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.
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.
Over the next year, the Department of Forestry will be reviewing and possibly re-writing the administrative rules that dictate management of Oregon’s state forests, defining the future of some of our state’s most vital natural spaces. Pressures to increase logging on the Tillamook and Clatsop forests is intense. Populations of marbled murrelets, spotted owls, Coho salmon, red tree voles, and other species already struggle to thrive within those borders without the threat of increased timber sales and management that prioritizes short-term profits over long-term forest health. Those most vulnerable species are only signposts for the vibrancy of the entire temperate eco-systems in these emblematic forests.
Every citizen of Oregon has a strong interest in the management of our entrusted state forest land, and a duty to advocate for prudent land use! In the past, the relationship between conservationists and timber companies and their proponents has been defined by embittered conflict and hostility – and often lawsuits. While seeking injunctions can be a strategic method for halting dangerous and illegal practices, there are other methods for pursuing conflict resolution and creating viable strategies for species preservation.
The Endangered Species Act contains a provision for Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) – a series of permits and mitigation planning that is usually pursued by non-federal entities that want to build on or log land where endangered species reside. Permits allow the construction or other activity, and the Habitat Conservation Plan explains how the party will help the population grow in other ways. Without vigilant oversight from citizens and non-profits, HCP’s can become unwieldy and risky management plans that harm endangered species. However, they can also be a powerful tool. The State of Oregon could seek an HCP on state forest land to limit the potential for messy and expensive lawsuits, create important wildlife habitat, and provide certainty around timber revenue.