Governor John Kitzhaber appointed Tom Tuchman to be his new man at the scene of the crime that is the administration – dare I say the management – of the Oregon and California Railroad Lands, commonly known as "the O&C lands."
These are federal lands in western Oregon—arguably the finest Douglas-fir timberlands on the face of the earth. They, together with western Oregon's national forests, formed the economic backbone of western Oregon's timber economy for more than 40 years. Then the Spotted owl was listed as a threatened species in 1990 and the entire federal timber sale program came crashing down on those who first gave it life.
It is frequently argued that the 1937 O&C Act, which mandates a sustained yield harvest and an economic return to the 18 counties in which the lands are located, trumps the owl listing. But the argument has fallen on deaf ears. In modern-day America, the Draconian federal Endangered Species Act trumps all economic reality. So be it.
Tuchman is no stranger to this conflict. In fact, it was he who led the development of the Clinton Forest Plan, which has never been implemented, thanks to impossible to navigate regulations and errant federal court rulings—plus the crushing and misguided political influence of environmental groups that oppose commercial timber harvesting in federal forests to the detriment of rural counties that are now bankrupt or soon will be.
The truth here is that there is nothing Governor Kitzhaber or Tuchman, the Governor's officially titled Forestry and Conservation Financial Advisor, can do about the sorry state of O&C affairs. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is running this silly show, and he seems to find anathema in the Western Oregon Plan Revision, an exhaustive and scientifically sound idea that he took off the table as soon as the Obama Administration took power. He apparently believes it was a gift from the outgoing Bush Administration to its friends in the timber industry. It was not. In fact, what was left of the industry had already gone to court over the proposed harvest level.
Kitzhaber deserves credit for going through the motions. Appointing Tuchman would seem to be a politically shrewd move. Both are Democrats with long years of front line experience in the region's forest wars. So this would seem to be a good time to reintroduce my late friend, Dan Goldy, another Democrat of considerable renown, and a man who, long ago, actually won a bitterly fought forest war of another kind.
Dan Goldy was Pacific Northwest Regional Administrator for the Bureau of Land Management in the early 1950s. More important, though, is the fact that Goldy is the man most responsible for preventing the region's largest private timberland owners from hijacking the entire O&C timber sale program, which they attempted to do in the late 1940s under the seductive guise of a series of "co-operative sustain yield agreements" with the Bureau.
The agreements, which were shot down by the Truman Administration, would have granted the big landowning outfits the exclusive right to harvest O&C timber from tracts adjacent to their own lands. Had they succeeded, the technology-driven sawmilling industry that took root in western Oregon after World War II would never have materialized. Why? Because Goldy and his fellow Democrats understood that, minus the presence of innovative, upstart lumbermen, there would be no spirited bidding for O&C timber, no great financial return to the counties, and no motivation for the big outfits to modernize their aging and wasteful mills. Today, there are state-of-the-art mills here with overruns above three. This means that for every board foot they buy in log scale, they are cutting three board feet in lumber scale. Lord only knows how many billion board feet of old growth timber have been spared by these remarkable recovery rates.
Goldy was himself a fierce competitor who hated to lose. He thus played a critical but little understood behind the scenes role in the development of the old Western Forest Industries Association, which represented the diverse interests of independent lumbermen for more than 40 years. I know this because I spent more than five years researching a book I've written that centers on the growth and development of the region's family owed sawmills. It is titled The Independents, a word the West's lone wolf lumbermen often used to describe themselves.
But this column is not about my book. It is about what Goldy and the Truman Administration believed concerning the development of the West's federal estate. And what they believed to the depths of their souls was that these vast and productive forests were the greatest economic engines the country had ever seen. They saw their development as the key to the nation's post-warhomebuilding boom, and thus the blossoming of middle class prosperity – a first in the nation's history – that followed World War II.
A very solid case can be made for the fact that the fabled GI Bill, which guaranteed every returning veteran a low-interest home loan, could never have fulfilled its mission had it not been for the opening of federal forests and the abundance of competitively priced lumber that the Democrat-inspired federal timber sale program provided. Although most people don't know it, very little federal timber was harvested in the West before the late 1940s. Virtually all of the nearly 60 billion feet of timber consumed by our armies during World War II came from private lands because federal lands were still mostly roadless.
I knew Dan Goldy fairly well, but I got to know him better after he died by spending more than a week at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. Goldy's voluminous and enlightening papers are stored there, as are those of his boss, C. Girard Davidson, who was Assistant Secretary of the Interior during Truman's first term. It was Davidson who courageously killed the monopolistic co-operative agreements. He later opened a law practice in Portland, and served as Democratic National Committeeman for Oregon for several years, chairing the party's Natural Resources Committee during Jack Kennedy's run for the White House.
