The “Homesteader” timber sale in the Clatsop state forest calls for the clearcutting of some of the best old growth forest habitat remaining on Oregon’s north coast. The sale features trees over 130 years old and over 200 feet high–relative monsters in a region that has been logged and burned over.
The Oregon Department of Forestry recently presented a timber-centered vision for the new Forest Management Plan on the Tillamook & Clatsop state forests.
Under the proposal, north coast watersheds like the Trask, Nehalem, Salmonberry, Kilchis, and Wilson (below) would be clearcut extensively:
Key proposals included:
- Devoting 70% of the forest to industrial clear cutting and pesticide spraying to dramatically increase harvest.
- Clear cutting most of the new High Value Conservation Areas that are currently protected for older forest.
- A formal policy to prioritize cutting of oldest trees in the “production zone” so species cannot recover.
- Using the extra revenue to increase the ODF budget by 30%.
- Redefining conservation areas to include clearcuts.
No, we are not making this up!
ODF’s plan is very similar to the 70-30 proposal pushed by Hampton Affiliates, a private firm that wants the logs for their mills.
Maps based on ODF data provide images of the current plan and ODF’s devastating proposal. Red areas are removed from conservation protection and opened to clearcutting:
Fortunately, a conservation-minded member of the Board blocked this initial proposal, but ODF leadership have clearly made a power move to expand their budget as the Governor changes. The Department was directed to seek alternative revenues for their state forest program, but are clearly focused only on increasing harvest levels dramatically.
For most people, “salmon” is an expensive, unnaturally pink piece of fish at the grocery store. It is a potential meal, detached from its context by thousands of miles. Even those of us who are lucky enough to live in the Pacific Northwest often have only a distant relationship to these iconic fish. However, there are places where we can bridge the gap and connect with an elusive and integral part of our history, culture, cuisine, and economy.
Just over an hour from Portland, and a mere 30 minutes from the fast-growing cities of Beaverton and Hillsboro, one can sit on an isolated stream bank and share hours with spawning coho salmon. For the uninitiated, this is an eye-opening experience that can open new ways of looking at the natural world on which we depend. However, these are also the last hours of the salmons’ lives. They travel over 100 miles up rivers like the Nehalem, the Salmonberry, the Trask, and the Wilson to spawn where they hatched 3-5 years before, dying in the process of continuing their line.
Oregon coastal coho are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. 2014 saw a very good return, but ocean conditions and inadequately protected inland habitat remain concerns for these fish. The Tillamook and Nehalem basins are producers of some of the strongest and most diverse wild runs of salmon in Oregon, but the emphasis given to industrial timber in the region threatens these strongholds.
Our publicly-owned north coast forests, the Tillamook & Clatsop State Forests, likely hold the key to salmon habitat in northwest Oregon. The management of these lands is currently undergoing a revision. Some stakeholders would like to see these lands managed with even more emphasis on timber production, a move that would likely harm wild salmon and take away the possibility of connecting with these fish.
A parcel of forest only needs to be clearcut once to destroy most of its ecological value for decades and decades. On the other hand, conservation requires constant, long-term, robust protection. That is why, as the Board of Forestry writes a new plan for managing the Tillamook & Clatsop state forests, conservation commitments need to be real–long-lasting, appropriately managed, and mapped.
Current “High Value Conservation Areas,” which we fought hard for for several years, represent an important step forward for the Oregon Department of Forestry. Their designation (covering 140,000+ acres state-wide) has helped to frame the process that will result in a new Forest Management Plan. In part because of these new designations, the Board is strongly pursuing a “land allocation” approach, which will see a conservation zone, a timber-emphasis zone, and possibly other zones that, contrasting the current approach, do not move around the landscape. Governor Kitzhaber recently promoted this type of plan.
A land allocation approach has the potential to succeed in improving conservation. Clearly, a large portion of the landscape would need to fall into the conservation zone in order for wildlife habitat and clean water to be adequately protected. 50% of the forest is a conservative estimate. What’s even more important though, is how that allocation is managed and where it is. Current conservation areas are too often managed to produce some timber volume–heavily thinned or even clearcut. In the new plan, conservation areas need to be managed for conservation without any expectation of producing timber. That means forests, left largely untouched, intended to grow old and complex. Not wilderness, but wild.
Another crucial factor in the success of this approach is maps. Public awareness and transparency are of the utmost importance for conservation. Protected areas should not be moved and changed at the discretion of ODF staff on a yearly basis. These areas need to be on long-term, publicly available maps. Oregonians deserve to know where these areas are, and for the sake of healthy salmon runs, wildlife habitat, carbon sequestering old trees, and clean drinking water, these areas should be in the public eye and the public conscience.
Conservation does not work at the whims of political tides and timber projections. It requires durable and robust commitments for the foreseeable future.
