As they wound their way through the forest roads in the eastern reaches of Clatsop County last week, regional foresters Ty Williams and Dan Goody pointed out the ages and makeup of timber stands.
They and the Oregon Department of Forestry are tasked with managing 137,000 acres of the Clatsop State Forest for the social, economic, and environmental benefit of Oregonians.
Goody, the Astoria district forester, proudly mentioned that the forest in Clatsop County is the most productive in the state, with trees that grow up to 3 feet a year. The Astoria district of the forestry department shoots for 74 million board feet of timber sales, all while 30 percent of the forest is set aside for long-term complex forest conditions, terrestrial anchors and wildlife habitat,
On July 1, the forestry board approved 74 million board feet of proposed timber sales for the Astoria district’s 2015-16 operations plan. The sales span more than 2,400 of Clatsop State Forest’s 137,000 acres, and are worth an estimated $23.2 million to Clatsop County.
But one of the sales has local conservation group North Coast State Forest Coalition up in arms.
Homesteader is comprised of about 250 acres southeast of Jewell School in the Buster Creek Basin, which feeds into the Nehalem River.
The proposed timber sales by the forestry department include one 48-acre parcel for a partial cut, and four other parcels totaling 211 acres planned for a modified clearcut, in which a small number of trees — the department shoots for five to seven per acre, Williams said — are left for stream buffers, wildlife areas and biological diversity. The coalition is primarily interested in one of the four potential clearcuts it contends includes rare and ecologically valuable old growth trees.
“Logging the Homesteader sale areas will see the clearcutting of old-growth and advanced mid-seral forests,” said a report from the North Coast State Forest Coalition, authored by coordinator Chris Smith and Trygve Steen, a professor of environmental science at Portland State University. “These stages of ecological succession are exceedingly rare on (Board of Forestry) lands on Oregon’s North Coast and provide important conservation benefits.”
Smith said the Homesteader timber sale is one of the first the coalition has ever opposed. The coalition usually advocates for conservation at a higher level, he said, and trusts the management process stemming from those decisions. The coalition gathered more than 1,600 comments against the Homesteader timber sale, part of which it contends is valuable potential habitat for the endangered marbled murrelet, whose presence has nixed many a logging operation on the West Coast, along with the northern spotted owl.
Years of work go into deciding a timber sale. The forestry department surveyed between 2012 and 2014 for endangered species in the Homesteader area. Williams and Goody said there were no marbled murrelet found.
“We have surveyed this area for 17 years without seeing a marbled murrelet,” Goody said, adding no spotted owls have been sighted either.
The report says the timber sales in Homesteaders would also hurt nearby property values on the Nehalem River, and that there are less ecologically valuable stands nearby that could be substituted.
Many different biologists and wildlife experts with the forestry department and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife played a part in deciding the terrestrial anchors, Goody wrote in response to the coalition’s study. “Since there are many mature forest stands on the Astoria district, some are necessary to contribute towards meeting economic mandates required by state law.”
What is old growth?
The coalition counted some of the trees in the Homesteader sale at more than 120 years old. As only 0.1 percent of state forests are old growth, the coalition’s report says, the older trees in Homesteader should be spared. And the older trees, the report adds, are too large in diameter and full of loose knots from old branches to be optimal timber.
Williams said the trees are at least 114 years old, whereas the department’s forest management plan determines old growth at 175- to 200-year-old trees on land that hasn’t been managed for timber. Homesteader, he added, was one of the earlier tracts around Jewell managed for timber.
“While these trees do not meet the (forest management practices) definition of old-growth we will evaluate and look for opportunities to retain many of these older trees as scattered green trees or in clumps throughout the sale areas to provide a larger landscape perspective,” Goody wrote in his response to the coalition. “The Astoria district contains approximately 14,000 acres of stands of trees 80 years old and older. The majority of these stands (63 percent) are designated for wildlife and conservation values.”
The forestry department now prepares the various proposed timber sales, cruising to determine the amount of timber and readying the infrastructure for logging.
While their district shoots for timber harvests of 74 million board feet a year, Goody’s and Williams’ department follows the greatest permanent value rule, which sets a balance of revenue, recreation and conservation.
“You’re almost a social manager walking the fine line,” Williams said.
One of the great things about the state forest, Goody said, is it’s open to everyone wanting to come recreate.
Williams overseas the recreation activities of the forestry department, which includes about 20 miles of trails; even more off-road vehicle tracks in places like Nicolai Mountain; several campgrounds; horse trails; archery; hunting; and the Astoria Demonstration Forest behind the forestry department’s office, showing forest management practices on a smaller scale.