Forest habitat policy to change

A habitat conservation plan for Oregon's state-owned forests worries some counties that depend on timber revenues.

A proposed “habitat conservation plan” for protected species in Oregon’s state-owned forests has alarmed some counties that receive logging revenues from those lands.

Since 2017, the Oregon Department of Forestry has been evaluating an HCP for threatened spotted owls and marbled murrelets, nine protected aquatic species and several wildlife species that may be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

State forestlands are currently managed to avoid killing or harming federally protected species, while an HCP would allow some “incidental take” as long as the plan’s mitigation and prevention strategies are followed.

As the Oregon Board of Forestry prepares to decide whether to proceed with the next phase of the HCP process, preliminary forecasts of timber harvest have caused consternation among some members of the Council of Forest Trust Land Counties.

“This HCP does not reflect any concern or understanding of counties’ financial condition or needs,” said David Yamamoto, chairman of the council and Tillamook County’s board of commissioners, during an Aug. 14 online meeting.

Based on ODF’s modeling data, logging on state-owned forestland in Western Oregon would decline steadily from recent levels of about 250 million to 300 million board-feet a year to roughly 175 million board-feet in 2080, after which harvests would begin rising again, according to the Mason, Bruce & Girard natural resources consulting firm.

About 60-62% of 640,000 acres of state-owned forestland would become unavailable for logging under the HCP, compared to 49% under current management, said Mark Rasmussen, a principal at the consulting firm.

To compare, only about 44% of state-owned forestlands in Western Washington are unavailable for logging under its HCP, Rasmussen said. “Is Oregon being asked to give up more than other landowners who’ve pursued and achieved an HCP?”

The HCP should not replicate economic hardship that occurred in Oregon due to logging curtailments on federal lands after the northern spotted owl was listing under the Endangered Species Act 30 years ago, said Steve Zika, CEO of Hampton Lumber.

“Any kind of reduction of the ODF’s state harvest will have a dramatic effect on many businesses in Northwest Oregon,” Zika said, noting that an HCP would be acceptable as a concept if it were less financially burdensome.

“In order for us to support this HCP, Oregon’s commitments need to be more balanced and in line with other landowner HCPs,” he said.

Yamamoto, the council’s chairman, pointed out that forestry and logging jobs pay an average annual salary of $54,400 in Oregon, while wood products and manufacturing jobs pay an average annual salary of about $51,600 — compared to about $22,750 for jobs in leisure and hospitality.

“These are not living-wage, fully benefited jobs,” Yamamoto said of the tourism industry. “Tillamook is never going to be home to a Nike or a Columbia Sportswear or a Google. Small rural counties really depend very much on natural resource-based jobs.”

The most recent models for how the HCP would affect the ODF’s finances haven’t yet been finished but will be ready by October, when the Board of Forestry is expected to decide whether to undertake a Nation Environmental Policy Act analysis of the plan, said Liz Dent, the agency’s state forests division chief.

When asked why Oregon’s HCP would restrict logging on a larger proportion of land than Washington’s plan, Dent said the conservation areas were designed based on surveys of marbled murrelets and spotted owls conducted over two decades.

There would still be the opportunity to manage forestland within these conservation areas, she said.

“Each HCP is going to be different based on forest conditions, the species we are seeking coverage for, their distribution, (and) it depends who the landowner is and what the landowner’s objectives are,” Dent said.

The HCP is intended to bring regulatory certainty that would allow Oregon to continue managing its forests as “working forests,” but the decision whether to adopt the plan won’t be made until mid-2022, said Peter Daugherty, Oregon’s state forester.

“I don’t consider myself an adversary to the counties but a partner to the counties,” he said.

I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

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