OP-ED: Lawmakers should leave timber policy to foresters

OP-ED: Lawmakers should leave timber policy to foresters
This Oct. 26, 2005 file photo shows an area of Fiddler Mountain inside Siskiyou National Forest of salvage logging activity in Oregon. A federal judge on Thursday March 31, 2011 has told the Obamma administration it has to go through a public comment period before it can yank the Bush administration's controversial plan to double the amount of logging on federal forests in Western Oregon. (AP Photo/Jeff Barnard, File)

Editorial from The (Portland) Oregonian, April 9, on two forestry bills that lawmakers voted on:

Some things never change. It seems there's always a legislator or two in Salem certain that he knows what's best for Oregon state forests: More logging.

But some things do change, and one of them is what most Oregonians expect from their public forests, a balance of commercial logging with other values, including clean water, fish and wildlife, and recreation.

On April 8, lawmakers held public hearings on two back-to-the-future, cut-first bills that would override years of work that have brought Oregonians ever closer to consensus on how to manage state forests, especially the large Tillamook and Clatsop forests.

One bill, proposed by Co-Speaker Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, would make timber production the primary purpose of state forests. The other, sought by Happy Valley Democrat Mike Schaufler, would treat public forests like private tree farms, requiring timber harvests at 90 percent of the level of industrial management.

Both bills would have been right at home in Oregon in 1980, when logging was still considered the one and only value of public forests.

But decades later, Oregonians see more than logs and timber revenue in the sweeping forests that cover much of the northern Coast Range after recovering from the devastating Tillamook burns of last century. They also see a precious source of clean water, one of the state's few remaining strongholds for wild salmon and a prime recreation area used by tens of thousands of people every year.

You wouldn't know it from the language in these two bills, but scores of people have worked closely with the Oregon Board of Forestry, which oversees state forests, to develop a balanced management plan for the Tillamook and Clatsop. It's been a long, frustrating process, and at times the agency has promised more — more logging, more jobs, more revenues, more protected fish and wildlife habitat — than the forests could deliver. The agency still is struggling to find the sweet spot in the middle of the debate, with the right balance of harvest and conservation.

But the point is that the Legislature should not blithely ignore or override all the efforts that good people have made to reach consensus on the forests.

Oregon has a newly appointed state forester, Doug Decker, a longtime agency leader who is the kind of listener and communicator who can bring people together around a centrist, sustainable forest policy.

The Board of Forestry, led by John Blackwell, has shown a willingness to consider a broader range of forest values, even as the board has increased timber harvest.

It's worth considering the comments from a group of independent scientists who reviewed the state's process for deciding harvest levels: "The performance measures selected imply a view of society's relationship to the forest that was dominant a half century ago, but does not accurately reflect contemporary relationships.... (They) suggest a static view of communities that were once entirely timber-dependent. Few, if any, communities in the state still fit that description."

Things change. And lawmakers should stay out of the way and let state forest management change with them.