Each year, the state Department of Forestry’s Astoria District sells 73 million board feet of timber out of nearly 137,000 acres in the Clatsop State Forest, providing $23 million in net revenue, two-thirds of it going to local governments and school districts.
The district is planning 12 sales across 2,200 acres of state forestlands in the fiscal year ahead. Public comment on the sales is open through June.
With pressures on the state Board of Forestry, the harvest may be in flux.
Feeding local mills
Deep in the heart of the Clatsop State Forest above Beneke Creek late last month rose a tall yarder, its guylines spreading out to tree stump supports in all directions like the metal skeleton of a teepee.
A gas-powered sky car attached to a skyline stretching 5,000 feet down the hillside towed two or three tree trunks at a time to a forest road landing. A crew from logging firm J.M. Browning snatched the trunks with a log grabber, sent them through a delimber and stacked the timber to be put on trucks and taken to regional sawmills.
“You’re probably looking at 10 guys just here,” said Jewell Unit Forester Ty Williams, who helps plan timber sales for the state Department of Forestry in the heart of the county. “And you’re not counting the log truck drivers.”
Logging on the Music Creek sale started in February and finished this week, sending out 7.3 million board feet of timber to local and regional mills. The sale was roughly 10 percent of the 71.6 million board feet and 15,400 loads of timber sent out of the Clatsop State Forest since July 1.
Jay Browning, owner of J.M. Browning, estimates he had up to 20 of his 70 foresters working at a time on Music Creek, where the timber was sold in 2014 to Hampton Affiliates.
“It was over 1,300 loads of logs that came off it,” Browning said, adding about half of them went to the Hampton Lumber Mills in Warrenton, a quarter to a mill in Willamina and nearly 15 percent to Tillamook. State and federal lands can only export timber that will be processed into lumber, pulp or other products in the U.S.
Williams said the Astoria District employs about 38 foresters to prepare timber sales and oversee recreation and conservation efforts and commonly works with six to 10 logging operations harvesting timber for buyers.
Williams’ department walks a fine line, balancing economic, conservation and recreation interests on the Clatsop State Forest.
Chris Smith, director of the conservation group North Coast State Forest Coalition, said he stopped by the recently logged Homesteader timber sale on a ridge above the Nehalem River and found the scene “fairly devastating.”
The sale included four modified clearcuts on more than 200 acres, with a 100-foot buffer above the Nehalem, smaller buffers around streams and five to seven trees left per acre for wildlife.
Homesteader was the first timber sale opposed by the coalition in four years, Smith said, because of its old-growth characteristics with trees up to 125 years old, proximity to a major river and ideal habitat for endangered species such as marbled murrelets, red tree voles and northern spotted owls. The group helped organize opposition to the sale, including thousands of comments against logging the stand.
Williams said that while the state forest shoots for 30 percent old-growth stands, Homesteader was not identified as a critical area. His department performs wildlife surveys before sales, and found no presence of endangered species. To increase revenue from the land, he said, the state has started sort sales in places like Homesteader. The state auctions off different types of logs to companies specializing in a certain species, then hires a logging firm to harvest the timber and ship the logs out to various mills.
Smith said state forests in northwest Oregon have only 0.01 percent old-growth stands, indicative of not only devastating fires like the Tillamook Burns in the mid-20th century, but of aggressive logging.
In the Astoria District’s 2017 plan, Smith said, he is most concerned about the increase in clearcutting.
Next year’s sales call for 1,669 acres of clearcuts — about 0.5 percent of forestland in the district. At the beginning of the Astoria District’s implementation plan in 2001, Williams said, it was only clearcutting 600 acres a year.
Since 2001, the Astoria District has rigorously thinned state timberlands to diversify the stand complexity and structure. But there’s less of a need for thinning, Williams said, and the Astoria District has had to shift to meet its harvest objective of 73 million board feet a year.
“We have a large portion of our forest that’s in that 50- to 75-year-old age class,” he said. “Typically, those don’t lend themselves to thinning as they get older.”
To see the full 2017 Annual Operations Plan for the state Department of Forestry, visit http://tinyurl.com/gtz7q2r