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Forestry board approves moving forward with a public process to revise habitat goals
Major Media Distribution
Sept. 9, 2009
Jeff Foreman, (503) 945-7506
Forestry board approves moving forward with a public
process to revise habitat goals for state forests
The state Board of Forestry decided Wednesday to move forward with a public process to rebalance forest management by revising habitat goals for state-owned forests primarily in northwest Oregon.
The process will involve public hearings and a comment period, details of which will be developed in the coming weeks. At the conclusion of this process – targeted for the spring – the board will act on the revisions.
If approved in the spring, the revisions will likely take effect in the 2012 annual operations plans. On-the-ground changes would happen in 2012 to 2015, given the multi-year nature of state timber sale contracts.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the board approved – by consensus after some issues were addressed – draft language changes to two forest management plans, the first step in the public process to change the plans. Since the forest management plans are in the form of administrative rule, the revisions will require formal rulemaking. This process provides for public review and comment on the proposed changes prior to final board adoption.
The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) used concepts approved by the board in June to develop the draft language.
Affected lands in one plan would be the Tillamook (364,000 acres), Clatsop (154,000 acres) and Santiam (48,000 acres) state forests, as well as scattered tracts (64,000 acres) in the Coast Range in Polk, Benton, Lincoln and Lane counties. The other plan would affect scattered lands (18,000 acres) near Grants Pass in southwest Oregon. In total, these lands comprise less than 3 percent of the forestland in Oregon.
A proposed change to the plans reduces the goal for developing older forests from 40-60 percent of the landscape to 30-50 percent. This will allow for greater economic returns through timber harvest, but still at a level (72 percent) of estimated outputs under an industrial model.
Recent modeling estimates for the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests show that a goal of 30 percent older forests would result in an annual timber harvest of 196 million board feet. This represents a 5 percent increase over the planned harvest level – 186 million board feet – for 2009.
When the plans were approved in 2001, forest modeling showed that – even with the development of diverse habitat – the forests would produce nearly as much timber harvest volume as a more intensively managed industrial forest.
But harvests have been consistently lower than expected and significantly less when compared to industrial forest management.
Revisions to the plans also seek to provide some certainty about habitat development. They call for achieving 20 percent older forests across the landscape in 20 years, reaching 30 percent in 80 years.
In addition to the habitat goal revisions, the board approved language for implementing new strategies for species of concern to protect a list of 40 species identified by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and ODF. The list includes threatened and endangered species. The species of concern strategies replace all references in the plans to a draft habitat conservation plan that was not successfully negotiated and approved by federal agencies.
The board is pursuing a higher return through timber harvests because it believes the management plans for these state forestlands are underperforming economically. Timber revenue is distributed to the counties where harvesting occurs. Counties, schools and local taxing districts, such as rural fire departments, depend on this revenue to provide public services.
The counties receive this revenue because they deeded these lands to the state many decades ago. There was agreement at the time that when the overcut and burned lands grew into productive forests, the counties would receive a share of the revenue.
The proposed revision retains many aspects of the original plans, including a structure-based management approach that emulates diversity of stand types historically associated with conifer forests. In the context of these plans, complex – or older – forests have some larger trees mixed with smaller trees.
Stand diversity remains a goal because much of the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests, for example, are made up of single canopy stands about 50-60 years old. The condition of these forests is the result of extensive replanting following large fires and heavy harvesting that occurred in the early to mid-20th century, before the lands became public.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the board also agreed on a longer term plan for refining its definition of “greatest permanent value,” the standard that must be used – by law – to manage the forests for broad benefits. The process will include advisory committees to provide input into the development of rule concepts for the board to review next spring.
The current plans set specific goals for one value, the percentage of the landscape that develops older forest characteristics, and assumes that desired levels of other values, including timber harvest, will flow from achievement of that goal.
“We’re interested in a change that would put all forest values on an equal footing,” board Chair John Blackwell said. “They’re all inter-related, and making changes in any of them affects the others.”
After receiving input from advisory committees and other stakeholders, the board could choose to advance one or more of those developed concepts for further public review through the rulemaking process.
Greatest permanent value is defined in state law and administrative rule. It seeks a full range of social, economic and environmental benefits.
Examples of these benefits include timber harvest with resulting revenues for public services in local counties, healthy streams, wildlife habitat and recreation. The rule doesn’t specify how much of each benefit is appropriate. That determination falls to the board.
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