or other logging of federal forests.

Senator Wyden recognizes that historic levels of logging (and revenues) cannot return and that the counties must do their fair share.

The fair and just thing for all federal taxpayers and for all counties with federal lands within them is for the federal government to voluntarily pay the same amount as private owners would if the lands were in private ownership. This most rational revenue-sharing formula is embedded in federal statute now for one kind of federal public forestland: the Coos Bay Wagon Road (CBWR) lands in Douglas and Coos counties. It should be continued and expanded to include BLM O&C lands.

The O&C counties seek a level of funding ($110 million per year) that is based on the highest three years of federal funding, which came at a time when Oregon was clear-cutting ancient forest at the rate of two square miles per week.

The O&C lands were once in private ownership, and the private owners paid local property taxes. In lieu of paying taxes, Congress agreed to give the O&C counties 75% of gross timber receipts. This may have been a reasonable approach in 1937, but over time it resulted in a tremendous windfall to the counties—at the expense of federal taxpayers—as old-growth forest fell to the chainsaw in the 1950s through 1980s. This harmed rivers, streams, fish and wildlife and created a culture of dependency in some county governments

According to the Governor’s O&C Task Force, if the O&C lands were still in private ownership and taxed as other private timberlands, the 18 O&C counties would receive a total of $6,708,000 per year (Tuchmann, E. Thomas, and Chad T. Davis, 2013, O&C Lands Report: Prepared for Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, Table B-10). The O&C counties are demanding more than 16 times that amount

It’s worth noting that the most federal-timber-addicted counties tend to have the lowest property tax rates in Oregon.

Curry County voters recently rejected a property tax levy (for the umpteenth time) to maintain some vital county services. Under a new state law, if the Curry County board of commissioners asks the governor to help, the governor can impose an income tax on Curry County residents to maintain vital county services. The rest of Oregon taxpayers will be on the hook by paying a like amount to Curry County.

Wyden Principle #2. SUSTAINABILITY: Timber harvest must be economically and environmentally sustainable. Timber harvests must produce more commercial product from O&C lands than is currently being produced and harvest should be guided by a scientifically based, sustainable management regime that will meet or exceed the stated goals of the relevant federal and state environmental laws. Opportunities for active and adaptive management could include a variety of examples, such as the ecological forestry principles promoted by Norm Johnson and Jerry Franklin, as well as the pilot projects being currently promoted by various collaborative groups in Southern Oregon.

The single most important limitation to increased timber output on BLM lands is congressional funding. The BLM has generally been offering the timber sale levels Congress funds them for.

The BLM pilot projects, save for those on the Medford District (which are in dryer forest types), are quite controversial. (There are other old-growth timber sales on the Medford District that are quite controversial as well.) Those in moist forest types (most of Roseburg and all of Coos Bay, Eugene and Salem districts) are not limited to plantations but are targeting perfectly healthy mature stands, many of which have a significant old-growth legacy component (very old trees that survived a stand-replacing event, usually wind or fire).

Rather than seeking to increase timber supply from O&C lands, Congress should do two things:

• Discourage the export of raw logs from the Pacific Northwest, which is presently more than what is logged off federal public forestlands.

• Fund an increase in the amount of ecological restoration thinning that can come—without significant controversy—from abundant plantations on adjacent National Forest System lands. It’s all in the same timbershed, after all. No mill lives on just BLM logs.

Wyden Principle #3. CONSERVATION: In addition to increasing timber harvesting, this legislation must result in wilderness and other permanently conserved lands proportional to lands designated for harvest. These should include protection of both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, including large blocks of Bureau of Land Management lands and old-growth forests.

While I am a great fan of wilderness (and wild and scenic rivers, national monuments, national recreation areas, national conservation areas and national parks), ecologically speaking, not all acres are equal. Logging low-elevation forests cannot be mitigated ecologically by designating as wilderness generally higher-elevation, less biologically productive forests—or large blocks of BLM lands in the Oregon desert (important in their own right but not to compensate for logging).

