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

Committee OK’s ODF habitat plan on 4-3 vote

Oregon Department of Forestry board members have approved a habitat conservation plan for the state’s forests.

The 4-3 split vote on March 7 in Salem is not the final word on the contentious issue. 

The plan still must be reviewed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries.

The HCP process, whose genesis dates to the 1990s, seeks to ensure compliance with the federal endangered species act while implementing a forest management plan for the timber under ODF supervision. The goal is to preserve forest-dependent species such as coho salmon, the northern spotted owl and the marbled murrelet.

Environmentalists cheered the plan for its preservation goals, while timber interests warned of drastic outcomes for logging communities and a markedly reduced harvest in state forests.

“It was not an easy choice. It was an agonizingly difficult one,” board chair Jim Kelly said in an email exchange with The Canyon Weekly.

Kelly also forwarded the text of his comments at the meeting at ODF headquarters in Salem. He noted that “federal forests, representing 60% of Oregon’s forests today, provide only 12% of the total harvest. With so little harvest in federal forests, that has created a lot of pressure for more harvest on private land and on Oregon’s state forests. So, while representing just 3% of Oregon’s forests, these state forest lands produce 10% of the harvest. This is out of balance. I am sure most Oregonians don’t want our state forests to be managed like a commercial tree farm.”

Kelly also said that the 30 years that the plan has been in the works is enough.

“It is time we send a clear message that this Board intends to get this over the finish line, and will not be re-visiting this topic,” he said.

Kelly, a beef rancher from Grant County, was joined in his yes vote by Ben Deumling (a forest manager in Rickreall), Chandra Ferrari (of the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife) and Brenda McComb (professor emerita in forest systems at Oregon State University). Opposing the draft plan were Joe Justice (land manager in Eastern Oregon), Karla Chambers (a Corvallis farmer) and Liz Agpaoa (retired U.S. Forest Service employee).

The board vote followed a recommendation in favor of the HCP from state forester Cal Mukumoto during a two-day meeting that included public comments and a report from the Forest Trust Land Advisory Committee, which advises Mukumoto and the board on management of the state forests and the distribution of harvesting revenues to the timber counties.

The panel, which opposed the draft, consists of county commissioners from the 15 Oregon counties with state forest property. Those counties are Benton, Clackamas, Clatsop, Columbia, Coos, Douglas, Josephine, Klamath, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Polk, Tillamook, and Washington.

Will Tucker, a veteran Linn County commissioner, represents Marion, Polk, Benton and Lincoln in addition to his home county. In his testimony Tucker emphasized the potential job losses “that will reverberate through the community. The loss of family wage jobs with health insurance and retirement kills communities. Communities that today are proud of the environmentally sound jobs and proud of their heritage supplying the wood that builds homes in Oregon. The job losses mean ends of careers, changes to college plans, divorces and even suicides for some with mental health challenges.”

Advisory committee members also noted mill closures earlier this year in Banks, Philomath and Springfield, with the panel and forest product industry officials and advocates blaming the HCP and state and federal policies for logging industry challenges.

“Thanks to arbitrary policy decisions made by politicians and agencies in Salem and Washington, DC., this is now resulting in the loss of mills, jobs and other benefits to our communities,” said Nick Smith, a public affairs official with the American Forest Resource Council in an email exchange with The Canyon Weekly. “And once those mills, jobs and infrastructure are gone, it becomes exponentially more difficult to keep forests healthy, reduce severe wildfire risks and maximize carbon storage and sequestration in our forests.”

“State Forester Cal Mukumoto and the Board of Forestry did the right thing for our shared forests, fish, and birds, all in the face of intense opposition,” countered Casey Kulla of Oregon Wild in an email. “Oregonians spoke up, and the Board of Forestry listened, adopting a state forest habitat conservation plan that is both necessary for following federal law and a compromise balancing timber harvest and protections. There’s a lot of hope today for the future of these forests that so many of us treasure and rely on.”

Kulla’s organization, and a coalition of eight other environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, the Wild Salmon Center and Cascadia Wildlands, challenged industry claims of a logging downturn.

“While some members of the timber industry blame recent mill closures on the state forest HCP, this claim is unsupported by the facts,” a coalition press release said. “Oregon is experiencing an unprecedented investment in mill capacity.”

The statement cited a $700 million expansion by Roseburg Forest Products and plans for a new cutting and stud mill by Sierra Pacific as well as a $150 million investment by Hampton Lumber in Willamina. Hampton closed the Banks mill noted by HCP opponents, but the coalition claimed “this appears to be a case of corporate restructuring and expansion.”

Although not involved directly in the process, Gov. Tina Kotek issued a March 5 statement to the board before the vote noting “my office has followed through on the commitment I made last April to investigate whether and how we might alleviate the fiscal impact to Trust Land Counties from reduced harvest levels anticipated under an HCP.

“That work with representatives of the counties continues, but I want you to know that I see a viable pathway forward to address the estimated reduction in timber receipts that would result from implementing the anticipated HCP. 

“Should the HCP go forward at your direction, I am committed to continuing this work with the expectation of bringing a proposal to the 2025 legislative session to permanently address the estimated shortfall.”

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