Agency pledges to spare foresters from higher fees
Acting state forester says she aims for broad support
By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- Acting State Forester Nancy Hirsch said the Oregon Department of Forestry will not ask private forest owners to pay a higher percentage of state program costs to offset a decline in revenue.
Private forest owners are in no position to pay a higher percentage, Hirsch said, and asking them to do so puts at risk the future of Oregon's private forests.
"Management of forests in Oregon has evolved to the place where it is becoming a real challenge to maintain forestland as forestland and keeping them as working forests," Hirsch said.
"Because of the costs that exist there for landowners ... the direction from our board is to not increase landowner costs," Hirsch said.
Currently, forest owners pay half the state's firefighting costs and 40 percent of the cost of administering the Oregon Forest Practices Act.
Private forestlands make up 35 percent of Oregon's forests. State forests comprise 3 percent of Oregon's forests. Roughly 60 percent of Oregon's forest lands are federally owned. Tribal and local government ownership make up the other 2 percent. About half -- or 30 million acres -- of Oregon is forestland.
Revenue generated from state forests goes to counties, and in the case of the Elliott State Forest, the common school fund.
The state forestry department takes a portion off the top to pay administration costs.
Ray Wilkeson, president of the Oregon Forest Industries Council, said landowners will continue to pay their current share of state program costs "without squawking." But, he said, "We will resist efforts to shift costs onto us."
Hirsch was appointed last month as acting state forester, replacing Marvin Brown. He resigned Oct. 19 at the request of the Oregon Board of Forestry.
In seeking Brown's resignation, the board cited "a need for ... seeking common ground among groups with historically competing interests.
"The challenges include adequately funding department programs and broadening support for them," the board stated.
Hirsch said the mandate provides "a challenge and an opportunity."
"I think it is going to be important for us as an agency to have a broad suite of support for how we move forward and how well we are able to retain the public share in terms of the funding for our agency," Hirsch said.
The department has formed a stakeholder group to help it meet the mandate. The group includes several large and small industrial family forest owners and at least one representative of the environmental community, Hirsch said.
The board said it would like a permanent state forester in place by Feb. 14, in time for the 2011 Legislature.
In the interim, Hirsch will be steering an agency that is preparing to increase harvest on Oregon's state forests.
Under a plan adopted earlier this year by the forestry board, the state forestry department beginning next year will harvest 195 million board-feet per year in the state's two largest forest holdings, the Clatsop and Tillamook state forests.
Under its existing management plan, the state is harvesting an average of 150 million board-feet per year.
Hirsch said she believes the state can increase logging on the forests and maintain habitat protection for the northern spotted owl and other endangered species.
Under the board-adopted plan, the percentage of the forests preserved for habitat and recreation, called "complex" areas, is being reduced from 40 to 60 percent to 30 to 50 percent.
The budget also is high on Hirsch's short-term agenda.
ODF, like all state agencies, has been asked to submit a budget reflecting a 25 percent cut in general funds.
About $40 million of the department's $303 million budget comes from general funds.
"At 25 percent reductions, we would have severe and significant impacts," Hirsch said.