However, wilderness is vitally important—especially in Oregon, which has the smallest percentage of its lands designated as units of the National Wilderness Preservation System compared to its four neighboring states. The average of the percentage of the five states protected as wilderness is more than 9 percent; in Oregon less than 4 percent of the land is so protected. Oregon has 47 wilderness areas totaling 2,457,473 acres. Additional potential wilderness areas (a.k.a. roadless areas) in Oregon total more than 12 million acres, with approximately 61 percent of that area being generally tree-free (in the Oregon High Desert and other desert areas considered part of the sagebrush steppe) and the remainder generally forested.

It is interesting to tally up the acres of Oregon wilderness that Oregon’s US senators have voted to include in the National Wilderness Preservation System:

Senator from Oregon          Years of Service         Acres of Wilderness
Mark Hatfield                         1967–1996                                      1,447,205
Bob Packwood                        1969–1995                                      1,333,664
Wayne Morse                         1945–1968                                         763,055
Maurine Neuberger*               1960–1966                                         662,847
Ron Wyden**                         1996–                                                 384,193
Gordon Smith                         1997–2008                                         370,840
Jeff Merkley                           2008–                                                 200,674
* Her predecessor and husband, Senator Richard Neuberger, was an original sponsor of the Wilderness Act in 1956 but did not live to vote it into law in 1964. (It would be most fitting to name a wilderness area in Oregon after this distinguished Oregon conservationist, writer and statesman.)
** Wyden also voted to designate 856,956 acres while a member of the House, raising his House and Senate lifetime total to 1,241,149 acres. I limit this analysis to senators because unlike members of the House of Representatives, senators have always had effective total control over what does and does not get designated wilderness in their own states.

Wyden Principle #4. MANAGING LAND MORE EFFICIENTLY: The legislation should seek opportunities to consolidate O&C and non-O&C lands. This will include addressing the checkerboard pattern of the O&C ownership and exchanging lands according to their best use whenever possible. It must develop an approach to rationalize land management between the O&C lands and adjoining private and public lands, both for timber and conservation values. The legislation should consider setting in motion a process to seek greater consolidation and management efficiencies on federal lands going forward.

 Any consolidation or exchange should take into account concerns of neighboring private landowners, including access, rights of way and wildlife. The discussion should also address opportunities to finally honor unrealized treaty obligations to the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, understanding that some lands considered for their reservations may not be O&C lands. Both tribes have treaties predating the O&C Lands Act.
In general, private industrial timberlands have stands of trees that are young and very likely to be intensively logged. In addition, the stream systems are likely to be the most degraded, resulting in the least intact watersheds. Because the standing volumes of timber are generally lower, their market value is lower than federal public forestlands.

In general, federal public forestlands have stands of trees that are older and are less likely to have been intensively logged—if at all. In addition, the stream systems are likely to be healthier, thereby contributing to the most intact watersheds. Because the standing volumes of timber are generally higher, their market value is higher than private industrial timberlands.

The general result of reducing the checkerboard of public-private ownership by trading federal public forestlands and private industrial timberlands to block up such ownerships will mean

• fewer older and intact forests,

• fewer healthy streams and intact watersheds,

• less private industrial timberland, and

• more federal public forestlands, albeit at a net loss for conservation.

This is primarily because those lands moved from public to private will be intensively logged.

Because lands exchanged must be of equal market value and because—on a per acre basis—federal public forestlands are worth more than private industrial timberlands (because the former generally have more timber volume per acre than the latter), private timber companies would receive more older forests to log and the federal government would receive more degraded forests and watersheds.

I suggest that the senator’s legislation provide for a multi-stakeholder commission to study the issue and make recommendations to Congress.

