By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- Gov. John Kitzhaber urged the Oregon Board of Forestry to take a lead role in efforts to instill more active management of federal forests in the state.
In welcoming two new board members, including new board chair Tom Imeson, Kitzhaber on Jan. 9 made clear his priorities for federal forests in Oregon, saying current management practices are not acceptable.
"The status quo is not working," Kitzhaber said. "It is not working from a management standpoint. It is not working from a political standpoint. And the sooner we can change that, the better off Oregon is going to be."
While the board doesn't have authority over federal forests, Kitzhaber said he believes it can play a lead role "in moving us beyond the status quo."
"I don't think, from the recent track record, we can expect a quick fix out of the United States Congress," he said. "That's not going to change out of the Beltway. But I believe we can lead that discussion, and I think we can change that conversation, change that dynamic."
In laying out his philosophy, Kitzhaber said fire is part of the evolution of forests in Oregon and can't be entirely eliminated. But, he said, "The nature and the state of the lands on which those fires burn is something we can do something about.
"What is a better investment of public dollars, to spend billions of dollars fighting fires after they started, or spending some resources reducing fuel load and making those forests healthier in the first place?" he asked.
"The fact is that last year the federal government spent $1.1 billion in fire suppression and $300 million reducing fuel load and making those forests healthier," he said.
"It doesn't make any sense," Kitzhaber said. "It is just mind-boggling that we continue to do that."
More active management of federal forests in Oregon also can help spur rural economic development in communities dependent on timber for lumber mills, Kitzhaber said.
Last fall, Kitzhaber convened a group of conservationists, county officials and forest product industry representatives to develop recommendations for managing the so-called O&C Lands in Oregon.
The federally owned and managed Oregon and California Railroad Revested Lands, known as O&C Lands, include nearly 2.6 million acres of forested lands in 18 Western Oregon counties.
Overall, federal forests make up about half the nearly 30 million acres of forest lands in Oregon.
In addition to welcoming Imeson, Kitzhaber welcomed Michael Rose to the board. Rose, who is from a logging family in Elkton, Ore., replaced board member Steve Wilson.
Imeson, public affairs director at the Port of Portland, has a long history of public service, including serving in Washington, D.C., under former Oregon Sen. Mark Hatfield. He replaced John Blackwell as chair.