Will historic timber deal heal old wounds in Oregon?
A deal was announced in early February that was intended to end the war in the woods that has beset Oregon forestry issues for decades.
But not everyone is cheering what Gov. Kate Brown described as a "historic" deal between timber firms and environmentalists. The critics suspect something more is at play than the pursuit of peace.
Some characterize the agreement signed by several Oregon timber companies and a coalition of environmental groups as the first step in healing, but it also has bearing on much broader discussions in the capitol, particularly over climate change.
"There are people who had the rug pulled out from under them 30 years ago and they never really recovered," said state Sen. Jeff Golden (D-Ashland). "That makes what we're trying to do with the climate bill hard for them to accept. It's interesting that all this is coming together at the same time, the question for those of us with a gavel is how to make the most of it."
The opening came after representatives of the timber industry reached out to Brown and sat down for a meeting with her staff on Jan. 9. They requested that the governor moderate a discussion between industry leaders and the environmental community on moving forward as partners rather than adversaries.
The governor agreed, mediating four meetings in Portland and in Salem. Representatives from both sides aired longstanding grievances, explained their views and then considered how they might proceed together.
What emerged was a memorandum of agreement signed by 13 Oregon companies and organizations on either side of the debate.
It also means both sides will drop dueling sets of proposed ballot initiatives, which seemed destined for an expensive clash in November 2020.
A new agreement
The agreement — somewhere between a handshake deal and legally binding agreement — incorporates three key pieces. The first outlines that the two sides will come together to create a habitat conservation plan that rules more than 30 million acres of public and private timberlands throughout the state, protecting endangered species and updating timber practices.
The second calls for all parties to support legislation to protect forest watersheds by restricting aerial spraying of pesticides and herbicides. The bill also outlines implementation of a state-of-the-art system to notify neighbors of aerial spraying.
Last, it widens buffer zones for streams within the Rogue-Siskiyou region of southern Oregon. New legislation also would expand stream buffers along salmon, steelhead and bull trout streams to bring forest practices into line with the rest of western Oregon. The deal is predicated on the idea of both sides agreeing to what is the best science to use for decisions.
Agreeing to the deal were Hampton Lumber, Weyerhaueser, Roseburg Forest Products, Seneca Sawmill Co., Hancock Natural Resource Group, Stimson Lumber, Greenwood Resources, Campbell Global, Pope Resources, Port Blakely and the Oregon Small Woodlands Association.
In the environmental camp, Oregon Wild, Wild Salmon Center, Oregon Stream Protection Coalition, Beyond Toxics, Audubon Society of Portland, Cascadia Wildlands, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Trout Unlimited, Northwest Guides and Anglers Association, and the Oregon League of Conservation voters all signed.
According to Casey Roscoe, vice president for public affairs for Seneca, this agreement is a step to see if there's a shared vision between the two sides for the future of forest practices that accounts for sustainability and Oregon's ecosystem. She's cautiously optimistic that this deal represents a fresh start for both sides.
"That vision is of healthy trees. It's of thriving wildlife. It's of cool, clean water and world class recreation. It's of renewable building materials and other wood products," Roscoe said. "That is our vision. What we're hoping is perhaps that can be their vision, too, and if that's true, if we do have, in fact, shared vision, then maybe we can come to the table and talk about how to make that happen and work toward it, because we're all on the same planet."
Bob Rees, executive director of the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association, said the deal shows good faith by the timber industry to hear out conservationists.
"If the negotiations are successful, it really shows an effort by private landowners to recognize the value of other natural resources other than timber that their lands harbor," Rees said.
Jim James, executive director of the Oregon Small Woodlands Association, is one of the sponsors of the three initiatives from the timber industry that will be set aside now.
"The real benefit is that we're getting the opportunity to sit down and talk with each other to find a compromise," James said.
Beneficial middle ground?
But not everyone is feeling as hopeful as those directly involved in the deal.
Republicans in the Legislature criticize the deal for putting them in a less stable position around the discussion of Oregon's proposed greenhouse gas reduction bill, Senate Bill 1530.
On Feb. 13, Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. (R-Grants Pass), appeared on Lars Larson's radio show to denounce the deal, saying it made his life more complicated.
"What they basically said is, if you want your timber industry's pesticide bill to pass, you're going to have to stick around for cap-and-trade, and we simply can't do that," Baertschiger said. "The timber industry didn't do us any favor. I don't know who is advising them politically, but I'd give them their walking papers."
That would be Greg Miller, who said that the deal is a shared recognition between the timber industry and conservation groups of the diverse benefits Oregon's forests provide and the need for more meaningful efforts on forest issues.
Baertschiger has characterized the deal as big corporate timber selling out to Oregon's Democratic supermajority and hurting the state's smaller timber interests.
James, representing woodland owners, characterized the deal differently.
"My perception is that if we can get to the compromise and stop the wars, it would be beneficial to every forest landowner in Oregon," he said. "Oftentimes folks try to separate the family landowner from the forest products industry, but there's a reality that family woodland owners need a strong forest products industry so when they harvest, they have value."
The next step in moving toward final solidification of the deal is passing new laws on aerial spraying of pesticides. Miller said that bill was being drafted.
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