Legislature to examine OSU logging study

Republican state Rep. Greg Walden has called for a congressional hearing on a controversial study by an Oregon State University graduate student that argues that logging land after forest fires may have adverse effects on the environment

Several OSU forestry professors disagreed with the student’s findings, published January in the prestigous journal Science, and attempted to have the magazine publish a retraction.

Congressional examination of the scientific controversy could be a new victory for environmental activists and dissenters, who disagreed with decisions to log the Biscuit Forest in Southern Oregon after a naturally occurring fire.

The field hearing reviewing the study will take place in Medford on Feb. 24.

"The more we can learn from researchers, the better our decisions regarding policy and legislation will be," Walden told the The Oregonian.

Walden is co-sponsoring a bill that encourages land managers to log land after wildfires to expedite growth. "The issue back on the article was that federal funds were being used to weigh public opinion on pending legislation," said Chris Strebig, Bureau of Land Management Oregon spokesperson.

The BLM suspended funding of the study last week, saying that a reference in the article to a bill in Congress could be construed as lobbying. Funding was fully restored last Wednesday after the university responded by saying that they had asked the publishers to remove the language referencing the bill.

"A mere reference to the existence of pending legislation hardly entails lobbying," said Dan Kennedy, editor-in-chief at Science magazine, in a prepared statement. "That there is no ground for BLM to be behaving punitively by withdrawing funding."

An Oregon legislative bill had considered salvage logging a way to speed up forest regeneration, but the OSU study of the Biscuit Forest found that logging trucks killed most seedlings that had sprouted on their own and left behind more fuel for future fires.

The original abstract published in January on the ScienceExpress web site stated, "Legislation currently pending in U.S. Congress, HR 4200, would expedite post-fire logging projects, citing reforestation and fuel reduction among its goals. To help inform the dialogue …"

"They didn’t pull the funding, they just suspended it until questions were answered," said Luann Lawrence, vice president of University Advancement at OSU. "But this [was] very unusual. This is not something that would usually happen with a federal grant."

The College of Forestry at OSU has a close relationship with the logging industry, as it receives 10 percent of its funding from a logging tax. BLM land is also prime logging territory, although the Biscuit Forest land is mainly owned by the Forest Service.

The bill referenced in the article is still pending in Congress.