Deal sets course for overhaul of private forest management in Oregon

October 30, 2021
Deal sets course for overhaul of private forest management in Oregon

Oregon will pursue a plan to drastically change how 10 million acres of private forests are managed for fish, wildlife and wood.

Timber and environmental groups have reached an agreement that sets Oregon on a course to overhaul management of 10 million acres of private forestlands in the state.

The deal, announced Saturday by Gov. Kate Brown’s office, concludes more than a year of negotiations between often at-odds sides to develop a plan to boost protections for vulnerable fish and wildlife while shielding the timber industry’s ability to log.

Friday was the deadline for both sides to either reach consensus, abandon the process or move the deadline. Negotiators worked through the day Friday and wrapped up business shortly after 1 a.m. Saturday. Brown and her staff helped push the negotiations to completion.

“Today’s historic agreement is a perfect example of the Oregon Way –– coming together at the table to find common ground, to the mutual benefit of us all,” Brown said in a press release. “Together, this agreement will help to ensure that Oregon continues to have healthy forests, fish, and wildlife, as well as economic growth for our forest industry and rural communities, for generations to come. I would like to thank everyone involved for their role in making this agreement a reality today.”

Jim James with the Oregon Small Woodlands Association similarly praised the compromise.

“We were able to put down the contentious situations that we’ve had in the past and we had a continuous agreement to move forward,” James said. “I think that’s an extreme positive for the state of Oregon.”

In 2020, the sides each planned a series of competing ballot measures that could have turned into a costly political fight. Environmental groups sought, among other priorities, strict limits on spraying of aerial pesticides and improved protection for forest waters. Meanwhile, the timber industry sought compensation for private landowners when state regulations limited their ability to log.

Brown instead pushed for the two sides to negotiate, and their agreement to do so was hailed as historic even then, though it was just a beginning.

Representatives from the timber industry and environmental groups were charged with setting terms to pursue a statewide habitat conservation plan to safeguard fish, wildlife and water quality. A habitat conservation plan, or HCP, is a tool that allows practices like logging or irrigation to continue while minimizing damage to wildlife habitat.

Saturday’s deal sets in motion what could be a lengthy, possibly yearslong process to craft, approve and adopt an HCP into law and begin implementation.

“There’s no doubt that there’s gonna be challenges ahead,” said Sean Stevens, executive director of the conservation group Oregon Wild. “But I do think that this agreement provides a different sort of foundation than we’ve ever had before for tackling those challenges ahead.”

The next step will be to introduce a bill in the Oregon Legislature to make significant changes to the Forest Practices Act to protect riverbanks and streamsides, improve forest roads and allow for adaptive management of private forests. The state will then pursue an HCP, which will require a rulemaking process overseen by the Oregon Board of Forestry (which just approved a new state forester). After that, state leaders can pitch the plan to federal regulators.

Speaking on behalf of the timber coalition, Adrian Miller with the Florida-based forest products company Rayonier said Saturday’s agreement gives timber operators a sense of security going forward.

“I think we’re all really proud to be part of a new era of forestry in Oregon,” Miller said.

Correction: This article has been updated to clarify that the Oregon Board of Forestry selected a new state forester.

By Bradley W. Parks

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