Goldy's letters and speeches, and Davidson's as well, should be required reading for every contemporary Democrat. Suffice it to say, there was a time in America when Democrats stood shoulder to shoulder with loggers, lumbermen, miners, farmers, and ranchers. No more. Today, save for Southern Democrats, there are few in the party who give a damn about people who get their hands dirty every day, or have the slightest idea where the nation's wealth begins. [Hint: it isn't taxes]
Through an odd set of circumstances, I have more than 100 letters that Goldy wrote to friends in his later years. Mostly, they are chatty notes about his world travels. But last week I came across one I had not read before that I want to quote here in its entirety in the hope that someone will show it to Governor Kitzhaber or Tom Tuchman, who might then be inspired to start acting more like old time Democrats and less like shills for the environmental industry.
Goldy, who died in December of 2000, wrote this letter to the late Mark Hatfield, Oregon's most revered U.S. Senator, on August 28, 1990. It references people most of you won't know, including his wife, Rusty, who lured him to Oregon not long after he got out to the Navy. By then, he was a well-connected Democrat. Among his close friends was Monroe Sweetland, a Molalla newspaper publisher and guiding force in Oregon Democratic Party politics for four decades. Sweetland also played a vital behind-the-scenes role in the development of the O&C timberlands. Now, without comment, Goldy's letter:
Rusty and I have been traveling in Eastern Europe, and since our return I have been riding horses in the wilderness and have been making speeches around the country. This is the first opportunity I have had to focus on the political campaign in Oregon.
I am enclosing a contribution for your re-election campaign. As a Democrat, I find it rather easy to sit on the sidelines this year and to keep my checkbook in the drawer. I find few Democrats worthy of support. In your race, I feel that no less than the future of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest is at stake. Harry Lonsdale admits he is politically unsophisticated, but this is no excuse for aligning himself with the most radical elements of the preservationist movement to lock up the forest resources of the Northwest.
It is my view – which I have been asserting in speeches around the country – that the Ventos,Jontzs. Adkins', Yates', and Leahys of the Congress will, if they are successful, inflict an environmental disaster on the Northwest. To lock up all of the old growth timber and permit nature to manage it in its brutal fashion with fires, insects, and blow-downs is a formula for catastrophe. Moreover, their insistence that only the young second growth be harvested means that we will be depriving the region of any forestry future, and will shortly exhaust these limited resources of young timber that are keeping our mills going for the moment. Indeed, I have heard from industry sources that at the rate their young second growth is behind harvested, it will all be gone in four to five years.
Aside from the devastating effects of this approach on the economy of the Pacific Northwest, I find it appalling that these members of Congress do not understand the economic significance to the entire United States of eliminating its wood basket. Even our own people are surprised to learn that approximately 50 percent of the total softwood lumber consumed in the United States comes from Oregon, Washington, and northern California; that two-thirds of what is domestically produced in the United States comes from these three states [the difference being what is imported from Canada].
Recently, I have consulted with the experts in the various wood products associations in this region to get an estimate of the size of the cutback we are facing in Oregon, Washington, and northern California. Taking into account the initiatives on the ballot in California, the impact of the Spotted owl listing on private lands, and the reduced sales levels from national forests called for in the House markup of the 1991 Appropriations Bill, we expect a reduction in timber harvests of about nine billion feet. This translates into 14.4 billion board feet of softwood lumber if all of those logs were put through sawmills. That is about one-third of total U.S. consumption. These estimates, bad as they are, do not take into account the likelihood of mass appeals of federal timber sales when Section 318 expires September 30.
That much lumber cannot be withdrawn from the U.S. market – even at its present depressed levels – without producing a large inflationary spike in prices. It would increase enormously the median price of a house in the U.S., and would make housing unaffordable for more than a million additional families.
I have recently had a meeting with Dale Robertson and George Leonard and pointed out to them that a reduction in wood products from this region of this magnitude cannot be made up from other sources. Now that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service guidelines on the owl are being applied by the states to private lands, there appears to be no way that the cutbacks in federal harvests can be compensated for by increased harvests from private lands. Moreover, their statements to Congress that Canada can make up some of the difference is refuted by their own 1985 study of British Columbia which predicted a precipitous drop in harvest levels as past overcutting and failures in forest utilization practices catch up with the Canadians. The Canadian experts in the B.C. forests have recently reported we can expect a reduction in magnitude of about 7.5 billion board feet in harvests sometime in the next five years.
You are in a unique position as the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee to provide the leadership to achieve a national solution to this problem. I never understood what possessed the Oregon electorate to give up the enormous clout and constructive influence that AlUllman exercised on our behalf when he was Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, or to retire Bob Duncan despite his growing influence on the House Appropriations Committee. It would be an even greater act of insanity to substitute an extremist like Harry Lonsdale for a seasoned leader like you.
Rusty and I want you to know that we want to be as helpful as possible in your re-election campaign.
With warmest regards and best wishes,
Daniel L. Goldy