Gov. John Kitzhaber talked at length to the Oregon Board of Forestry today. Among his many messages was a call for "a more visible, durable conservation strategy" than the state currently has for its forests.
He told state forest managers to consider roping off separate areas for conservation and timber lands. That would be a way to demonstrate environmental protection in the forests as clearly as revenue models demonstrate the economic benefits of timber harvest, he said. The conservation areas wouldn't be closed to all timber management, he stressed, and there would be equivalent timber areas that would follow "a more industrial forest model."
It's a "land allocation" solution Kitzhaber is also supporting in the long-running dispute over the Bureau of Land Management's O&C lands in southern Oregon. Ideally, he said, the state forests could lead the way and develop a model for federal forest managers to follow.
Here's the full statement he made to Forestry Board Member Gary Springer, who told Kitzhaber the zoning proposal would be a challenge:
"It just seems to me we should at least look at a land allocation approach. I think this going to be the solution if there is on on the O&C lands for a variety of reasons.
(We should be) stepping back and not prejudging acreages at the beginning but saying, 'Where are some significant conservation areas where we want to manage for conservation values, and where can we clearly ramp up and have much more of an industrial forest model? And if we have more fiber than we're harvesting, could we have a strategy and begin to move the cut away from those more sensitive areas?'
I think it's a different way to look at it, but it merits the conversation. There are conservation measures built into your management plan, but they're not as clear a metric as a revenue model. If we're able to have that conversation and have science to support it, and have some traction and find a way to balance these things on the state forests, that's a good model (for the federal lands)."
Board Chairman John Blackwell said the governor's message wasn't a surprise, but it was clearly a set of "marching orders" for the board to follow.
"There was a pretty clear message to us today in his speech: That everyone wants certainty," he said. "The forest products industry wants certainty there will a log supply into the future, into perpetuity. The conservation community wants certainty that there will be conservation areas. So the governor's asked us to examine how we manage timber and how we set aside, for permanency, conservation areas."
Blackwell noted there's still the risk of both sides – timber and conservation communities – being unhappy with the results. Conservation groups might not get as much land as they want in protected areas across the landscape, he said, and the timber industry would be on guard against a "creeping" of zoned conservation areas that gradually close more and more and more areas to logging.
Bob Van Dyk, a forest policy manager for the Wild Salmon Center, said he likes the idea of having permanent conservation areas.
"I don't think there's any question that on the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests – it's a half-million acres between Portland and the coast – that there are some areas that deserve long-range protection," he said. "I think there are also areas that could be open to active timber harvest for the long haul. Our concern has long been there aren't areas that are securely conserved – anchor sites for salmon, key habitat for fish and wildlife, key areas where people recreate. There's just not durable and prominent protection for those areas, and we'd like to see those areas created."
Patricia Roberts, a Clatsop County Commissioner, said there are many different definitions of "conservation" and many different ways of defining a "conservation area." Her county gets a 64 percent share of the timber revenues from the Clatsop State Forest, and she's long supported the state's plan to increase logging on the Clatsop to produce more revenue and maintain local jobs.
"What everyone is finding is the word 'conservation' has very different meanings and no one agrees on it," she said. "What the state foresters are looking at now is defining the areas they're already contributing to conservation and areas where they've already done set-asides and never gotten credit for it – like the land along streams."
She said a "zoning" management model is quite different from the "structure-based" model the state currently uses to manage its forests. That model involves selecting areas for logging so that there are always some sections of the forest that are moving toward old-growth stands, but there are also clear-cut areas, young trees and middle-aged forests.
Right now, state foresters aren't making any moves to create new zoning, she said. "They just want to have a discussion."
Roberts said she appreciated the larger discussion Kitzhaber sparked today about a lack of logging on federal lands putting pressure on state forests to produce more timber.
Federal forests make up 59 percent of the forestland in Oregon, Kitzhaber said, and they have become "de facto" conservation zones in the state. He recommended the Board of Forestry try to work more closely with federal agencies to manage the entire landscape instead of keeping state and federal land in "silos."