As for tribal forests, the boundaries for two reservations proposed in the DeFazio-Walden bill would result in the transfer of 6,600 acres of forests greater than 125 years of age to Native American tribes. In addition, 4,000 acres of stands less than 125 years old but with a significant component of old-growth trees would also be transferred. In all likelihood, these older forests would be logged, unlike the remaining older forests that the senator’s legislation intends to protect (Principle 7).

Instead, we suggest that Senator Wyden’s legislation direct the BLM to sell off x acres of its lands in western Oregon with the lowest conservation values to generate $y in revenue that would be given directly to the tribes, who could buy private timberlands to create the tribal forests they seek, invest the money as they see fit, or distribute the money to their members.

Wyden Principle #5. LEGAL REQUIREMENTS FOR TIMBER MANAGEMENT: Management of these lands must comply with all applicable Federal laws. Development of the plan should include open discussions on how to better implement the National Environmental Policy Act. There should be particular focus on streamlining the objections process (for example, as included in the Healthy Forests Restoration Act and Senator Wyden’s Eastside Forestry legislation), and categorical exclusions for timber projects and other defined situations.

The National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act, Federal Land Policy and Management Act, National Forest Management Act, Endangered Species Act, Administrative Procedure Act and other statutes provide the legal framework to manage public lands. I look forward to the discussion about how to better implement NEPA. The Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act are substantive bulwarks against species extinction and water pollution and should not be messed with.

I recommend that the O&C Lands Act be repealed. It is anachronistic, it is not in line with public attitudes regarding logging on public lands and it inappropriately links the logging of federal forests to the provision of local government services.

Wyden Principle #6. CHANGING RESPONSIBILITIES FOR LAND MANAGEMENT: Due consideration should be given to proposals for non-federal entities managing lands designated for conservation or active management as long as there is broad support for the proposal among stakeholders. Negotiations must take into account the failures of other private management efforts and the general opposition to private management of federal lands in Congress.

Some in Congress have sought to privatize public lands since there have been public lands. In the twenty-first century, it is even more important to conserve and restore all our public lands for this and future generations.

An estimated $100 million per year could be saved by transferring management of western Oregon BLM lands to the National Forest System and management by the US Forest Service (USFS). The savings could be allocated equitably among county funding, increased ecological restoration thinning and watershed restoration, all in the name of jobs.

The BLM is far less efficient than the USFS. Compare the BLM and the USFS in western Oregon:

• Both have the same number of primary land management administrative units: 5 BLM districts and 5 national forests.

• An average BLM district is 38% the size of an average USFS national forest.

• An average BLM resource area is 56% the size of a USFS ranger district.

• An average BLM district (467,072 acres) is far closer in size to an average USFS ranger district (320,526 acres) than it is to an average USFS national forest (1,217,999 acres).

• The BLM Oregon state office has 63% more staff attributable to western Oregon land management than does the USFS regional office, while also having 54% less managed land.

• The BLM spends $73.37 per managed acre per year, while the USFS spends $21.47—71% less.

• The BLM manages 2,044 managed acres per employee, while the USFS manages 3,829—87% more.

• In FY11, the BLM sold 209 million board feet of logs, while the USFS sold 217 million board feet.

• Considering only the timber sale line item for each agency, the BLM spent 100% more than did the USFS to produce a board foot for sale.

• Considering the entire budget for each agency, the BLM spent 64% more than did the USFS to produce a board foot for sale.

(Kerr, Andy. 2012. Cost Savings of Transferring Western Oregon BLM Lands to the Forest Service to be Part of the National Forest System. The Larch Company.)

Wyden Principle #7. SAFEGUARDING OLD GROWTH: Oregon’s old growth must be protected. Old growth should be generally defined as 120 years of age or older, with exceptions made for significant ecological reasons.

Saving just the stands that are 120 years old or older today and logging those stands that are between 80 and 120 years old will mean a continued decline of old-growth forests in Oregon over time.

