Representatives of Oregon's timber industry and the state's major environmental groups say they're still committed to working together despite the Legislature's failure to pass a bill upon which their landmark deal hinged.
On Tuesday, March 31, Gov. Kate Brown issued a statement after receiving a letter signed by the parties of the original February deal which some in Salem characterized as "historic" in terms of ending decades of legal fights and political battles.
"Two short months ago, with the goal of creating a better future for Oregon, the state's forest industry and major environmental groups were able to find common ground in a historic collaboration," Brown said. "Since then, all of our daily lives have changed dramatically, as our state has been dealing with the spread of COVID-19. Right now, my top priority is the safety and health of Oregonians. I am doing everything in my power to slow the spread of the virus and protect our front-line workers to keep people safe."
The path toward a deal started when timber interests reached out to Brown in January to see if she'd be willing to mediate several listening sessions, at which both sides would air their grievances. They ended up coming to an agreement that included dropping all prospective ballot measures and legal action relating to Oregon's forests. The memorandum of understanding signed by several of Oregon's largest timber companies and family woodland owners stated both sides would take part in the creation of a new habitat conservation plan that would rule over all Oregon's forests, public and private. It also provided that the deal would be contingent upon the Legislature passing a bill to reform aerial spraying practices and create a cutting-edge notification system to allow neighbors to learn about spraying in real time.
The deal was seen by many as the first step in healing some of the old wounds that were left open from Oregon's timber wars in the early 1990s.
As the Republican walkout loomed in the final days of the 2020 legislative session, it seemed the aerial spraying bill was dead, effectively killing the deal, too.
But on March 25, signatories of the agreement issued a letter to Brown reaffirming their commitment to work together and to keep the deal alive.
"As key members of the negotiation that produced the (memorandum of understanding), we have consulted with our stakeholders and heard a clear commitment to the MOU's goals for new pesticide rules, spray notification, and for broader mediation to address forest practice reforms," the letter said. "But the urgency of the coronavirus pandemic has understandably overtaken our collective
ability to carry this work forward in the immediate term."
The letter went on to say that all parties would continue to assist in the effort to withdraw ballot initiatives from the elections process, a key piece of the deal.
Brown said in her statement Tuesday that she's committed now more than ever to continue the work started in February, but only after concerns around the ongoing outbreak of the novel coronavirus begin to calm.
"I am pleased to have the partnership of industry and advocates to achieve the original goals of the memorandum of understanding, including legislation, as soon as circumstances allow for this very important work to resume," Brown said. "I, too, remain committed to our collective goals and to the long-term health of our state. Oregonians want healthy forests and fish, a vibrant forest sector, and prosperous rural communities, and I appreciate the continued collaboration to make this happen."
The letter sent to Brown from the parties of the original deal was signed by the two spokesmen from either side: Bob Van Dyk of the Wild Salmon Center; and Greg Miller representing the forest industry.
Signatories on the agreement
Hancock NR Group
Lone Rock Resources
Oregon Small Woodlands Assn.
Roseburg Forest Products
Seneca Sawmill Co.
Audubon Society of Portland
Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center
Northwest Guides and Anglers Assn.
Oregon League of Conservation Voters
Oregon Stream Protection Coalition
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's
Wild Salmon Center
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