A few months ago, The Daily Astorian published an editorial that focused on the recent upsurge by local officials around the country to gain more control of federal lands from the government (“Public lands are a shared legacy,” May 19).
There is, however, a similar effort underway in Oregon over the state forestland. The timber industry and the counties that have state forestland (including Clatsop County) want to significantly increase the amount of logging in order to increase revenue.
Under the new proposal, 70 percent of the land would essentially be managed as industrial timberland with intensive spraying. At the same time, the counties would like this plan to preserve conservation values on the remaining 30 percent, as compared to the 40 percent that now has some kind of conservation protection. Many stands, now designated to become older complex stands, would be cut down in the timber production area.
Recently, the chairman of the council that represents the state forest counties (including Clatsop County), testified at a Board of Forestry subcommittee meeting on the proposed alternate forest management plan. He stressed the need to step up harvesting of older trees or else this “will result in old-growth tree stands in the timber production areas” and the “increased likelihood of endangered and threatened species constraints.” He reiterated the county’s view that the timber production areas “should provide as much volume as possible.”
The changes being considered are very different from the Forest Management Plan (FMP) under which Oregon Department of Forestry has been operating since 2001. We have not heard a lot about our state forests the past 10 to 15 years because basically it was managed under a balanced management approach to meet revenue, environmental and social goals. Major modifications were made in the plan in 2009 to reduce older forests to 40 percent, and then in 2011 to reduce it to 30 percent. Now the counties argue for full-scale industrial tree farms on 70 percent of the forest.
There is no question the revenue flowing to Clatsop County from logging in the state forest has served an important function and should continue. The courts have made it clear that the counties have a protected interest based on the how the state acquired these lands in the first place.
In the 1930s and 1940s, many land owners just stopped paying their taxes and walked away from their cut-over or burned land. The counties then turned over the deeds to this land to the state, who agreed to restore, develop and manage them. In return, the Department of Forestry retains one-third of the timber revenue generated; the remainder goes to the counties and local taxing districts.
The county’s interest, however, is not absolute. As stated in ORS 530.050, these forestlands were established for the “greatest permanent value to the people of Oregon.” So the question that needs to be considered by the residents of this county is how many of the environmental and social/recreational values that we treasure are we willing to sacrifice to increase timber production and revenue?
This is an especially important question in Clatsop County since, contrary to the situation in all the other districts, there are no federal forestlands here. If the state forest does not provide needed conservation values above what is provided on commercial timberland, then it will simply not be available in this county.
Our county leaders have weighed in with the occasional letter on this topic, but they are largely silent. Clatsop County, as the leading timber-producer among the northwest districts, needs to raise its voice for a balanced, long-range plan that helps restore rare habitats, protects our salmon habitat and considers the effects of climate change. Spraying should be strictly limited and reduced on our State Forests.
If you agree, then let the governor, the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners and the Oregon Board of Forestry know this.