Umpqua Watersheds Blog

Conservation

Conservation Update

Published June 18th, 2019 in Conservation

Conservation Committee…Patrick Quinn

Recently, the well-known non-profit journal, The Guardian, gave its staff revised instructions concerning how they should report about climate and how it is changing and impacting our world, right now. For Guardian writers, the word “change” is out. When discussing the current situation the word “crisis” is in. For articles examining what is yet to come, they suggest using a phrase such as “impending climate catastrophe.”

As UW’s volunteer Conservation Chair, I concur and henceforth, will use these and similar words in UW’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) comments to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). I do not consider this to be an excessively alarmist step to take. It is well past the time when all who have any opportunity to influence government policy and practice regarding carbon sequestration/release, ring the alarm bell loudly, clearly and forcefully. I intend doing so at every opportunity!

As discussed in my comments before, and as is well known among climate researchers, the temperate forests of the Pacific Northwest represent the premier sylvan carbon sinks on the globe. Sir Richard Branson advertised a prize to be awarded to anyone who could invent and produce a truly effective device to absorb and store atmospheric carbon, long term (www.virginearth.com). Looking to make a point, if not to win the prize, well known environmental activist, Andy Kerr, is said to have submitted a picture of an old growth fir tree. While some might see this act as being little more than facetious, we see it as a critical statement of fact, although not without a touch of tongue in cheek humor. In fact, to help we humans make an effective end run around what is predicted to be truly catastrophic in every sphere of life on this Earth, forest land managers in our part of the world ought to be conserving each and every old growth and mature tree out there, and, at the same time, encouraging the regrowth of many, many more.

The reality on the ground, as we members of Umpqua Watersheds know only too well, is a long way from such a proactive acknowledgment and subsequent policy and implementation. Often driven by remote market forces, private industrial timberland ownerships impose ever more clear-cuts along with all of their related industrial activities, onto our beleaguered watersheds. Rather than seeking to sequester atmospheric carbon long term, these large Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT) and Timber Investment Management Organizations (TIMO) often slick off large swaths of our landscapes these days in as few as forty years, sometimes less. Driven by return on investment rather than watershed health, little to no effective attention is paid to most environmental necessities, let alone to factors worsening the current climate crisis.

Sadly, the BLM, under chronic pressure to realize its Allowable Sale Quantity (ASQ), often sites its own versions of the clear-cut, known as “regeneration harvests,” smack dab in the middle of the existing sea of industrial clear cuts and young monoculture fiber farm plantations. We submit comments to BLM well before any timber sales are offered on a given analysis area. In the event, when those legitimate comments appear to be ignored or brushed aside, we file protests. Representing the UW, we are never loathe to remind that agency of the management paradigm that is the actual context for the creation of the relatively large public land canopy openings the BLM proposes to add to what is already present. By simple logic, whatever environmental impacts flow from such public forestland timber extraction must be cumulative to the suite of harmful impacts already emanating from private industrial clear-cuts conducted under aegis of the Oregon Forest Practices Act (OFPA). We maintain that any additional impacts must be measured from this already degraded baseline.

Stubbornly, the BLM will not do so, repeatedly referring to their best management practices, they would have NEPA participants believe that they are the only management authority on our watersheds. Problem: too often the public forestlands sited on the infamous and most unfortunate “checkerboard” of alternating ownerships represent the minority ownership on a given watershed. As we know, even considering the reduced riparian and other safeguards of BLM’s latest Resource Management Plan (RMP), these best practices remain head and shoulders above the retrograde practices permitted by the out dated and often ineffective rules of the OFPA. By not taking the “hard look” demanded by NEPA, the portal through which UW offers its studied input to Federal agencies, including the Forest Service and the BLM; by turning a blind eye to the environmental barbarity occurring all around the public lands they manage in sacred trust for us, we maintain that they are derelict regarding fulfillment of that very trust.

I wish that I could report in these pages how we have won each of our protests and influenced the agency to modify its extractive actions in light of the climate crisis and all of the other detrimental influences present on the landscapes we call home. I cannot. I can only state here that we are speaking up as forcefully and effectively as we know how. In the end, we are bearing formal, on-the-record witness to what we see as a mistaken management direction. We do wish to “up our game.” With that desire in mind, one of UW’s key priorities remains the acquisition of funding needed to hire a well-educated, passionate and professional individual to be its conservation director. As volunteers, we have done a lot over the past eight or ten years, trying to identify critical issues, bring them to the fore-front and insist on improvement. However, we are convinced that this demanding work calls for a professional, highly qualified and dedicated hand.

With that necessity in mind, it is my pleasure to report that, with expert guidance from UW’s Office Manager/Grant Writer, Ms. Melanie McKinnon, UW’s Conservation Committee has very recently been the grateful recipient of a $12,000 grant from The Burning Foundation. Optimally, we see this award as seed money to be used in acquiring the remainder of the funding needed to fulfill this hiring goal. It is a wonderful and long desired beginning. To be more than just a beginning, we need fresh ideas, generous contributions and encouragement of all kinds. At stake is the conservation of our remaining wild places. We are striving mightily to hold the very “thin green line” that we have talked about, in these pages, through the years, so that those landscapes that have been unfortunately degraded by management practices whose principal goal is short term cash at the expense of long term natural function, may one day be rehabilitated to the state nature intended.