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The Portland Oregonian

Forest plan charts balance of logging, other uses

Oregon adopts for its western state forests a formula aimed at benefiting harvests and habitat

Thursday, January 4, 2001

By Michael Milstein

The Oregon Board of Forestry on Wednesday approved a new strategy for managing more than 600,000 acres of Western Oregon state forests that seeks to strike an untried balance between logging and wildlife protection but which also may set the stage for a renewed timber debate.

The blueprint for the Tillamook, Clatsop and Santiam state forests relies on logging -- especially the thinning of dense stands -- to convert now uniform swaths of forest into a varied patchwork of sizes and densities that provides for loggers, recreationists and wildlife.

Such a plan is unprecedented in public lands forestry. Rather than setting aside some areas for wildlife and others for logging, it concludes that with enough care state land can provide for both on many of the same acres at the same time.

"It may be experimental in some sense, but it's certainly not risky," said Board of Forestry Chairman David Gilbert. "A much greater risk would be to do nothing and let the forest decay."

But the practice of logging in wildlife habitat is likely to fuel debate as state foresters turn to carrying out the plan's provisions, which were more than five years in the making. That will be especially true when the logging involves older stands attractive to sensitive, protected species such as the northern spotted owls and marbled murrelets.

While less than 1 percent of state forests now resemble old-growth timber -- much of the forests were planted following wildfires decades ago and are uniform in growth -- the plan calls for 20 percent to 30 percent eventually to fit the older-growth category. State foresters think they can push forests toward those percentages more rapidly by thinning forests so the leftover trees grow larger faster.

On Wednesday the Forestry Board emphasized care about older stands by saying the state will not clear-cut them until they cover the 20 percent to 30 percent of the landscape in places where older forests are the priority. That may take 50 years or more.

Gov. John Kitzhaber told the board that the new plan represents "a bold new course and framework of forest stewardship."

But he also urged board members to proceed cautiously "to protect the popular support for the plan" while proving to the public that it works. Instead of logging rare older forests right away, the governor said, the Oregon Department of Forestry should focus its initial work on the overcrowded stands planted after wildfires that scoured much of the Tillamook region in the middle of the last century.

"Employ active management first in areas where there is broad support for doing so and avoid operating in controversial areas," Kitzhaber said. "By doing so, we can put in place the necessary track record of success with this ground-breaking, structure-based management strategy."

The governor also asked that state foresters set clear benchmarks that would show success over the long term. The plan already calls for 10-year progress reviews, but Kitzhaber said the public also "needs to know that these forests are moving -- at a timely rate -- toward the healthy, functioning ecosystems the plan promises."

Kitzhaber also stressed that the state forests must assure a "sustainable and predictable flow" of timber and revenues for local economies. Counties receive two-thirds of proceeds from timber sales on most state lands.

Standing timber in state forests currently is valued at about $5 billion. Brad Witt, a board member, said management outlined by the new plan would support 20,000 jobs directly or indirectly.

The board took no immediate action on the governor's requests, which came after members approved the management plan.

Federal officials still must approve a blueprint for protecting threatened and endangered species habitat in the state forests. That eventually would allow the state to log some of that habitat, a key element of the state's new plan.

Board members noted that while the forest plan will not satisfy everyone, it does uphold the "greatest permanent value" of state forests, as required by state law. They called on both timber industry and environmental groups to work with state foresters to make the plan work.

"It's not perfect; it doesn't have everything we need," said Janet Neuman, a board member from Portland who cautioned that the plan should better protect rivers and streams. "But I think it's a clear improvement and a step in the right direction, and it deserves a trial."

Representatives of environmental groups dominated Wednesday's public comments to the Forestry Board, with many praising the state's work on the plan but saying it does not go far enough to reverse the more intensive logging of past decades.

Kristi DuBois of Vernonia, a Sierra Club member, said neighbors of the state forests are increasingly concerned that the new plan does not do enough to protect drinking water supplies and support recreation. She displayed photographs of logging along rivers, streams and popular hiking trails, adding that she has gathered 400 signatures of local residents concerned that the plan puts logging ahead of other values.

State forests should be held to a "much higher standard" than heavily clear-cut private lands nearby, she said.

And Joe Keating of the Oregon Wildlife Federation said adoption of the plan is "a call to arms" for his group, which in the past has focused mainly on federal forests.


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