Oregon Congressman Emerges as Voice of Reason on Forestry-Related Issues

In recent years, Schrader has become a key figure in the forestry world, serving on the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy & Forestry. Schrader, now 61, worked as a farmer and veterinarian for more than thirty years, serving four terms in the Oregon State Legislature before getting elected to the U.S. Congress in 2009, representing Oregon’s fifth district.

 

In 2013, he helped introduce the bipartisan Healthy Forest Caucus to focus on the state of forest health and was part of another bipartisan group that has introduced bills to reaffirm the EPA’s policy of not requiring a water discharge permit for runoff for forest roads.

 

Schrader, a Democrat, recently spoke with Forest Landowner magazine about the state of the industry, where he sees it headed, and how the parties can find more common ground on forestry-related issues.

Q: It’s tough to overstate the importance of forestry in your district, both from an economic and recreational standpoint. How big a role does it play?

 

A:It covers more than 60 percent of the landmass of my state and a big chunk of my district. While much of urban America has struggled through this last great recession, the rural part of my district has been in depression for 25 years. Until we’re able to create more jobs in the woods and rebuild the economies of these counties and cities and families, it will continue to be in a very high unemployment situation, which is unacceptable. I think it’s unfair that as urban America progresses and rural America is left behind.

 

 

 

Q: How do you begin to tackle that?

 

A: You tackle it by starting to educate America that old 1970s and ’80 timber wars between the environmental community and the timber community are over. That’s done. We’ve lost so many mills. People are starting to wake up to fact that these communities are suffering. Locking up the forest and throwing away the key is not good management. We see it every summer on the news with wildfires running rampant and more species being in trouble.

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"Locking up the forest and throwing away the key is not good management."

Q: You’ve been a farmer and a veterinarian. Where does your passion for forestry come from?

 

A: I’ve lived off the land my whole adult life. Farming for 20-plus years, being a veterinarian for 35 years. I moved to Oregon because of its beauty and because of the thoughtful land use policies we have. I appreciate the natural resource beauty and recreational opportunities and I don’t think they’re incompatible. Much like here in Congress we have two very willful groups that want to take extreme positions but that’s breaking down in my state. In Oregon you now have some moderate, thoughtful environmental groups who realize there must be some accommodation. A lot of the members of the timber industry are also willing to change some of their practices and understand certain things they did in the ‘80s are no longer acceptable. As a veterinarian my job was to make complicated issues seem at least understandable so my clients could follow up and do the right things for their animals. I’m trying to do the same thing in Oregon with these complicated timber issues, break them down into commonsense perspectives that people can relate to and break through the gridlock.

 

 

 

Q:Most people agree that our forests need to be managed better. How do we overcome this gridlock on the state and federal level to make that happen?

 

A: It used to be farmers and forest folks were Democrats and we overplayed our hands, frankly. Though the ‘70s, Democrats became known as rabid extreme environmentalists that made it very difficult for people to earn a living on the land. This mythology that farming and forestry interests are all big corporations; that’s not the way it works in Oregon. If they’re companies, they’re family companies that have been developed as LLCs. There’s been such a huge misunderstanding promulgated from those changes in the 70s. We were probably overcutting in the ‘80s and that was unsustainable. But now we’re not cutting at all and that also is unsustainable both from a forest health standpoint and a community survival standpoint. The biggest problem is changing people’s cultural attitudes and getting them in line with what’s really the reality of today, not the past.

I’ve met with environmental groups. I’ve met with timber groups, counties and other interested parties. Instead of being up in the trees on these sort of issues, it’s time for us to get back down on the ground, look each other in the eye and start trusting one another and building in certain policies and safeguards so we can walk a more thoughtful line that gets our forests back into healthy production. These aren’t parks; these are forestlands. Forestlands are supposed to be managed for the betterment of the forest.

"There’s been such a huge misunderstanding promulgated from those changes in the 70s. We were probably overcutting in the ‘80s and that was unsustainable. But now we’re not cutting at all and that also is unsustainable both from a forest health standpoint and a community survival standpoint. The biggest problem is changing people’s cultural attitudes and getting them in line with what’s really the reality of today, not the past. "

Q: What can those who manage national forests learn from private forest landowners?

