The maps of Oregon’s state forests will look different in the not-too-distant future. Whether that means they’ll be managed differently, is another question.
The Board of Forestry approved clearly labeling parts of five state forests as what are called “high value conservation areas.”
Rob Manning reports that environmentalists and timber advocates are already wondering whether new labels on maps will mean bigger changes on the ground.
The Board of Forestry meeting Thursday drew dozens of people to find out whether the agency would take a step toward conservation on state forest land.
The large conference room at the agency’s Tillamook office was so packed that board chair John Blackwell had to clear many people out.
“We need to be respectful for the laws of the city of Tillamook and we have a number of city officials here. We are only allowed to have 100 people in this room, and we have 100 chairs set out.”
So people who couldn’t find chairs filed into an overflow room. The Board also ran out of time before about half the people who signed up got a chance to testify.
All this interest surrounds areas like this.
This coast range logging road is in a management area for the threatened seabird, the marbled murrelet. But if you looked at a map, that wouldn’t be obvious unless you did some serious digging into Department of Forestry documents.
Under a recommendation presented by the agency’s Northwest-area director, Mike Bordelon, environmental areas like that would be labeled clearly on maps of state forests.
“We are not suggesting that these designations which are currently in special classification, buried in our administrative process - that there’s any change in the outputs or outcomes associated with the forest management plan. We’ve been pretty clear about that with stakeholders and I think we’re trying to be as transparent as possible,” Bordelon says.
Many of the people testifying at the meeting expressed support for the move toward greater emphasis on conservation.
Joshua Pritchard of Astoria was among them, though he worries that the emphasis on labels – “visibility” as the department put it – falls short.
“But visibility sounds a little bit like ‘PR’ to me. And I think that people, our citizens, are really concerned with real conservation measures, long-term.”
At the other end of the spectrum was Tillamook County commissioner, Tim Josi, who worries that labeling conservation areas will lead to permanent reserve areas.
“There is never going to be enough. And so if you create a provision for conservation areas, what’s to stop that from continuing on?”
Josi argues that if the department is headed toward zoning areas for the long-term, environmental areas shouldn’t be allowed to take over.
“If we’re going to create a system like this, that it doesn’t have ‘mission creep’ just kill us over time.”
Two board members had similar concerns and voted against the conservation areas. Perhaps the deciding vote came from Nils Christofferson, who runs the forestry non-profit, Wallowa Resources. He says he supported the current step because it essentially clarified existing zoning.
But he acknowledged that a big question remains around how permanent zoning for certain areas will be.
“I do think that various concerns that have been raised are valid.” Christofferson says he’d like to see an emphasis on environmental results – rather than drawing hard-and-fast borders.
Christofferson’s summary of the big remaining question isn’t far from what a leading environmentalist might say on the issue.
Bob Van Dyk with the Wild Salmon Center helped rally the conservation supporters to the Board of Forestry meeting.
“Our concern is not to put a fence up around a place forever. But instead to have areas that are focused for certain values. And because many of these places were deeply affected, in fact destroyed by past logging operations, they’re in recovery now, and it could be management is needed to help recovery. The point is to designate these places where the goal is recovery, over the long term.”
The Department of Forestry had intended to make recommendations not just about the labels – but about the process for long-term classifications of lands, possibly including protected areas. They postponed that.
The board’s 4-to-2 vote won’t put new labels on forestry maps right away. Department staff first have to write the new rules – a process likely to take months.