'Take avoidance' strategy could increase logging
By MITCH LIES
State agencies could nearly double logging on the Elliott State Forest under a management plan up for consideration.
Under the plan submitted recently for public review, the Department of State Lands and the Oregon Department of Forestry are poised to replace the forest's current habitat conservation plan with "take avoidance."
Under take avoidance, forest managers survey for the presence of endangered species and avoid areas where they are found.
Depending on how wide a setback managers give sensitive areas, the strategy can lead to increased logging.
"This is a movement in the right direction, from our perspective," said Ray Wilkeson, president of the Oregon Forest Industries Council.
The state has operated the Elliott State Forest under a habitat conservation plan for the threatened northern spotted owl since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved the plan in 1995.
For the better part of 10 years, however, the state has been unable to obtain multi-agency federal government approval of a multi-species conservation plan.
The Elliott State Forest includes habitat for the threatened marbled murrelet and endangered salmon runs, in addition to the northern spotted owl.
The state said it will abandon efforts to obtain multi-agency approval of its conservation plan in favor of take avoidance if it can't reach agreement with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the USFWS by Dec. 31 of next year.
Under take avoidance, the state could increase logging on the forest from a 10-year average of 25 million board-feet a year to 40 million board-feet in 2012.
The forest's output last year was 17 million board-feet.
The strategy will allow the state to potentially increase forest revenues and better plan for revenues.
"Our goal is to have consistency, predictability and sustainability of harvest levels over the future," said Julie Curtis, spokeswoman for the Department of State Lands.
Money generated from the forest goes to the Common School Fund. It is administered by the Department of State Lands with direction from the State Land Board.
Wilkeson, who represents private forest owners, said state-owned forests account for only 3 percent of the state's forests. But, he said, increased logging on the state-owned forests could improve logging infrastructure.
"The landowner needs the mills, and the mills need the land and the logs it produces," he said.
The Oregon Department of Forestry, which manages the Elliott State Forest under contract from the Department of State Lands, estimates 75 million board-feet are produced each year on the forest.
Coos District Forester Jim Young said he believes the 93,000-acre forest can sustain logging levels of 50 million board-feet a year, while still providing habitat for threatened and endangered species.
The draft management plan is available at the Oregon Department of Forestry's website, www.oregon.gov/ODF/.
Written comments on the plan must be received by Dec. 30. A second comment period with public hearing will run from May 1 through July 29, 2011.