A Rare Opportunity to Save Old-Growth Treasures

Your Wilderness - December 2012

Nestled throughout western Oregon are 2.6 million acres of federal lands rich with biodiversity which are fraught with management challenges. Commonly referred to as O&C lands because they were first identified through the 1937 Oregon and California Revested Lands Sustained Yield Management Act (O&C Act), they have been caught for decades in the all-too-familiar debate between species protection and timber production. The ancient trees that once graced these lands were the economic backbone of many rural communities. At the same time, they are some of the most unique landscapes in the world, harboring many distinct plant communities—temperate rain forests, ancient conifer forests, oak forests and savannas—and providing a home to a variety of endangered species, including salmon, steelhead, spotted owls and marbled murrelets.

Through the late 1980s, during the height of logging in the Pacific Northwest, intensive cutting liquidated many vulnerable and valuable stands of old-growth habitat on O&C lands.

Yet despite decades of timber harvest, the 2.6 million acres still harbor some of the best old-growth habitat in the western United States. Douglas fir and western cedar that sprang to life before European settlement at Jamestown are now towering giants eight feet in diameter.

Current political circumstances have created an opportunity to protect major portions of these important places. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has convened a panel to address these issues that includes a staff member of Pew's Campaign for America's Wilderness. The governor hopes to work with Sen. Wyden on a proposal that comes from this process, which can then move through Congress.

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As the Klamath Falls Herald and News editorialized last month, “Some of the goals Kitzhaber set for the O&C committee are to stabilize county finances, provide a stable timber supply, protect ‘unique' places, promote conservation, be ‘budget neutral' for the federal government and ‘develop a policy framework that will provide for certainty in achieving these principles.' He wants to be able to send a proposal to Congress in early 2013. We hope he succeeds.”

Rare are the opportunities in the Lower 48 to protect both the quality and the magnitude of the lands available in the O&C acreage. Working with partners in the state, our Southwest Oregon Forest Protection Campaign aims to do just that—safeguard large areas of these biologically diverse lands for all of us.