Groups voice opinions about the Tillamook 50/50 planDisagreements about the effects and intents of ballot Measure 34, also called the Tillamook 50/50 plan, took center stage at a debate Tuesday at this month's Clatsop County Economic Development Council forum.

The Tillamook 50/50 plan would put half of the Clatsop and Tillamook state forests in permanent reserves to create old growth forests, while leaving the other half to be managed as it is now, for timber production as well as ecological and recreational values.

"Measure 34 is really a simple policy question," said Mari Anne Gest, campaign manager and chief petitioner for the ballot measure. "It's a question that asks voters 'Do you value clean water, fish and wildlife protection equal to timber production?'"

Gest and Lyndon Ruhnke of the Tillamook Rainforest Coalition started the debate with a 15-minute presentation in favor of the ballot measure, which was followed by a 15-minute presentation against the measure given by Tillamook County Commissioner Tim Josi and retired forester Bill Lecture.

The primary issue in the state and the nation in the future is going to be clean water, and ballot Measure 34 includes the environmental protections to provide this, argued Gest. The current forest management plan only requires 25-foot no-cut buffers around rivers and streams, which is less protection than is required on private land in Washington State, she said.

The ballot measure would also change the "Greatest Permanent Value" law that guides forestry practices, to emphasize that environmental health and recreational opportunities in the forest have an equal standing with timber production. The current rule, Gest said, is too easily manipulated by special-interest groups.

Ruhnke presented the economics of the ballot measure, and said that "rural areas that have protected areas do better economically than rural areas that do not." The ballot measure would bring back sport fishing-related jobs, and improve the quality of life that brings people to the area.

For the opposition, Lecture began by providing an overview of the current forest management plan.

"The key ideas of it are to manage for structural diversity and complexity across the landscape," Lecture said of the plan, adopted in 2001. The plan also calls for significant monitoring and adapting over time, he added.

Right now, much of the forest is in dense stands of trees, but the goal of the forest management plan is to cut and thin the stands so that they eventually are made up of trees that are a mix of species and ages. The policy was based on sound science and public input, he said, and takes into account environmental and recreational facets of the forest in addition to timber production.

"It's not just focusing on one (value), but integrates them all and makes sure they're compatible over time," said Lecture.

The measure would hurt the counties and state economically, said Josi. With decreased harvests, and after the financial requirements of the ballot measure are met, and the remaining timber revenues get divided, "guess who's left out of this - the counties that deeded the land to the state, they get nothing," said Josi. He cited a study conducted by forest economist John Beuter, which said that the measure would cost $123 million in personal income for Oregonians, and cut 2,650 jobs.

The two sides were then allowed to ask each other questions.

Ruhnke of the Rainforest Coalition asked Josi and Lecture for scientific evidence that managing all of the forest will in fact protect drinking water and salmon habitat. Lecture cited a study that found that the numbers of returning fish are about one-quarter greater now than they were in 1996, and said that there will still be plenty of reserve areas under the current management plan. Although the no-touch buffer around streams is 25 feet, in fish-bearing streams the 75 feet beyond that buffer can only be thinned to let other trees grow, and only until the trees are 80 years old, said Lecture.

Josi cited a study done by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in the North Fork River that found 1.9 million baby fish in the river, which runs through actively managed lands.

Ruhnke said these examples were "anecdotal evidence of fish counts" that were boosted by healthy ocean conditions.

Gest then said that over the last 10 years, Clatsop and Tillamook counties have harvested an average of 116 million board feet of timber per year, and Ruhnke pointed out that Oregon's financial impact study said that 150 million board feet could be harvested under Measure 34's guidelines.

The counties wouldn't be receiving any less money than they have over the last 10 years, said Gest.

"They're not really being honest with you," said Josi. The measure will rewrite the formula for timber revenue distribution, he said. "The counties are basically last in line and there's not anything left," he added.

Gest countered that the ballot measure says nothing about rewriting the formula, or taking money away from the counties, and noted that not everyone agrees with how the state came up with its financial impacts.

Retired forester Lecture then questioned the statement by the measure's proponents that one in 10 Oregonians get their drinking water from the forests, saying that he can only think of 500 residents in Clatsop County who get their water from the forest's water system. The proponents stood by their statement that 300,000 people rely on the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests for drinking water.

Public commentsGest then brought up the public meetings that were held during the development of the forest management plan, and said that the meetings were held only in communities on the North Coast, and the managers did not listen to the 3,400 public comments that were against timber production as the primary focus of the forest.

Lecture said that there were meetings in Portland, Salem and Eugene, and that the Greatest Permanent Value rule does not emphasize one aspect of the forest.

Ruhnke stated that the forest plan is experimental, and that if people are doing something experimental it's best to not do it on the entire forest.

The panel then took questions from the audience. Clatsop County Commissioner Sam Patrick asked if the measure would allow any person in any state to file a lawsuit.

Ruhnke said that the provision in the measure that expedites the hearing of cases related to the forest management is in place to get challenges heard, not to create havoc. But Commissioner Josi said that the ballot measure would put all timber sales that have not yet been auctioned in jeopardy of being challenged in court.

Another audience member said he feared the measure will hurt rural Oregon. Josi agreed, saying it would take away some of the North Coast's limited manufacturing jobs. Gest disagreed, saying she "doesn't look at this as an urban/rural divide." The measure will provide new, long-term jobs in other aspects of forestry and be a good thing for small businesses in the area, she said.

Port Commissioner Larry Pfund said that although he would not vote for the measure, he thinks that the department of forestry should do a better job in terms of its recreation opportunities and protection for rivers. Lecture said that they are working hard to provide better recreation facilities, and said that if you cut the department's budget, recreation projects will suffer.

The audience asked a few more questions, most of which appeared to be sympathetic to the cause of the measure's opposition. The two sides disagreed on other issues, such as the science teams that review both plans and the long term economic impact of the measure, and the discussion lasted much longer than the time allotted in the debate.

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