A new habitat conservation plan for 640,000 acres of state forests west of the Cascades has moved forward for federal review.
State officials said it will provide long-term protections for imperiled wildlife while giving the timber industry certainty about future logging levels. But conservationists say the plan falls short of protecting forest ecosystems and the endangered species that depend on them to survive.
The Oregon Board of Forestry approved a 70-year proposed Western Oregon Habitat Conservation Plan on Tuesday. The plan would provide long-term protections and conservation plans for endangered species and secure forest management practices, according to a Department of Forestry staff analysis.
The Oregon Department of Forestry’s Brian Pew said the new conservation plan will also provide certainty for timber harvest during that time frame.
“More importantly, the timber harvest that comes from state forest provides a lot of local jobs in rural communities. So, jobs in rural communities are really dependent on timber harvest that comes from state forests,” said Pew, the department’s deputy state forests division chief.
Since November 2018, the Department of Forestry has been working on the plan, with a goal of balancing this kind of timber-harvest certainty with compliance with wildlife protections required by the Endangered Species Act.
Currently, state forests are managed under Oregon’s Forest Management Plan, which has been in place for 20 years.
The proposed plan is getting mixed reviews by environmental groups and the forest industry.
Some environmental and conservation groups say they support updating the plan but not in the way the Board of Forestry handled it.
“The plan proposed by the Oregon Department of Forestry, does not go nearly far enough towards protecting endangered species, ensuring healthy watersheds, and securing our climate future. The plan needs bigger stream buffers and protection of more acres for old forest and steep slopes,” Noah Greenwald, the Center for Biological Diversity’s endangered species director, said in a written statement.
Greenwald said a broader discussion is needed to reexamine our relationships to forests.
“Values have changed in Oregon overall. People would rather see these forests used to protect fish and wildlife habitat, for recreation, and even more of what needs to be part of the conversation is climate mitigation,” he said.
Oregon Forest & Industries Council’s Director of Communications Sara Duncan said the Board of Forestry moved forward with a plan to secure protections for the environment with no regard for the social and economic impacts.
“While public lands held by the state are not expected to deliver the same benefits as those managed by private landowners, Oregonians should reject the idea that a 700,000-acre forest would be managed in such a way that it bankrupts its manager, requiring they ask the Legislature to subsidize Department operating costs with public tax dollars to the tune of $12 - 24 million per year,” Duncan said in a written statement. “We strongly hope the Board considers future management plans on state forests that give just as much weighted value to social and economic concerns as it does to conservation measures.”
The proposed plan now moves forward for review under the National Environmental Policy Act.