Common sense in forest management

 

Last updated 6/20/2023 at 9:42am



I was raised in Sisters by grandparents who instilled in me a love of farms and forests and an appreciation for the importance of managing these resources sustainably. This upbringing led me to a career in forestry. Eighty-seven percent of the forestland in Deschutes County is owned by the federal government, which once supported thriving logging and milling infrastructure until the 1990s, when in an attempt to reverse declining spotted owl population trends, federal forests were all but closed to timber harvest. Less than 15 years later, forests around Sisters began to burn at an alarming rate. From 2002-2012, seven times more acres burned around Sisters than in the previous 100 years. Our summers are now regularly seasoned by choking wildfire smoke and an ever-present risk to life, livelihood, and infrastructure.

The “wet” side of Oregon is not immune to these risks. The Tillamook Burn, a series of fires from 1933-1951 that torched 355,000 acres of forestland, was a devastating blow but one that was turned around by active management. Charred wood was salvaged and turned into lumber, and between 1949-1972 more than 72 million seedlings were planted and a billion seeds were dropped from helicopters. As the forest grew, so did the demand for management.

In 1995, I moved from Sisters and began my forestry career on the Tillamook State Forest. The county was known for the highest teen pregnancy rate in the state, the worst county roads, and high rates of crime and domestic violence. By the mid 90s, the Tillamook State Forest was in a position to begin a steady timber program. Jobs and revenue became more consistent and the social fabric began to mend. Logging roads provided forest access and recreators gladly followed. Today, harvest and reforestation efforts continue to produce family-wage jobs and reliable revenue for local taxing districts. The forests also provide quality habitat and clean water for wildlife.

Unfortunately, a handful of powerful Portland-based special interest groups are now pushing a reckless state forest habitat plan that follows the same failed policies that shut down federal forests in the 1990s. The proposed “Habitat Conservation Plan” would reduce timber harvest on state forests by 34 percent for the next 70 years. The costs of this overly restrictive plan, both in terms of lost revenue and jobs and increased fire risk, will be borne entirely by rural Oregonians.

The Board of Forestry seems unable or unwilling to inject some common sense into this process. Slight changes to the plan would better address the needs of local communities, and yet, the majority of Board members have done little more than lament the proposed harvest reduction as an unfortunate hardship. We deserve more than platitudes and hand-wringing from the Board of Forestry. They were appointed to protect the social and economic values of these forests alongside the environmental ones. We can improve conservation outcomes on these forests without sacrificing sustainable harvest levels. We just need leaders to show as much deference to the rural Oregonians that surround these forests as they do to the interest groups that fill their inboxes with form letters.

 

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