News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Advisory committee bashes habitat plan

A draft Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) aimed at balancing timber harvesting with protecting endangered species ran into serious criticism Feb. 23 at a meeting of the Forest Trust Land Advisory Committee in Salem.

The panel, which consists of county commissioners from the 15 Oregon counties with state forest property, is charged with advising the Oregon Board of Forestry and state forester Cal Mukumoto on management of the state forests and the distribution of harvest revenues to the timber counties.

The draft HCP covers the 640,000 acres west of the Cascades that are ODF-managed. Overall, the ODF manages about 745,000 acres statewide. All of the forestlands managed by ODF are public lands.

The timber counties, which include Marion and Linn, receive about two-thirds of the harvest revenues from state forestlands. The revenues are distributed to the county in which the harvest takes place.

It was the harvest that was on the minds of the committee members. The industry is reeling from the closure of is reeling from the 2024 closure of mills in Philomath, Banks and Springfield.

The consensus of the county commissioners was that the current HCP protects too much and allows too little harvest.

“A middle ground is not being discussed,” said Courtney Bangs, commissioner from Clatsop County. “I am saddened that we are still focusing on the extremes when the board could choose something down the middle. That’s what the counties are asking for.”

Margaret Magruder, a Columbia County commissioner who also represents Washington and Clackamas, spoke about a Jan. 31 “listening session” in Astoria where timber workers discussed the draft and the Banks closure.

“There was compelling testimony there,” she said. “I sat and talked with loggers, truck drivers and mill workers about these devastating mill closures. There has to be a middle ground.”

“We’re at a tipping point,” said Will Tucker, the Linn County commissioner who also represents Maron, Polk and Benton. “These companies have bled enough.”

Tucker noted that a combined 183 jobs were lost with the Philomath, Springfield and Banks closures but added “that’s just direct jobs. It really adds up to 1,000 to 2,000 jobs” with the ripple effects to the local economy. “And there are also tax losses.”

Mukumoto, who spoke to the advisory committee via Zoom, says he’s continuing to  listen to stakeholders and the public.

“I’m hoping to have enough information to make a recommendation to the board by next week,” he said. “Conservationists like the HCP. Loggers say we need an HCP, just not this HCP. If this is not the right HCP, then how do we get there?”

The clock is ticking. The Board of Forestry is scheduled to meet next Wednesday and Thursday, March 6-7 in Salem, with Mukumoto scheduled to make a recommendation to the board on March 7.

Depending on what the state forester recommends and how the board votes on it, ODF officials say, that will determine whether the plan is submitted as written to the required federal agencies for their review and possible approval or if the department must revise the draft plan. Revisions to the plan would extend the timeline for submitting it to the federal services for review and approval.

The advisory committee is scheduled to give its testimony from 3:30 to 3:45 p.m. on Wednesday, with the Mukumoto recommendation and board deliberations set for 9 to 11:30 a.m. on Thursday. Public comment will be taken from 1:45 to 2:15 p.m. on Wednesday. The meeting is open to the public and will be held in the Tillamook Room in Building C of the ODF complex at 2600 State St., Salem.

The Feb. 23 session also included a lengthy presentation on the history of the HCP planning process by ODF officials, led by division chief Michael Wilson. A key emphasis was the effort, going back to the 1990s, to preserve forest-dependent species such as coho salmon, the northern spotted owl and the marbled murrelet.

Ultimately, the HCP process will produce a plan that seeks to ensure compliance with the federal endangered species act while implementing a forest management plan for the timber under ODF supervision.

A key outcome of the process will be the establishment of “incidental take permits,” which would recognize that the harming or killing of aquatic species protected by the endangered species act can occur even when the forest practices involved were legal. 

Depending on how contentious the process is moving forward, such permits might not be available until 2027.

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