Committee Passes Merkley Amendment Aimed at Creating Jobs in Overgrown Forests

WASHINGTON, D.C.—An amendment by Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley aimed at putting people to work in the woods and improving the health of our overgrown forests passed the Senate Budget Committee today with bipartisan support.  This amendment to the funding outline for fiscal year 2014 makes it possible for Congress to move legislation to improve federal forest land management by increasing timber production, protecting communities from wildfires, enhancing forest resilience to insects and disease, and improving forest ecosystem without running afoul of budget rules. 

“Driving across Oregon and looking at our overgrown federal forests, it’s clear that something has to be done.  This amendment will help put Oregonians to work in our woods and create a healthier environment,” said Merkley. “We can’t keep standing on the sidelines while rural communities are shuttered due to lack of jobs and our forests burn every summer.  Congress needs to establish a new approach to managing our federal forests that provides for sustainable timber harvests while protecting our natural treasures, and this amendment creates the budget space to do it.”

Rural communities across the country, and particularly in Oregon, depend on forests for the jobs they create in the timber and recreation industries.  However, active management of Federal forests is stuck in a bureaucratic and legal morass, causing shortages of saw logs going to timber mills, and causing forests to become overgrown and more prone to wildfires and infestation. 

Federal Timber Production:

  • Approximately one third of the 737 million acres of forest land in the United States is owned by the Federal government.
  • Timber production on Federal lands has dropped 90% since 1989, which has driven many mills out of business and left the remaining mills that depend heavily on timber from Federal forests in precarious shape. This decline is due in part to a struggling housing market, but also due to the scarcity of timber sales on federal land.
  • Legislation that can improve the flexibility of the Federal government to actively manage forest lands to increase forest lands will give a much needed boost to rural economies and create jobs in the woods. 

Forest Health:

  • Overgrown and pest-infested Federal forests have caused larger and more dangerous wildfires in recent years, which pose a threat to the safety of rural communities.
  • Last year, the Western United States experienced the largest bark beetle outbreak in recorded history. The massive forest mortality has a wide range of impacts, including soil erosion which impacts municipal water supplies, increased risk of wildfires, depleted timber supplies, and weakened forest ecosystems.
  • Many Federal forests that are not actively manage have been building up fuel loads which have caused several record breaking wildfires across the West, burning more acres than ever before.
  • Decreasing fuel loads and treating pest infestations will help protect our rural communities from dangerous fires, and protect our forest ecosystems.