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Board of Forestry revises state forest plan to improve economic performance
Plan increases harvest while producing 30-50 percent older forest conditions
 
Major Media Distribution April 22, 2010
Contact -  Jeff Foreman, (503) 945-7506
 
The Oregon Board of Forestry decided Thursday to revise its management plan for state-owned forests primarily in northwest Oregon, to better balance the social, economic and environmental benefits that flow from the lands.
 
The revision increases the forests’ ability to contribute to local economies and support local public services through timber harvests and revenue, while also developing older forest conditions on 30-50 percent of the landscape. This reduces the long-term goal for developing older forest types from the previous 40-60 percent of the landscape.
 
Since these forests are still young and recovering from the Tillamook Burn of the mid-20th century, very few of them possess the older conditions that meet the habitat needs of some animal and plant species . The Board has established a target of achieving 20 percent older forests across the landscape in 20 years, and, collectively, the forests are expected to reach about 30 percent in 80 years.
 
By making this change, the Board seeks to rebalance the social, economic and environmental benefits from state forests, which account for about three percent of Oregon’s forest land base. Economic returns, which have lagged behind projected levels since the plan was adopted in 2001, will now approach 70 percent of those early estimates and begin to meet the board’s financial performance goals.
 
The board voted 5 to 2 for the revision, which also included removing the mandate to obtain a habitat conservation plan (HCP). A HCP is a mechanism to meet federal endangered species laws.
 
Instead of pursuing this federal plan, the state will manage for endangered species on a site-specific basis. Obtaining an HCP was contingent upon further analysis, which showed it was not as effective as originally thought in achieving the Board’s desired mix of environmental, social and economic outcomes. 
 
The board action followed a required public process to change the forest management plan, which is in the form of a state administrative rule. The process included two public hearings in Salem and Seaside, and a public comment period.
 
Local plans to implement the overarching Forest Management Plan will be revised to align with the changes. Some districts will make the adjustment for 2012 operations and the remaining districts will complete the change in time for  2013 operations. Further public comment will be sought as part of these revisions.
 
Affected lands include 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 and other tracts (18,000 acres) near Grants Pass in southwest Oregon.
 
To replace the HCP, the Department of Forestry developed strategies for species that depend on older forests, or are rare in Oregon’s forests. For the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests, this is a list of 40 species identified by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and ODF.
 
The list includes threatened and endangered species.  The strategies are expected to provide short-term protection for these species while the young forests mature and develop into functioning landscapes for all Oregon’s native species.
 
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 approximately 196 million board feet. This represents a 7 percent increase over the recent 5-year average harvest level of 183 million board feet.
 
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.
 
Harvests have been consistently lower than expected and significantly less when compared to industrial forest management. 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.
 
Timber harvesting also provides employment in rural communities.
 
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, snags (standing dead trees) and on-the-ground (decomposing) logs.
 
Stand diversity remains a goal because much of the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests, for example, are currently made up of uniform, single canopy stands about 50-60 years old. The condition of these forests is the result of extensive replanting following large fires and salvage harvesting that occurred in the early to mid-20th century, before the lands became public.
 
On a related topic at Thursday’s meeting, the board received a report from a public advisory group that studied the Oregon administrative rule that defines the purpose, or “greatest permanent value,” of state-managed forestland.
 
The board, which asked for the study, will decide at a future meeting whether to pursue changes in the rule. A significant change could potentially mean changing the forest management plans again to ensure they are aligned with the revised rule.
 
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.
 
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