Gov. John Kitzhaber has begun an immensely valuable discussion about state forests. Addressing the state Board of Forestry last week in Forest Grove, Kitzhaber floated the concept of creating conservation areas within state forests. Tyler Graf of our reporting staff noted that Kitzhaber also promoted the idea of selling carbon credits.
The idea of conservation areas has been around for a long time, but seldom if ever applied to state forests. The late Robert Wolf, forestry consultant at the Library of Congress during the 1980s, told House and Senate committees that the idea of conservation areas would make sense within certain federal forests. Those would be forests that were heavily subsidized by the federal Treasury because their timber sales were consistently money losers. Such forests were typically in the Intermountain region. Wolf never applied the conservation area concept to the Pacific Northwest, whose national forests west of the Cascades are among the most lucrative in the national forest system.
More recently, however, Congressman Peter DeFazio, whose district includes those timber-rich forests, has raised the idea of conservation zones on federal lands in Oregon.
Kitzhaber is inviting the Board of Forestry to move beyond the predictable and tiresome standoff between increased timber harvest versus forest watershed and salmon habitat. The governorís wisdom in doing this is reflected in two great shifts that are under way. Our newspaper groupís 2010 special series ďThe Fate of Our ForestsĒ depicted an entirely new forests ownership picture in which vertical management is virtually gone. And more importantly, the reality of global warming places an entirely new value on the temperate rainforest of North America, the epicenter of which includes the Clatsop and Tillamook state forests.
By acquiring 800 acres of forest of privately owned forest, the city of Cannon Beach has already recognized the new forest calculus, in which lands with great ecological value can be obtained in the marketplace.
At the same time, the state forests can sustain significant employment bases such as Hampton Affiliates recently reopened mill in Warrenton.
There is no getting away from the balancing act in public forests. But the governor is correct that the Board of Forestry should have a deeper and more nuanced discussion about the opportunities for conservation and selling carbon credits.
Having taken this first step, Kitzhaber knows more than most others that itís all in the follow-through and the next steps. We are living in the midst of what might well be called Godís tree farm. Global forces give our forests much more meaning. It is our opportunity to see that new value and develop it.