Forestry group backs governor's push for far-reaching plan


Capital Press

FOREST GROVE, Ore. -- Gov. John Kitzhaber on Nov. 3 urged the Oregon Board of Forestry to work with federal and private foresters and conservationists to develop a statewide approach to forest management.

Kitzhaber said the current framework for managing Oregon's forests does not meet species' needs, forest health or the economic needs of communities.

"One of the central flaws in our current effort to develop a rational and balanced policy for managing forest land in Oregon is that we operate in silos, viewing state lands in isolation from activities on federal land and activities on private lands," Kitzhaber said.

As part of his entreaty, Kitzhaber also called on the board to help end "the politically driven, seesaw management paradigm" that has eroded the state's ability to develop long-term sustainable forest policy.

"My hope and my vision center on ... trying to create a path forward that can unify often competing interests that have divided us in the past," Kitzhaber said.

In a 30-minute speech that touched on several aspects of forest policy, Kitzhaber pointed out that federal forests account for 17.9 million acres of the 30.5 million acres of forest in Oregon, or almost 60 percent, yet generate only 12 percent of the state's timber production.

As a result, he said, many look to federal lands "as the de facto conservation base" that produces habitat needs for fish and wildlife.

State lands make up just 3 percent of the forested acreage in Oregon, yet generate 10 percent of the state's timber production. Private companies own about 20 percent of Oregon's forests, but generate 75 percent of Oregon's timber production.

"This is not necessarily a healthy situation," Kitzhaber said of the discrepancy in harvest levels.

Other issues Kitzhaber raised in his sweeping speech included:

* Consequences of mismanagement in Eastern Oregon forests, which, he said, has led to fragmented habitat, a steep decline in employment for timber-dependent communities and a high risk of catastrophic fire.

* An acute timber supply problem for Oregon mills caused by overseas shipments of raw logs.

* Old-forest habitat in deficit condition across Northwest Oregon, which has resulted in part in the recent decision to keep coastal Coho salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act and a recent finding that the red tree vole warrants listing under the ESA.

Kitzhaber said it is important for forest managers to "examine responsible ways to increase revenue options," including examining carbon sequestration and other market-based approaches.

Kitzhaber also urged state foresters to consider setting aside certain areas for conservation. These could be areas with steep slopes that are prone to erosion, or areas with high value to the public or to species conservation, he said.

Kitzhaber ended the speech on a positive note:

"It is my belief that if we are willing to step back and focus on these key elements, that this Board of Forestry in the state of Oregon has the ability to shape a sustainable management policy that can be a model for how to simultaneously achieve our environmental, economic and community values," he said.

After the speech, Ray Wilkeson, of the Oregon Forest Industries Council, said he was encouraged by the comments.

"I think (Kitzhaber) recognizes that on both state and federal lands, there needs to be some different things done," Wilkeson said.

If anyone can improve forest management in Oregon, it is Kitzhaber, Wilkeson said.

"He has been passionate about these issues for a long time," Wilkeson said. "He knows the industry inside and out, and he knows the issues inside and out. So if anyone can change the paradigm and improve both the management and acceptance of the policies, it would be him."

State Forester Doug Decker said in a prepared statement that the governor's comment were "well received by the board.

"I look forward to working with him, with our stakeholders and partners, and with the board, to align our work and our expectations as we build our various workplans going forward," Decker said.

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