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Board of Forestry Testimony (010814)

Governor’s Remarks

Mr. Chair, members of the board, Mr. Decker. For the record, John Kitzhaber, Governor of the state of Oregon. I appreciate very much the opportunity to join you here today and to hear about the work of your subcommittee on federal forest land management. As you know, I am keenly interested in this issue and have worked hard, as I know you have, to play a positive role given the fact that these are federal lands over which the state has no direct management authority.

During the last two visits that I made to the board, November of 2011 and again about a year ago, I stated that I think we desperately need to look at our federal forest from a landscape approach rather than as isolated islands of ownership. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we are going to change the ownership boundaries between state, federal forests, or even tribal lands. But it does mean, I think, that we can do a much better job than we are doing today by taking this landscape level management approach. Given the state of our federal forests, my initial focus was on suggestions about how we can arrive and restore some sense of sustainable timber harvest on these lands but also institutionalize the conservation that we have received or gained over the last 20 years.

On the dry side forests, what we have is growing convergence between silviculture and economic and environmental values. It's been very refreshing – remarkable, actually – to see counties working with a other stakeholders through forest collaboratives to reach solutions around active management. I think it's been even better and even more exciting to see the U.S. Forest Service stepping up and actually supporting and facilitating these collaborative efforts. So while much work still remains to be done in that area, I think the collaboration has allowed the state to step up its role in a number of important ways.

Early results show now that we have a dry side federal forests program being advanced and backed by dollars invested by the Oregon Legislature through the Department of Forestry budget. We are having a robust conversation about ways that we can potentially achieve an increase in meaningful ways the scope and the scale and the pace of federal forest management through budget changes. We have a unique 10-year stewardship contract on the Malheur Forest, which will provide a better sense of certainty to local timber operations and to communities, and we have a nationally relevant, cohesive wildfire strategic pilot that the Department of Forestry is engaged in over in Union county.

On the west side, we have a somewhat different picture. It's a much more difficult task over here, and we have a whole host of issues, some of them very contentious, that are related to differing silviculture opinions, legal history, legislative history, and the differing views and priorities of a number of Oregonians who live in that area and around the state and indeed around the nation. Our O&C panel took an opportunity to look at a portion of these lands, and while they didn't achieve consensus, I think they made some significant contributions to the larger dialogue.

So with that background, I wanted to come here today because my thinking has evolved from the principles that I described during my last visit to the Board on how, given that 60 percent of Oregon's forested landscape is controlled by the federal government, how we might consider a completely different approach, a change in the narrative, changing the frame, changing the conversation and that would include in my view what I would call modernizing our environmental statutes.

I want to make it very, very clear that I do not support returning to past harvest levels or practices. I am a staunch and unwavering supporter of our nation's environmental laws, but I also think that after 40 years, it's not unreasonable to take another look at them and see whether the world might have changed in the last four decades, and how these laws, in combination with other laws that have been passed around them, are affecting our ability to responsibly manage our federal forestlands. I believe that there is room to create a more sustainable mix of environmental, economic, and social goods and services from these magnificent forests if we are not afraid to ask the question.

I've read the Federal Forest Subcommittee Action Plan, and I really want to commend the members of that subcommittee for some real hard work. I think it's a credit to you both personally and professionally given that you all bring a different perspective to this that you could actually reach consensus on a set of actions that could be considered by our congressional delegation and by state agencies who I think are also eager to engage in this. I'm particularly pleased to see how you recognized and are making recommendations about how single-species management can actually get in the way of larger, landscape-scale management choices and how we can better integrate our federal laws in a way that allows more certainty for land management decisions.

I'm going to take a liberty here to deviate from my prepared remarks without the permission or knowledge of either my forest policy advisor or my communications staff. But I just have to tell you that events over the last couple of weeks and really over the last year have made me step back and look at what we are trying to do here. I have discovered that more and more time in my administration is being spent on forest issues. It's a significant delta and it's increasing. All of these issues that we are struggling with involve this intersection of economic and environmental and social values. But the efforts are fragmented. We are putting huge time and energy in different parts of the state, and in many areas involved in the conflict, there is no connection between the time and energy that we are spending, and no large strategic lens to knit this together. We are involved in the east side forest collaborative, we are involved in the Elliott, we are involved in the Tillamook, we are involved in the Clatsop, and we are involved obviously in the O&C lands.

