All manner of forest users – foresters, hikers, conservationists, fishers, students, teachers, government representatives and those with fond memories – showed up at the public hearing held by the Oregon Department of Forestry Tuesday in the Cannon Beach Community Hall, but their message was nearly unanimous: Do even more to conserve state forests.
ODF held the public hearing on whether it should classify about a quarter of its state forests to “High Value Conservation Areas,” which would be a new legal category in state law more clearly identifying areas of intrinsic ecological value for plants, fish and wildlife that would be managed to emphasize conservation.
“What we see this rule about tonight is really making clear ... that there are areas on the state forest right now that have a focus on conservation,” said Bob Van Dyk, a field organizer for the North Coast State Forest Coalition. A crowd of more than 60 were seated and flanked the edges of the room.
“We’d like them to be durable as well,” he said
Conservationists and recreationists of all types dominated attendance at the meeting, each bringing their own experience with state forests and adding their reasons for why conserving the lands is important. Scott Lee, Debra Birkby and Peter Huhtala were all present from the Clatsop County Commission, as were Mayor Mike Morgan of Cannon Beach, City Councilor Melissa Cadwallader, Wheeler Mayor Stevie Burden and Jeff Aprati, city manager of Wheeler. There were leaders from several community groups, parks employees and teachers.
Van Dyk said the key to making these conservation areas durable is in getting this multitude of groups invested in them.
ODF lands are currently under three classes, including:
• General stewardship, which denotes lands where the intention is to log and accomplish a multitude of ODF’s goals, including revenues from timber, providing recreational opportunities and conserving habitat for plants, fish and wildlife;
• Focused stewardship, which focuses on goals that support a specific resource (agriculture, grazing, wildlife forage/habitat, aquatic and riparian habitat, cultural resources, recreation, domestic water use, etc.); and
• Special use areas, which often have legal requirements constraining them to one specific use, such as conservation, recreation, domestic water use, etc.
In July, the Board of Forestry proposed to divide the latter into two subcategories, one being a specific use area and the other being a “High-Value Conservation Area,” such as stream buffers, steep slopes, fragile soils, special plant communities and habitats for rare species.
About 20 percent of the Clatsop State Forest would fall under this new proposed classification, said Van Dyk, along with about 40 percent of the Tillamook State Forest.
“It’s to the tune of 25 percent of our landscape ... that would fall into these high value conservation areas,” said Liz Dent, deputy chief of the State Forests Division. She reminded people that above the classification change is still the NW?State Forests Management Plan, which guides decisions on all classes of land.
Dent and others with ODF?pointed out repeatedly that the new classification would take place in existing conservation areas and would not affect timber harvests or result in additional designations of conservation areas.
There are several proposed conservation areas in Clatsop State Forest, including:
• 4,077 acres near Plympton Creek inland south from Puget Island;
• 4,599 acres near the Nehalem River and Buster, Rock and Deer creeks east of Oregon Highway 103 near Jewell; and
• 2,282 acres near Fall Creek and the Nehalem River east of Oregon Highway 53 in an area known as Sweethome.
Tuesday’s meeting was the first of two public hearings on the new classification, with the second starting 6 tonight at the Hillsboro Main Library, 2850 Brookwood Parkway.
The Board of Forestry will decide on whether to create the new classification June 6 in its Salem headquarters. Public comment will be taken until April 5. To submit comments, email them to ODFStateForestsComments@odf.state.or.us; fax them to 503-945-7376 Attention: John Barnes; or mail them to John Barnes, Oregon Department of Forestry, 2600 State St., Building D, Salem OR 97310.
Public uses forests in many ways
People supporting the classification easily outnumbered those not supporting it by about 10 to 1, with many looking into the future of what forests would be like for future generations.
Wheeler’s Burden, who has family roots in the area stretching into the 19th century, said there’s one important thing for people today to realize: “Our coastal communities can no longer rely on commercial logging as we did in the past.”
If areas of the forest aren’t conserved, she said, it could impact the other industries such as tourism, recreation and sports that many coastal communities depend on. The city of Wheeler had earlier passed an official motion supporting the new classification, as did Rockaway Beach, represented at the meeting by its city manager.
Other comments focused on how the state forests need areas specifically to help protect endangered species such as the marbled murrelet and the spotted owl and other rare plants and animals.
Several fishermen present focused on how keeping streams in state forests healthy is directly tied to a big local resource and business: fish.
“I don’t want to sit here or have my kids have to sit here in the future talking about how to save salmon,” said Andy Betnar, owner of World Class Fishing in Astoria, adding that he’s already had to do the same with sturgeon. Betnar was joined by former Cannon Beach City Councilor Jerome Arnold, a fisher who said he hopes runs remain strong enough to sustainably harvest.
“I believe that conservation preserves the value of our forests and maybe increases it for the future,” said Michael Salberg, owner of the Cannon Beach Distillery, adding, along with others, the health and wellness benefits of spending time in the forest.
Many focused on how they want these areas conserved for future generations to experience.
“I hope it is just the beginning,” said Carla Cole, natural resource project manager for the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. “I hope it is moving in the direction of making those conservation areas permanent.”
Three men stood up to oppose the new classification, including Rick Culvert, who said he’s been recreating in the state forests since 1978 and still drinks the water out of Buster Creek. He said unmanaged areas might develop diseases and that people going into state forests should be charged a user fee to help make up for the loss in revenue.
“By continuing to limit management of the forests, we’re moving down the same path as federal forests,” said Dave Gunder, a forester with Hampton Lumber in Warrenton, adding that counties will suffer economically from the creation of conservation areas.
Tom Horning, a former logger for Crown-Zellerbach and a geologist also on the board of the North Coast Land Conservancy, said the loss of conservation areas has shown to have a detrimental effect on surrounding environments. “The systems need to be functional forever, not just the next generation or two.”
John Barnes, a policy and planning specialist with ODF, reminded everyone that written testimony is given the same weight as when spoken but is due through mail, fax or email by April 5.