Even as we advocate for salmon, other species and healthy natural surroundings, we must seek equitable treatment for our neighbors who live and work in the forest.

When it comes to our regional economy, forestry sometimes seems like a competent uncle who we forget about until our birthday comes around and we begin anticipating a gift check in the mail. In other words, the wood-products industry quietly does good things for us, but tends not to get a lot of positive attention.

Our cover story this month is the result of tours of forests and farms conducted last month in Clatsop and Pacific counties. The business of growing and harvesting products from the land is something our grandparents understood from first-hand experience. But for many or most citizens today, the forest is considered a scenic backdrop rather than a vital economic asset. This lack of personal connection often includes key decision-makers, whose regulatory decisions can have devastating impacts on forestry and the local families who rely on it.

No other citizens are called upon to do more for the our region’s environmental health than those who own forests. This is especially true of the owners of comparatively small wooded acreages. As our story describes, forest owners absorb much of the expense for stream buffer zones designed to aid salmon recovery and enhance overall environmental health. In some cases, these buffer zones amount to a large fraction of a family’s land holdings.

Corporate and state forests also are affected by buffer zones — and by logging restrictions designed to protect marbled murrelets and other endangered species. Tax receipts, local economies and company profits are all impacted. But the plight of individual families exerts a stronger pull on our heart strings.

It’s impossible to imagine that there would not be a civil uprising if government agencies began commandeering large pieces of private buildings or yards in cities and towns. And yet that is basically what has happened all around us in the woodland.

Clearly, there are sound reasons to protect rivers and streams that flow through Northwest forests. Starting in the 19th century, serious mistakes were made that we are still paying for. These included over-harvesting and destructive practices like splash dams that sent torrents of water and logs crashing down through valleys. Congress and state legislatures turned a blind eye. Corruption was rampant.

But these “environmental sins” weren’t committed by today’s owners of small forests, many of whom rely on harvest income to meet personal life expenses. Often, it is patently unfair to impose an oversize share of habitat-restoration costs on this small sub-set of private citizens.

Even as we advocate for salmon, other species and healthy natural surroundings, we must seek equitable treatment for our neighbors who live and work in the forest.

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