 

A:What we know from private forest management is that these forests are healthy and we know that species move into these forests and there’s also a way you can manage the forest so that there’s different levels of succession at any one time that keeps a healthy ecosystem from a river, wetlands and wildlife management standpoint. I’m not a big fan of artificial buffers that you just pull out and apply just by rule of thumb. It makes a lot more sense to manage and track the outcomes. You can potentially log right up close to streams as long as you don’t put silt in the water, as long as there’s some shade left to keep the stream temperatures down. That’s the type of thoughtful management that I think our forests are headed. We have to have realistic expectations based on what has gone on before us.

"We could vote our own conscience and our region and not our party and people began to see that there are a lot of us, both Democrat and Republican, who have more in common than we ever imagined."

Q: You’re part of a bipartisan group that introduced bills to reaffirm the EPA’s policy of not requiring a water discharge permit for runoff from forest roads. How confident are you that those bills will be passed?

A: In Congress I’m never confident anything is going to get passed. We’ve had that language in some appropriations bills in past years. I think people are getting used to the fact that this has been EPA policy for the last 35 years. It seems ridiculous on one hand to require a timber outfit to put in all these culverts and drains so that things drain into the forest floor and now just letting it run off their land as nature would have it if you want to go back to the natural state of things. If we’re artificially changing that because we don’t want silt in the water, then you come back and you say now that we’ve made you do that we’re going to require you to get a permit because now that made you a point source. That’s just outrageous that we would play that game with people who are doing it right. The bill seems to be gaining a good head of steam in Congress and the commonsense nature of it and the fact that EPA, and we, and the timber industry, and the natural resource committee all agree is a good sign also.

 

Q: The House Agriculture Subcommittee is one of the more bipartisan committees in Congress, not just in terms of makeup but also in terms of finding common ground. Do these issues have less inherent partisanship to them?

 

A: The good news in the Agriculture committee is that Chairman Glenn Thompson (R-PA) and I and other members of the committee see common ground. We’re from rural areas and we know what this is all about. We seek the common ground. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) is another great legislator who is willing to seek common ground. Same thing is true on the Democrat side. We have folks who have an appreciation for what happens in our forests like Tim Walz (D-MN). The fact that there are men and women that work in this setting that talk to the timber and environmental community, who can see where the fault lines are, where reasonable gives way to unreasonable and draw the line a little better. We could vote our own conscience and our region and not our party and people began to see that there are a lot of us, both Democrat and Republican, who have more in common than we ever imagined. That sort of thing breeds more commonality and willingness to see the other person’s point of view. That’s the key to being a great legislator or statesperson - recognizing that the other person has a valid point of view and reaching out to them.

 

Q:What can we as individual forest landowners to better advance our cause in Washington, DC?

 

A: Support legislators in both parties willing to talk about forestry issues and move your agenda forward. It’s also important to help them. When they’re back in your district and some of the more radical groups attack, be willing to come up with more thoughtful solutions, whether Democrat or Republican. It’s very important for forest landowners to support the representatives they feel have some understanding of forestry issues. Forest owners also need to tell their story better in their own community. You should be talking to the editorial boards in your papers back home about what your practices are and how they’ve changed and how you support rural economics and communities and can help them get back on their feet in a thoughtful, family way. Some of these companies in my state have been there for generations of employees. They provide the sustenance and roofs over the heads for a lot of families and I think that gets lost in a lot of the timber baron mythology from 35-40 years ago.

 

Q:For the forest community, it’s a constant process of educating the public about forest management and the goal of sustaining our forests. We also continue to counter the public perception that it’s all about timber harvesting. Is it a similar challenge for you in your role?

 

A: It certainly is. Everyone likes to pigeonhole you, paint you into a corner and label you. It takes a lot of education. I tell this to my agricultural friends and I’d say this to forestry stakeholders, too: Our biggest challenge is to tell our side of the story and we don’t do it very well. We cling historically to things we shouldn’t do. We need to start to see that light and be willing to educate and talk about things in a slightly different way. That’s the biggest problem American agriculture and forestry faces. We have to be thinking more forward on things. I think it’s important to tell that story and tell it right.

 

Adapted from an interview by Pete Williams for the Forest Landowner Magazine.


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