The Oregon Board of Forestry Wednesday began a search for new management strategies to more effectively provide Oregonians with a broad range of benefits from state-owned forests.
The board also created a land designation overlay in its administrative rules to more clearly indicate which portions of state forests are managed primarily for conservation under the current forest management plan.
“State law directs us to manage these lands to produce multiple benefits, including timber harvest, recreation, and diverse fish and wildlife habitat,” said board Chair Tom Imeson of Portland. “Today, we’ve more explicitly identified the conservation components of the current plan, and started a search for better ways to meet our management responsibilities in the long term.”
Conservation area terminology. Following up on a public comment period earlier this year, the board adopted rule changes to more clearly label lands that are managed to emphasize fish and wildlife habitat or other conservation attributes.
Wednesday’s action groups these lands in a new High Value Conservation Area category in the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) land classification system. The classification system tracks and displays lands in various categories, and is therefore adaptable to changes in management approach.
A new management plan. State Forester Doug Decker emphasized that the new conservation area rule is the first step toward making the state's commitment to conservation values more visible on the landscape.
"Commitments to conservation—and to economic and social values—will all be important outputs of the future state forest management plan we must achieve," Decker said.
A new plan would apply to about 615,000 acres under the board’s jurisdiction—primarily the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests in the Coast Range, the Santiam State Forest east of Salem, and scattered small parcels. All told, the state manages about 2.6 percent of Oregon’s forests, with the federal government as the largest owner, with about 60 percent.
By law, the Board of Forestry lands must be managed to produce the “greatest permanent value” for Oregonians, defined as a broad range of economic, environmental and social benefits achieved through active management.
The current management plan, adopted in 2001, has not achieved its goals across these categories. A search for new approaches is consistent with guidance to the board from Governor John Kitzhaber.
“The 2001 plan was based on information available at the time,” Imeson said. “I believe we can do better in the future, meeting our statutory responsibilities, and enhancing the economic as well as the conservation benefits of these forests.”
A schedule that includes technical modeling of alternatives and thorough scientific and stakeholder review could lead to a board decision on whether and how to change the current plan approximately in December 2015.
Ensuring financial viability. Board members also acknowledged the need for prompt action and longer term solutions to address budget challenges in the ODF State Forests program, which is funded almost entirely with a share of timber sale revenues.
A drop in timber prices in the recent recession, combined with under-performance of the 2001 plan, has forced elimination or substantial cuts in research, timber stand inventory, recreation management and other activities. On Wednesday, the board accepted a subcommittee’s recommendations, including evaluating new revenue sources and modifying business practices, such as seeking niche timber markets or timing sales to align with price trends.
Board members acknowledged that achieving a financially sound State Forests program will be foundational in crafting a new management plan.
Decker said, “I’m pleased to see the Board's interest in exploring new business models and funding sources, and believe that both conservation and financial viability can be compatible in that context.”
Imeson reappointed the subcommittee that had evaluated financial challenges, with a new charge to work with stakeholders and department staff in developing and analyzing alternative forest management plans. Imeson chairs the subcommittee, whose other members are Sybil Ackerman of Portland, Mike Rose of Elkton, and Gary Springer of Corvallis.
“This is challenging work,” Imeson said. “Oregonians value their state forests in many different ways. Balancing those interests, addressing our financial issues, and creating a durable management plan will require the best thinking of Oregonians with many points of view.”
About northwest Oregon’s state forests. Most of the lands came into state ownership in the middle of the last century from counties, which received them, in cut-over or burned condition, from private owners, in lieu of taxes owed. Counties deeded the lands to the state for replanting and restoration, in return for a share of harvest revenues, which help fund county government, schools and other local public services.