The public considers trees aged 100+ years to be old growth (poll available upon request). Furthermore, forests that are generally of a younger stand age (80 to 120 years) have a complex structure that includes relic old-growth trees that survived the stand-replacing event (wind and fire, mainly). Such stands are important older-forest habitat for many species.

Western Oregon BLM lands contain such stands that qualify for protection as old growth.

• These lands encompass 198,000 acres of mixed-age forest that the BLM classifies as having a stand age of less than 125 years but that in fact includes a mix of ancient trees far older than 125 years that survived the stand-replacing event the BLM counts from.

• These lands also encompass 291,500 acres of native mature forest in stands 80 to 125 years old, which has—and is gaining each year it is not logged—old-growth characteristics. These stands provide critical habitat for endangered species. As Johnson and Franklin note: “Under the NSO [northern spotted owl] Revised Recovery Plan, much of the forest over 80 years of age in the Matrix will likely be needed for recovery of the NSO and/or the Marbled Murrelet, thus limiting the contribution of those older ages to sustained yield management” (Johnson, K. Norman, and Jerry F. Franklin, 2013, Recommendations on Future Implementation of Ecological Forestry Projects on BLM Western Oregon Forests).

Logging these older complex stands to up the cut will also up the controversy in the courts of law and public opinion and will result in demonstrations in the forest (if not in the trees themselves) and at government offices (perhaps all three branches).

Senator Wyden should define old growth for moist forest stands as 80+ years of age. These stands contain a significant old-growth legacy that provides important habitat for imperiled species, and they contain the old-growth trees of the future as well.

Oregon Wild's Comparision of Sen. Wyden's O&C Legislation and his O&C Priniciples

Oregon Wild has issued a 6-page paper examining Senator Wyden's proposed O&C legislation in November 2013 in light of his "O&C Principles" he issued a year ago in November 2012. My reading of the paper concludes that the Senator's O&C legislation does not comport well with his O&C Principles.

In October of 2012, Senator Wyden released his "Principles for an O&C Solution: A Roadmap for Federal Legislation to Navigate Both the House and the Senate.” The principles outlined in the plan appeared to be an attempt to distance the Senator from the more extreme proposals for privatization and aggressive clearcutting proposed by Oregon Representatives Peter DeFazio, Greg Walden, and Kurt Schrader to drastically increase logging in western Oregon. President Obama has threatened to veto HR 1526 which has passed the House and includes these extreme proposals.

Last month, Oregon Wild released a background paper highlighting sections of Senator Wyden's 2012 "O&C Principles" statement, and asked questions the press, and public, should keep in mind when legislation was released.

Now that the legislation has been made public, how does Wyden's O&C legislative proposal measure up against his stated O&C principles? Below is a revised version of the background paper we issued last month, updated with answers to the questions we originally posed.

Oregon Wild posed 20 questions before the draft legislation was announced and now answers those questions. As the seven principles are detailed and the answers to the posed questions detailed as well, i won't attempt to summarize here, so you'll just have to reach the paper.

Headwaters Economics’ Analysis of How Senator Wyden’s Proposed O&C Legislation Addresses County Payments

Mark Hagerty of Headwaters Economics has issued a six-page paper entitled "O&C Act of 2013 Revenue Sharing Payments Would Fall Below Recent SRS Levels; SRS Reauthorization Recommended." It's an important paper and worth reviewing. I found this chart in the report to be the most illuminating:

Until the 1993, the large amount of revenues to the O&C counties was dependent upon unsustainably logging a very large amount of old-growth forest, which is clearly no longer socially acceptable. To attain the the estimated revenues for the counties in the future, the BLM cut has to double well back into the zones of ecological hazard, fiscal uncertainty and social unacceptability.  The O&C Counties have been generally and continually bailed out by Congress since the mid-1990s and have made no effort to do their own fair share by raising their own property or taxes from their far-below-the-state-averages. Doubling logging levels won't solve the O&C counties revenue concerns, but it will likely reignite the Pacific Northwest timber wars.