I was privileged to attend the Albuquerque 50th Anniversary celebration of the signing of the Wilderness Act by President Johnson. There were two days of local area field trips or a pre-conference training at the Rio Grande Nature Center, followed by four days of panels, keynote speeches, and exhibits at the downtown Hyatt Regency Conference Center and the Albuquerque Convention Center.
I’d like to share some of the thoughts that the Celebration gave me about Wilderness, the Wilderness Act, and lands protection in general; and what they mean to the Sierra Club, as well as all conservation organizations, as we go forward into the 21st Century in a very changed political and public reality.
But first, a bit more about the Celebration.
The Wilderness50 planning team was created as a corporation with 30 members, including all the key government land agencies and national conservation non-profit organizations. More than a 100 additional organizations, foundations, and businesses provided funding and resources for the celebration. For more on this, go to: http://www.wilderness50th.org/about.php. This resulted in a six day event in Albuquerque and the surrounding area featuring field trips, training, exhibitions, 84 presenter panels, 20 keynote speakers, and many social events that connected together a broad range of government employees, activists, academics, and business people in celebration of 50 years of Wilderness for the American people. It was exceedingly well planned and executed, a tribute to the many people in our country who care about our natural legacy.
With so many exciting events all happening at the same time, no one person could be at even a small percentage of them, so every attendee likely came away with different message. Here’s what I came away with:
• Wilderness, and lands protection in general, is in trouble! Even the Wilderness we already have!! As Keynoter Chris Barns (Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center) so eloquently stated: all three support legs of the Wilderness stool are broken. Those are 1) public support, 2) government agency funding and training, and 3) non-profit focus. The latter two are a reflection of the first – a broad erosion in public support for the concept that our pristine public lands need to be protected for future generations.
• Lands stewardship is being broadly neglected by the government agencies. This is a result of a lack of funding from, and in many cases, downright hostility by members of Congress to the concept of public lands protection, even to those already protected. This is resulting in an increasing number of destructive activities occurring without preventive action, and even authorization by government agencies of illegal activities on protected lands.
• Climate change is threatening the health of all public lands. There is very little planning and no funding to mitigate this threat. The “management” of Wilderness Areas is a controversial issue, but climate change, as well as the century long exclusion of fire, are dramatic human “trammels” upon the naturalness of Wilderness, so we need an intelligent conversation about how we deal with these situations.
• Young people!! I looked around and couldn’t believe my eyes – there were young people everywhere. Woo-hoo!
• There were so many energetic, intelligent, and eloquent activists from all persuasions: government; non-profit; academic; and public. It gave me great hope.
• Universal recognition by all sectors represented that we must do more, much more, to educate and sell the need for lands protection, especially Wilderness, to the Public. It must be our focus, otherwise we will fail in this century to keep the protected lands that we have.
So, what to do?
• Educate the Public – We must educate the Public, not just on a generic need for Wilderness or lands protection, but about what it does for them at a personal level: clean water, clean air, solitude, a connection to nature, a home for their favorite animal or tree or flower, or preservation of their favorite place for hiking, hunting, fishing or camping. This education effort needs to become part of everything we do.
• Connect with Young People – We need a greater focus on connecting with young people. This can happen by reaching out to the schools, but is becoming an increasing challenge with the narrowing focus on “curriculums”, such as Common Core, and falling public school funding around the country. We must be creative in tailoring our appeal to be part of the school’s curriculum needs. Also, see the next item on stewardship.
• Become Stewards – Stewardship must become part of our conservation advocacy program. Sierra Club has not traditionally focused on stewardship, but we must add this to our portfolio. I heard many wonderful stories of agency/non-profit stewardship collaboration that’s making a real difference. It’s a highly effective way to connect with young and old, and get them engaged, educated, and trained. Plus, it creates publicity and legitimacy for all our conservation goals.
• Lobby – Every lobbying effort with members of Congress needs to include advocacy for increasing funding for protected lands stewardship. The Wilderness Act and many other laws require the lands agencies to do this, but without funding and direction from Congress, it is not being done.
• Use Economics – I was astonished to see photos of Bend Oregon’s Old Mill District on the screen in Albuquerque, but John Sterling of The Conservation Alliance and Ben Alexander from Headwaters Economics used Bend as their primo example for how protected lands can rejuvenate a community. Even where the other benefits from protected lands are rejected as “wasting our resources”, the $ still changes minds. Go to http://headwaterseconomics.org/ – the amount of locale specific information available there for free is truly amazing.
• Open Minded Thinking – We need to question old attitudes about Wilderness management and future lands protection models, as well as our willingness to work with those with whom we disagree. We are facing new challenges with climate change and a burgeoning population. Our old protection models may no longer be possible in many places, but new models may gain acceptance and accomplish our protection goals. Blindly demanding no commercial activities on federal lands or total passivity in Wilderness Areas immediately eliminates us from the conversation about how these areas will be managed. We must be willing to reason together with other interests, or we place ourselves in the same box as the right wing whackos.
