Replace Clinton-Era Rule to Accelerate Science-based Eastside Forest Restoration

The American Forest Resource Council (AFRC) today submitted comments in support of amending the Clinton-era “Wildlife Standard of the Eastside Screens,” also known as the “Eastside Screens” governing the management of national forests in Eastern and Central Oregon.  AFRC joins diverse organizations- ranging from counties to hunting and recreation groups to forestry groups- urging the agency to replace the Eastside Screens with a science-based standard that provides forest professionals with the flexibility they need to manage at-risk federal forests.

The Eastside Screens were originally adopted by the U.S. Forest Service as a “temporary” rule prohibiting the removal of trees larger than 21 inches in diameter (21-inch rule) on national forests east of the Cascades, including the Malheur, Umatilla, Wallowa-Whitman, Deschutes, Ochoco, Fremont-Winema.  While the rule was intended to provide interim direction to land managers, the Eastside Screens have remained in place for a quarter century and have been a significant barrier to forest management on fire prone public lands.

Andy Geissler, AFRC’s Federal Timber Program Director says the rule has made it more difficult for federal land managers to thin overstocked forests and implement projects that help reduce the risks of catastrophic wildfire, insects and disease on national forests.

“The 21-inch diameter limit has posed a significant obstacle to proactive and science-based forest management,” Geissler said. “The latest science supports the removal of some trees greater than 21 inches to maintain and develop late and old forest structure, which is more resilient to wildfire and other disturbances. We encourage the Forest Service to replace this arbitrary rule with one that’s based in science, and one that gives land managers greater ability to achieve desired conditions.”

Among the alternatives proposed in the Forest Service’s Environmental Assessment, AFRC supports the “Adaptive Management” alternative because it allows land managers to use the best available science to implement the most effective forest health treatments on a given landscape. This alternative would increase opportunities for proactive forest management, provide some stability for the region’s forest products infrastructure, and increase capacity for forest management on at-risk lands in the future.

As a regional trade association advocating for sustained yield timber harvests on public timberlands throughout the West, Geissler says amending the rule will support businesses, jobs and communities that depend on a vibrant forest products industry.

“Many of our members have their operations in communities adjacent to the six eastern Oregon and southeast Washington national forests that this amendment will impact, and the management on these lands ultimately dictates not only the viability of their businesses, but also the economic health of the communities themselves,” Geissler said.  “With the increasing risk of catastrophic wildfires we witnessed this year, and a changing climate, professional foresters need every tool in the toolbox to protect our national forests and adjacent communities.  We can’t wait another 25 years to finally follow the science.”