Subcommittee takes steps toward forest fate
Conservation zones and timber zones are key feature of draft plan
It looks like management of state forestland is getting a makeover one that may satisfy both loggers and tree huggers by dividing the forest into distinct zones for conservation and timber-production.
State forestland makes up only about 3 percent of Oregons forests. The other 97 percent is on federal and private land. But the states small portion still amounts to 800,000 acres, about 500,000 of which are located in Washington, Tillamook and Clatsop counties and will likely be affected by the decision forestry leaders made Monday.
The management of state forestlands is funded largely through timber sales, which crashed during the economic downturn after the housing market collapsed. The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) budget also collapsed, forcing it to cut staffing and programs. Timber-funded county services, including some schools, suffered too.
Although the housing market is making a slow comeback, it still wont cover the bills.
By 2012, the Oregon Board of Forestry knew ODF needed more money and Governor John Kitzhaber called for a new plan that would increase both conservation measures and financial stability.
A stakeholder group including representatives from the timber industry, the conservation community and recreationists came up with five possible management plans that were narrowed down to two last week.
One was selected Monday by a Board of Forestry subcommittee.
The chosen plan, officially titled Land Allocation Approach, would divide forestland into production zones and conservation zones. The hope is that large swaths dedicated to forest preservation and healthy habitats will make conservation efforts more effective, while larger chunks of forest, managed mainly for timber, will bring in more money more efficiently.
In my opinion, its about certainty, said Mike Cafferata, ODF Forest Grove district forester. Conservationists are guaranteed a certain amount of the forest at least 30 percent as are timber producers.
Its also about clarity, he said. The new plan would clearly define areas of the forest for one purpose or another.
Details will be decided in the months leading up to a Nov. 5 meeting in Portland, where public comment will be accepted and the Board of Forestry could still technically reject the new approach.
From there theyll develop a more detailed draft of the new management plan. Their efforts will continue into next year.
A few key changes
Under the current management plan, most parts of the forest could at some point be vulnerable to logging.
The whole landscape eventually gets sucked in, said Bob Van Dyk, a Forest Grove resident and forest policy manager for the Portland-based Wild Salmon Center.
Although the new plan designates swaths to be managed primarily for either conservation or economic benefits, it also calls for some conservation measures in production zones and some active management (that could help with habitat) in conservation zones. In addition, a range of additional zones could be added.
Wider strips of unharvested timber bordering streams as well as more snags and live trees left standing in recently cut areas would all be required under the new plan, which also states all old-growth trees will be maintained, including all stands, patches or individual trees.
Old-growth trees between 175 to 250 years old are rare in the Tillamook Forest as most were lost to the Tillamook Burn, a series of devastating wild fires in the first half of the 20th century.
The new plan also includes a goal to establish a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), which would create sufficient habitat for various species to fulfill requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Currently, foresters establish conservation areas where certain flagged species are nesting, such as Northern Spotted Owls and Marbled Murrelets. Under a HCP, forest managers wouldnt have to maintain specific habitats where they know these species are nesting, but would just have to provide an adequate habitat for those species to move into although Cafferata expects current nesting areas would likely be kept as conservation areas.
Habitats designed for the owls and murrelets both listed as threatened under the ESA include older, bigger trees. Conservation zones would also include habitat for other wildlife, fish and plants.
There will also be a greater emphasis placed on complex younger stands young forests with diverse vegetation which provide habitat for wildlife, including deer, elk and some songbirds. Oregons national forests dont include any of this habitat type. These complex stands can be established in either zone.
High standards to meet
The new plans conservation strategy must satisfy guidelines under the Endangered Species Act or the federal government could step in and bring timber production to a halt.
Earlier this year, the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, which filed an intent to sue Oregon Department of Forestry officials and Gov. John Kitzhaber for planning, authorizing, and conducting logging, timber hauling and road construction and maintenance activities in the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests that significantly increase sediment delivery to coho streams, reduce input of large woody debris to streams, and cause take of threatened Oregon coast coho in violation of the [Endangered Species Act].
Van Dyk, who comes to the management debate from the conservationist side, commends aspects of the new plan, including establishing a multi-million dollar conservation fund and a theoretical increase in conservation land.
But most of the plan specifics have yet to be decided. And the devil is in the details, said Van Dyk, a Pacific University professor who worries the conservation zone will be too small and production zones will be too big.
Ray Jones, a member of the stakeholder group who works for Stimson Lumber, also wants to see a conservation plan established. At Mondays meeting, there were discussions of creating a fund that would pay for conservation projects through donations, not timber sales, he said.
But Jones said a conservation fund needs to have a steady, reliable source of funding, which would not be found through donations.
Jones also said he thinks the forest should be divided into 30 percent conservation land and the rest should be dedicated to timber production in order for the plan to be financially feasible.
Van Dyk is unlikely to be satisfied with 30 percent.
The League of Women Voters of Oregon testified at the meeting Monday, calling for more consideration of climate change, herbicides and pesticides.
A representative from the Forest Trust Land Advisory Committee asked the subcommittee to postpone its decision due to insufficient information.
Still, conservationists and timber professionals agree the plan has potential.
People who care about long-term conservation, fish, recreation and endangered species this is an opportunity for them to gain confidence that those values are going to be honored, Van Dyk said. I like the potential durability of it. Were open to it.
One of the hardest things to measure and to put a value on is conservation, said Jones.
Cafferata sees the plans potential, but is less certain conservationists and timber producers will be able to find a strategy that satisfies both.
The debate over Oregons forests will go on no matter what plan they choose, said Cafferata.