Debating habitat conservation policy

 

Last updated 6/13/2023 at 9:43am



Dozens of people traveled from across the Pacific Northwest to Sisters last week to testify before the Oregon Board of Forestry.

The Board conducts its meetings at locations around the state, and Wednesday-Thursday, June 7-8 was Sisters’ turn. The public testimony that the Board took at the beginning of an all-day session at FivePine Lodge & Conference Center on Wednesday was impassioned — and it had nothing to do with anything that was actually on the board’s agenda.

The public was there to provide input on a proposed Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) that the Board is expected to decide upon in November. The HCP, which covers some 640,000 acres of state lands west of the Cascades, has loomed large over Oregon Department of Forestry policy making for many months.

Timber industry advocates are concerned that the proposed HCP will restrict the Oregon timber harvest in ways that threaten businesses and jobs and the production of vital products, while environmental activists encourage the Board to enact robust protections for wildlife habitat and forest health in the face of climate change.

The plan is intended to protect the Oregon Department of Forestry from potential lawsuits and ensure compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act over a 70-year period. It is also intended to promote habitat conservation and enhancement projects for protected species.

Detailed information about the HCP can be found at: https://www.oregon.gov/odf/aboutodf/Pages/HCP-FAQ.aspx.

In opening remarks before the public input period on June 7, Board Chair Jim Kelly acknowledged that public interest and concern over the HCP is

high.

“It’s very important for us to get this right, and the potential impacts are very real,” he said.

Kelly said that he believes that the amount of additional land that will be unavailable for timber harvest has

been misrepresented in debate over the HCP. He noted that lands under “planned constraints” would go from 27 percent to 31 percent under the plan.

“That’s real; that has significant impacts,” he said. “But it’s not the sky is falling.”

Timber industry testimony showed skepticism about that characterization.

Jen Hamaker, speaking on behalf of Oregon Natural Resources Industries, presented a petition and proclamations from multiple “timber counties” in opposition to the HCP, which they believe will reduce timber harvest, impacting logging jobs, sawmills, and timber county revenues, damaging rural communities.

“This represents hundreds of thousands of people [that are] against the HCP,” she said. “I hope you can hear that. Stop the HCP. There’s a better way. Communities are going to be

destroyed.”

Other testimony noted that the timber industry provides vital infrastructure products, such as crosspieces for power poles, and availability of those products could be adversely affected if sawmills are forced to shutter due to reduced flow of timber.

Scott Penzarella, owner and operator of Left Coast Lodge, and Executive Director of Sisters Trails Alliance, was the sole Sisters resident who testified, and he indicated strong support for the HCP.

He noted that his work sits at the intersection of outdoor recreation sector activities “that depend directly on tourism... they directly depend on the health of our forests… We are deeply connected and committed to preserving nature through

recreation.”

Like many in attendance, Penzarella tied action to the impacts of climate

change.

“We demand that these forests be ready for a hotter and drier future,” he said. “You manage these forests for us, Oregonians, regardless of where we live, and we deserve better and more equitable management of these lands for

everyone.

“Our forests are asking for help,” he said. “I support, and so do our members, the HCP.”

The Board of Forestry livestreamed their meeting on YouTube, and the video is currently available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4Rl6iRpw4s. Public comment begins at the 45:30 mark.

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

Author photo

Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit www.frontierpartisans.com.

 

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