The thing that strikes me is that we are trying to solve a problem in a solution space that has been enormously constrained and constricted by old laws, old structures, and quite frankly old narratives. On the east side, we have made some tremendous progress on east side forest collaboratives, which we just mentioned. Senator Wyden is striving to scale that up, and I respect his efforts. He is now being sort of assaulted from all sides, which is somewhat inconsistent with the spirit in which we are trying to do this. Obviously, we need to scale that up because we are in this interesting pattern of burning our forests down in the summer, depleting the resources in the U.S. Forest Service, and then have nothing then to invest in managing these forests so they don't burn down the next summer. It doesn't make any sense. It's like telling someone that we won't give you pills to fix your blood pressure for pennies on the dollar, but we will pay thousands of dollars to fix your stroke in the hospital. It's not a paradigm or situation that to me makes any sense. Economically or environmentally.

On the O&C lands, we are constrained by a law that was passed back in the 1930s and by the landscape itself, so our solutions have to be fitted into this landscape – an ownership landscape that might make tremendous sense in terms of financing a railroad but that doesn't make any sense in terms of commercial timber harvest or managing conservation values. But that's the frame in which we are trying to solve this problem, and the solution is also constrained to about 2 million acres of forested land, as though the acres around don't matter or aren't connected somehow.

On the Elliott, we are operating with a forest that essentially is constrained by the Admission Act in 1859, which says we have to manage that forest to maximize revenue for the common school fund. The forest itself was established in 1930. I would suggest that probably the forest looked a little different in 1930, and so did our public education system. The money from the Elliott probably made a big dent in public school financing in 1930; it's not even a drop in the bucket of a $7 billion dollar state school fund today.

On the Tillamook, I don't know if we are constrained, but we have a situation where counties depend on those revenues as they do down on the O&C lands, and also we are trying to develop a new financial management plan so that the Board of Forestry can be viable in a way that gives us a net gain in conservation values, which obviously means we are going to have to be creative in terms of other revenue streams. Tying cutting trees to funding schools or local governments creates a set of perverse incentives and constrains our ability to objectively develop a management plan that actually makes sense. I just think it's time that we begin to come to terms with that.

Then there are the narratives. There is one narrative that says any kind of clearcut, even ecological forestry, is uniformly bad. We've got another narrative that says increasing timber harvests automatically increases jobs. The fact is, when you take technology and log exports into the equation – I’m not passing judgment on technology or log exports – but there is not that kind of linear correlation between job creation and timber harvests that we used to have in the 1970s and 1980s. So we cling to old stories, we let ourselves try to find solutions in a space that makes absolutely no sense, and I guess what I'm suggesting is that if we are going to put this much time and energy into resolving forest issues and the fights are the same, the conflicts are the same, they just vary a little bit in the garb, we need to look at this differently.

I'm not here to tell you that I have the answers to that, but I'm very committed to trying to broaden this conversation and I do think the work of your subcommittee is a very important first step. It's beginning to acknowledge that we have to change something in this mix if we are going to get to solutions.

So in terms of next steps, I look forward to participating in the dialogue that is to come today and to hear as much of the public testimony as I can. Following any final modifications and adoption by the Board of the recommendations of the subcommittee, I would like to share those the plan with the Department of Environmental Quality and the Oregon of Fish and Wildlife Department to get their input. Then, with the collective input from these agencies, I intend to develop my own set of recommendations for consideration by our congressional delegation, by other western governors who I know are very interested in these same issues, and by the range of other people who are very, very interested and concerned about these issues.

I know that Senator Wyden and Congressmen Schrader, DeFazio, and Walden have spent a tremendous amount of time on this issue. I know they have their own ideas on how to move forward on federal forest management, and I hope that our suggestions, based on our on-the-ground experience here in Oregon, can play a part in helping them achieve success – not only in the shape and contours of the legislation, but also in how that legislation is actually implemented on the ground.

Finally, I would say that I would hope the Board would consider maintaining this committee. I think there is a real need for it, particularly if we can continue to sort of reconfigure the landscape in which this conversation takes place, and I hope you will continue to work with your colleagues in other agencies and with me as we try to move forward. I think we have a positive message. I think we can do some very positive things for Oregonians and for Oregon's forests. With that, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to be here, and I want to apologize in advance if I'm not able to stay for all of the public testimony. I've got to leave at 3:45 but my staff will surely brief me on the content.

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