GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Board of Forestry has taken on a tough job: figuring out how to produce more logs as well as better fish and wildlife habitat through logging on state forests.
The board voted unanimously Wednesday in Salem to embark on a new management plan for three state forests in the northwest corner of the state — the Tillamook, Clatsop and Santiam.
There has been widespread dissatisfaction with the current plan — including from the governor — for failing to meet the statutory goals of producing economic, environmental and social benefits through active management.
Board Chairman Tom Imeson said in a statement that the current plan, from 2001, was based on the best information of the time, and he believes they can do better.
But conservation groups are skeptical that the forests can produce more logs while improving fish and wildlife habitat.
After national forests in Oregon, Washington and Northern California cut logging by 90 percent to protect habitat for the northern spotted owl and salmon in 1994, Oregon adopted a new vision for state forests, where logging would be designed to crate forests with old growth characteristics. However, the new policy did not satisfy the timber industry, which depends on state forests for logs, local counties, which share in state forest timber revenues, or conservation groups, which felt the forests were being thinned too heavily, and too many roads were being built.
The board increased logging and cut goals for older forests in 2009, but the dissatisfaction continued. In 2001, Gov. John Kitzhaber spoke to the board, urging it to find a new approach that makes state forests a model for resolving the conflicts between logging and fish and wildlife habitat that have beset the region for 30 years.
In that spirit, the board also created a new system to make it easier for the public to see just which state forest lands are dedicated to fish and wildlife habitat and conservation, rather than logging.
"Commitments to conservation — and to economic and social values - will all be important outputs of the future state forest management plan we must achieve," State Forester Doug Decker said in a statement.
Jim Geisinger of Associated Oregon Loggers said the forests in Oregon's northwest corner are highly productive, and should be managed more intensively for timber than national forests.
"There is absolutely no reason they shouldn't be turning a substantial profit for the state and in turn for the counties," he said. "They need to be selling more timber — recognizing their growth potential— and be more efficient about selling those timber sales."
Bob Van Dyk of the Wild Salmon Center said the financial structure, where the Department of Forestry is directly funded by the sale of timber, gives the state an incentive to cut trees rather than protect fish and wildlife habitat.
"It remains to be seen whether such a solution is out there," where state forests can produce more logs and more habitat, he said. "We think the governor is going to need to come to the table with assistance to diversity revenue sources to diminish the incentive to just cut more to pay the bills."