Today the Oregon Board of Forestry, on a vote of 5 to 2, changed the law governing state forests for the first time since 2001. They approved changes that lower the amount of older forest the state must provide and they increase the allowable level of clear cutting. The changes affect over 600,000 acres of state forest, including the Tillamook and Clatsop Forests between the Portland metro area and the coast.
The new plan lowers the target for older forest on the forest and increases the target for clear cutting. As a result, 50,000 acres of currently protected stands will be opened to clear cutting. Under the current plan, no more than 15% of the forest can be a recent clear cut. Under the new plan, up to 25% will be a recent clear cut.
Dissenting from the proposed change, Board Member Peter Hayes called the recommendation: “too much, too fast, and too risky.”
A coalition of conservation organizations opposed the changes. Public comments were collected in January, and over 90% of almost 1700 comments received were against the State Forester’s plan and in support of greater protection for state forests. Among the chief concerns from conservation groups are the increased levels of clear cutting, the lack of an independent scientific review of the changes, and the lack of any permanent protected areas for salmon, older forests, and clean water.
Conservation groups have long called for permanent conservation areas on the half-million acres of the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forest that will be affected by the plan changes.
Brian Pasko of the Sierra Club said, “We are disappointed by this decision – the Board of Forestry ignored overwhelming public comment against their plan to increase clearcutting and reduce protections for older forests and salmon streams. Of all days, you’d think on Earth Day they might try to align themselves with the majority of Oregonians who want more protection for our forests, but again and again this Board has shown it doesn’t reflect the mainstream.”
Bob Van Dyk of the Wild Salmon Center expressed concern about the scientific underpinnings of the plan changes. “State law requires the state forest plans to protect and restore fish habitat. The high levels of clear cutting allowed by this change need an independent scientific review before being implemented,” he said.
The effects on endangered species were also a concern. “Today’s decision to increase cutting on the Tillamook State Forest will harm water quality and place coho salmon, spotted owls and numerous other fish and wildlife species in jeopardy. These changes are not in the interest of Oregonians,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director for the Center for Biological Diversity
Some of the key salmon watersheds identified by Oregon Fish and Wildlife are predicted to have very high levels of clear cutting under the approved changes. An internal review by the Department of Forestry noted that under the new plan some watersheds would be at a “high risk” of changing watershed function due to extensive clear cutting, with potentially negative effects on salmon.