Photo by Ellen Miller

Friday, November 4, 2011

Gov. John Kitzhaber says forest policies must balance health of habitat and rural communities

FOREST GROVE -- Gov. John Kitzhaber called on the state Board of Forestry Thursday to step back from the "politically driven seesaw management" of the state's timberland and adopt a balanced approach that can be extended to the much larger federal forests as well.

Kitzhaber, in a rare appearance by a governor before the board, said current management practices put state, federal and private forests in isolated silos, when they should be viewed as an interconnected landscape.

"We are mired in ongoing conflict -- timber sale by timber sale, forest by forest -- rather than engaging in a holistic strategy" that balances environmental, economic and community values, the governor said.

The result is unhealthy forests and damaged rural communities, the governor said. The 18 million acres of federal forests, which make up nearly 60 percent of the forestland in Oregon, are choked with unmanaged stands of young fir and pine and produce only 12 percent of the annual timber harvest.

That puts harvest pressure on the relatively tiny state forests, which make up only 3 percent of the forestland base but produce 10 percent of the timber. Meanwhile, private forests make up 19 percent of the land base and produce 75 percent of the timber.

Much of the private timber, however, is exported overseas. West Coast log exporters are on pace to ship $900 million worth of logs this year, compared to $42 million four years ago, the governor said.

Kitzhaber said excessive log exports undermine Oregon's mill infrastructure, hurt communities and put more harvest pressure on the public forests.

"This amounts to nothing more than exporting our natural capital and our jobs," he said. "We are at risk of becoming a timber colony for Asia."

Kitzhaber challenged the board to make several management changes. Among them, he said the board should establish conservation zones in state forests, and likewise define the amount and location of land that will be used for timber production.

He said the state should move away from "structure based" management and should not let harvest revenue targets drive forest management. Timber harvest revenue from state forests supports counties and school districts.

A "land allocation" management approach with both timber production and conservation emphasis would provide stability and certainty for everyone concerned, he said.

To manage Oregon's forests as a joined landscape, the board will increasingly have to work closely with federal and private forest managers, Kitzhaber said. The governor said increased management -- thinning and other logging -- is required to restore the health of federal forests.

Groups at both ends of the state's long-running forest arguments found things to like among the governor's ideas.

The Sierra Club, Wild Salmon Center and Association of Northwest Steelheaders issued a joint statement applauding the idea of establishing conservation areas.

Ray Wilkeson, president of the Oregon Forest Industries Council, said Kitzhaber's ideas are worth a try both on state and federal land.

"If anybody can do it, it would be him," Wilkeson said of Kitzhaber.

In other business Thursday, the board voted 4-2 to approve a management plan for the Elliott State Forest near Coos Bay.

Under the plan, the Elliott's annual timber harvest will increase to 40 million board feet, compared to 25 million board feet under a plan implemented in 1995. The new plan increases the targeted annual harvest to 1,100 acres with up to 850 acres to be clear-cut. The previous plan logged 1,000 acres annually, half by clear-cutting. The new plan will produce annual net revenue of up to $13 million, compared to about $8 million currently.

Board members John Blackwell, Cal Mukumoto, Jennifer Phillippi and Gary Springer voted in favor of the plan. Peter Hayes and Sybil Ackerman opposed it

More than 90 percent of the 93,000-acre Elliott consists of Common School Fund lands under jurisdiction of the State Land Board, made up of Kitzhaber, state Treasurer Ted Wheeler and Secretary of State Kate Brown. The land board unanimously approved the plan Oct. 11.

--Eric Mortenson

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