A time of hope:
I came away really uplifted and energized from my six days in Albuquerque. There are many challenges before us, to even retain what we have, but there is a great opportunity to recreate the lands protection movement of the 1950’s and 60’s. Climate change will eventually demand a great rethinking of how we interact with our natural world. That will be our opportunity. We must prepare and be ready to take that opportunity.
Larry Pennington, Oregon Chapter Chair
The Oregon Board of Forestry continues to explore new Forest Management Plans that will both provide financial viability to the Department of Forestry and improve conservation outcomes on the Tillamook & Clatsop state forests. On September 29th, the Board weighed two options developed by ODF. A “Land Allocation” proposal suggested putting at least 30% of the forest into a conservation zone and managing other portions of the forest for different degrees of timber production. A “Landscape Management” proposal is similar to the current forest management plan, with various types of forest structure moved around the landscape over time. The latter proposal suggests sacrificing habitat in smaller forest districts, such as the Santiam. The Board moved a motion to explore/pursue a land allocation proposal, but did not move any specifics such as those in the ODF proposal.
As Ian Fergusson, Resource Director for NW Steelheaders, put it, either proposal has the potential to succeed or fail. The devil is in the details, and as of now, the details haven’t been worked out. In order to improve conservation outcomes, any plan would likely need to improve riparian buffers to provide adequate shade and wood delivery to streams, increase the amount of older forest on the landscape, reduce clearcutting on steep slopes, and decrease the forest road network, which currently is very expansive and can lead to sediment problems in streams. Both ODF proposals include expanding no-cut buffer zones on fish-bearing streams to 115 feet, reflecting current scientific literature that suggests little or no riparian management is best for stream health. 115 feet is a good start, but it is unclear that it is adequate. Non-fish bearing streams would benefit from a no-cut buffer of at least 75 feet. Current standards are much less protective.
The timber industry delivered extensive testimony asking for a zoned approach, such as the “Land Allocation” proposal. However, timber representatives asked for a significant reduction in conservation areas. Their vision would see nearly twice as much landscape clearcut as the current plan! An Association of Oregon Loggers representative urged the Board to curtail public input and not seek public approval when devising a new plan, stating that the timber industry was a more important stakeholder than the Oregonians who own these lands.
The Trust Land Counties, who receive a significant portion of revenue from state forest timber harvests, did not advocate for either proposal nor did they put forward alternative ideas. They argued against the Department pursuing a Habitat Conservation Plan, which would provide habitat and timber predictability for the long-term. The Counties’ unwillingness to meaningfully participate in the process does not bode well for a new plan being created.
Sierra Club staff and volunteers, along with our ally groups in the North Coast State Forest Coalition urged the Board to move forward keeping conservation improvements in mind. The success of either plan hinges on balance, public input, and the best science available. Dollars cannot be the only driver determining the future of these forests. These lands have been over-logged and burnt. They are just beginning to recover, and their protection is crucial to Oregon’s economy and environment.
On June 2nd, Governor Kitzhaber toured the Gales Creek area in the Tillamook State Forest. The Creek, which is surrounded by buffers newly classified as High Value Conservation Areas, is also home to several recent stream restoration projects. Oregon Department of Forestry staff and partner groups lauded the stream enhancement work, which includes extensive log placement to improve fish passage and habitat, but the star of the tour was the Conservation Area:
“Conservation areas are a critical component of healthy, well-managed public forests,” said Governor Kitzhaber. “They support our great coastal salmon runs and produce diverse wildlife and plant habitat. They provide clean water, carbon storage, and recreation values that are hard to replace elsewhere. I’m inspired and encouraged to see the Department, the Board of Forestry, and stakeholders working hard to sustainably manage and conserve these important areas for Oregonians.“
There are now over 140,000 acres of High Value Conservation Areas designated across Oregon’s 800,000 acres of State Forest land. Over 100,000 acres are in the Tillamook & Clatsop State Forests, where forest health is crucial to providing habitat for coho salmon, marbled murrelets, steelhead, northern spotted owls, chinook salmon, red tree voles, and numerous other species. These lands also provide clean drinking water for over 400,000 Oregonians along with diverse recreation opportunities to coastal and Portland metro residents alike.
The Governor emphasized that the best available science would be used to inform the management of these lands and that carbon sequestration is an important role for these forests going forward. The ongoing balanced management of these heavily-logged lands remains a challenge, but the Governor expressed optimism: “We are using the best available science and strong community partnerships to grow healthy forests and guarantee their benefits reach our children and beyond.”
Still, despite the Governor’s leadership in creating these unprecedented Conservation Areas, the future of these lands is in doubt. Sawmill owners and some county commissioners have proposed that the lands be harvested as though they were private industrial timber lands. As the Board of Forestry writes a new plan to manage these forests, we will work hard to ensure that the best available science and public interest are at the forefront of the conversation.
To read the full press release, click here.