Oregon’s Ancient Forests: The window to protect them is closing

Spotted Owl in tree on Roseburg BLM Land. Photo by Francis Eatherington.

Peg Reagan, former Curry County commissioner, smiles as she talks about her daily commute. It’s not everyone who gets to drive, or walk, depending on the day, through Oregon’s western forests on their way to work. These tranquil forests full of towering trees are truly special — and necessary, not only for humans, but for the pileated woodpeckers, cougars, bear, elk and other species who depend on these lands for habitat.

Now the executive director of Conservation Leaders Network (a partner of The Wilderness Society), Peg has spent countless hours advocating for the protection of Oregon’s last ancient forests. Right now, she can walk peacefully through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) forests of Curry County, enjoying the silence, the views and the wildflowers, the towering trees, swaying gently in the breeze, and the variety of bird calls that echo through the forest.

All of this is in real danger of ending soon. And at stake is much more than a peaceful morning walk.

Clearcutting the forest

Fanned out in a checkerboard pattern along Oregon’s magnificent coast, you will find land where old-growth trees flourish, wildlife is abundant and the salmon spawning rivers are among some of the best in the country. This is the forest that Peg and countless Oregonians enjoy every day.

Yet these wildlands, once protected by the Northwest Forest Plan, are now under threat of becoming clearcut and developed due to a Bush-era plan called the Western Oregon Plan Revisions.

Through a sweetheart deal with the timber industry, WOPR, as the plan is commonly known, will allow nearly twice the current amount of logging on public lands in western Oregon to occur, despite concerns from scientists and federal agencies that these dramatic increases in logging will harm clean water and healthy streams.

Huge old-growth on Roseburg BLM Land. Photo by Francis Eatherington.Conservation groups have repeatedly voiced concerns about this timber plan contributing to global warming, pushing fish and wildlife toward extinction and destroying much of Oregon’s remaining mature and old-growth forests.

Peg is one of many Oregonians who understand why these lands must remain intact. Not only is she a conservationist, but she’s a resident of a coastal area that depends on the clean, cold water that flows through these public forests. Her community economically benefits from the salmon fishery. In fact, many communities in western Oregon depend on federal land watersheds for providing their municipal drinking water. And, like many residents, she is concerned these watersheds could be damaged from the inappropriate logging that is permitted by the Bush-era WOPR plan.

”I’m disappointed that my neighbor, BLM, seems to care more about high logging volumes, than the benefits BLM-forested lands provide all Oregonians,” Peg said. “BLM needs to recognize that there are more values to the forest than board feet and sawdust.”

The fate of over 2.5 million acres of forest, which is home to over 1,000 different wildlife species, now lies in the hands of the Obama Administration. President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar have pledged to restore scientific integrity and ethical responsibility to public lands management. To live up to their pledge, the administration should act based on science, law and the interests of the American people and withdraw Bush’s WOPR.

It is time to protect some of Oregon’s most treasured forests once and for all.

Spotted Owl in tree on Roseburg BLM Land. Photo by Francis Eatherington.
Woman next to huge old-growth on Roseburg BLM Land. Photo by Francis Eatherington.