In the world of forest management, we have seen some promising changes of late.

After years of litigation and shrinking timber sales, environmentalists, politicians, and timber industry leaders have finally all sat down at the same table.

Ochoco Lumber Company president John Shelk has praised the cooperative effort and credits it with keeping the company's John Day sawmill in operation.

Also, after nearly two years of monthly meetings, a similar project on the Wolf Creek Watershed is ready to bring a treatment recommendation to the Forest Service.

In Congress, bills are also emerging that purport to ease restrictions on timber cutting in Oregon National Forests. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden's Eastside Forest Bill was recently passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. A more comprehensive bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, already passed the House of Representatives in September, and a third bill, the O & C draft bill sponsored by Walden, and unlikely allies Kurt Schrader and Peter DeFazio, appears likely to pass in the House.

Unfortunately, as promising as all of these events seem, it still seems unlikely any meaningful change is on the way just yet.

Although H.B 1526 easily passed the House, it has gained no traction in the Senate. Meanwhile Wyden's bill has yet to pass the Senate, and seems unlikely to pass in the House. Even if either one of the bills gets through Congress, there is less than unanimous praise for the bills.

The American Forest Resource Council has already denounced Wyden's bill, and Walden's bill has drawn even more harsh criticism from some environmental groups.

How broken is the current system? In 1983, more than 10 billion board feet of timber was sold from our national forests with the Forest Service making a profit of more than $1 billion. At the same time, about the same amount of timber burned in forest fires. Since then, sales have steadily decreased to less than 2 billion board feet annually, while fire has destroyed more and more, reaching highs of exceeding 20 million board feet in 2007 and 2011.

Instead of generating a profit, the U.S. Forest Service now spends $2 for every dollar it produces while states are able to produce several times more harvest and revenue from much smaller land bases.

Although environmentalists and timber executives are now talking, there is no guarantee that other environmentalists, who are not at the table, will not continue to litigate in an attempt to block timber sales. In addition, Wyden's bill calls for an appointed advisory panel, with no restrictions on who is eligible to serve on the panel other than that they must be "experts in the field," thus leaving the real possibility that some groups may still be excluded from the process.

It's encouraging that after years of being at odds with each other environmentalists and the timber industry are both at the same table. It's also encouraging that legislation is in the works that aims to increase timber harvests in Eastern Oregon. However, as is so often the case with government legislation and regulations, the devil is in the details and we still have a long ways to go before Oregon is likely to see any substantive increase in timber sales and the accompanying jobs that they would bring.

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