From the introduction of "O&C Act of 2013 Revenue Sharing Payments Would Fall Below Recent SRS Levels; SRS Reauthorization Recommended":

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden released a legislative proposal to reform how the BLM’s O&C lands in Western Oregon are managed, including a new allocation of commercial receipts to counties. Based on the estimate that the proposal could “roughly double” timber harvests from recent levels (averaged over the last ten years), commercial receipts should also be expected to roughly double. A new revenue sharing arrangement also increases the share of receipts that counties would receive, meaning future revenue sharing payments could more than double compared to revenue sharing payments over the last ten years (counties have not actually received these payments, electing instead their Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) payment, which have been substantially higher).

This brief estimates how BLM O&C revenue sharing payments will change over the next 20 years using the simple assumption that harvests, and harvest value, will double from recent levels. These estimated payments will only be made if SRS is not reauthorized. The FAQ section accompanying the bill text makes it clear that Senator Wyden “

Summary Findings

• Even with higher timber cuts and a larger allocation of receipts to counties, future payments are expected to be 10 percent lower on average than FY 2012 SRS payments.

• Rural counties that benefited under the SRS formula will see substantial losses, while urban counties with relatively high personal income and taxable value will see payments increase. Clackamas, Washington, and Multnomah counties will see payments increase by an estimated 81, 52, and 50 percent, respectively. Linn, Klamath, Josephine and Douglas counties will see payment declines of 20 percent or more compared to FY 2012 SRS payments.

I found it interesting that Sen. Wyden's bill would increase payments to O&C counties that generally have higher property tax rates than most O&C counties.

Ten National Conservation Organization Oppose Wyden O&C Legislation

Ten highly respected national conservation organizations make clear in a letter to Senator Wyden of their opposition to his O&C legislation. The January 24 letter notes:

Our nation’s public forestlands, including those covered by the O&C Act, are national treasures that provide a wealth of benefits to all Americans. The O&C Act flouts environmental laws that have provided longstanding and vital safeguards to help ensure the health and resilience of these great assets. Without these protections and adequate reliance on science in management, our national forests would be threatened with declining wildlife populations, increased erosion, polluted rivers and streams, and substantial ecological and economic decline. We cannot let this happen.

These organizations don’t accept the false distinction that federal public forestlands managed by the USDI Bureau of Land Management are any less important than federal public forestlands managed by the USDA Forest Service.

The groups are: American Bird Conservancy, American Rivers, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Environment America, Friends of the Earth, League of Conservation Voters, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club.

Oregon-Centered Conservation Organizatiaons Oppose Wyden O&C Legislation

Over two dozen Oregon-centered conservation organization have sent a letter to Senator Ron Wyden opposing his O&C bill. The letter details how the bill will:

• weakens environmental laws and policies;
• dismantles the Northwest Forest Plan;
• does not solve county budget problems;
• mandates agressive logging and harms water quality;
• falls short on old growth protection;
• disposes of and fragments public lands;
• offsets major environmental harms with small conservation gains; and
• sets a dangerous precedent for public lands across the nation.

The groups signing the letter (attached) are: American Bird Conservancy, Audubon Society of Corvallis, Audubon Society of Portland, Bark, Benton Forest Coalition, Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Coast Range Association, Dakubetebe Environmental Education Programs, Earthjustice, Environment America, Environment Oregon, Forest Web of Cottage Grove, Gifford Pinchot Task Force, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Lane County Audubon Society, Oregon Wild, Sierra Club, Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, Threatened and Endangered Little Applegate Valley, Umpqua Valley Audubon Society, Umpqua Watersheds, Western Environmental Law Center and Willamette Riverkeeper.


Senator Ron Wyden’s “Oregon and California Lands Act of 2013”:The Good, the Mediocre, the Bad and the Ugly

My analysis of this legislation may be found here.