Logging controversy prompts hearing

WASHINGTON (AP) ?” Oregon Rep. Greg Walden said Monday he will hold a hearing in Medford next week to examine a controversial study by Oregon State University researchers that suggests salvage logging is harmful to the recovery of burned forests.

Walden, a Republican who chairs the House Resources forestry subcommittee, said he called the hearing in response to a request from Rep. Tom Udall of New Mexico, the panel’s ranking Democrat.

Walden, who has co-sponsored a bill to make salvage logging easier after large fires, said the Feb. 24 meeting should allow the author of the study – and some of his critics – to weigh in.

The three-year study by OSU graduate student Daniel Donato made headlines, and a federal agency suspended funding for study’s final year, further inflaming a debate over how to treat the millions of acres of national forest that burn each year.

The Bureau of Land Management said Feb. 6 that Donato had violated provisions of a $300,000 federal fire research grant that prohibits using any of the funds to lobby Congress, and requires that a BLM scientist be consulted before the research is published.

The agency relented the next day, following criticism from Democratic lawmakers that the Bush administration was trying to manipulate science for political ends. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., called on the Interior Department’s inspector general to investigate whether the administration tried to quash research that ran counter to White House policy.

Walden went out of his way Monday to express support for independent research and noted that his subcommittee has held seven hearings on forest management in recent months.

"I look forward to hearing from the authors of this study about their findings on this issue as well," Walden said in a news release. "The more we can learn from researchers, the better our decisions regarding policy and legislation will be."

Walden said he also looks forward to hosting fellow members of Congress and others interested in forest health, noting that southern Oregon is "all too familiar with the devastation catastrophic wildfire can inflict."

Udall, in a Jan. 26 letter to Walden requesting the hearing, said the OSU study had concluded that logging in the wake of the 2002 Biscuit Fire "reduced regeneration [of the forest] by 71 percent and increased short-term fire risk."

The OSU study, which was published in the journal Science, "is an example of peer-reviewed science that should be carefully considered by our subcommittee as we continue to debate post-fire logging," Udall wrote.

Walden, in his response, said he and Reps. Brian Baird, D-Wash., and Stephanie Herseth, D-S.D., – who co-sponsored the logging bill – were "ardent supporters of both scientific research and academic freedom."

The hearing is scheduled Feb. 24 at Medford City Hall.