A 600,000 Acre Plan
A 600,000 acre plan Novel
Management Plan of Oregon State Forests Leaves Room for Optimism
By Tim Buckley
Oregon's new State
Forest Management Plan calls for heavily thinning the uniformly
overgrown forest in the North Coast range. The area director (Mike
Bordelon) says that as much as 10,000 acres a year will be thinned
annually, for at least a decade.
The new State Forests Management
Plan approved by the Oregon Board of Forestry in January should make for some
happy logging contractors. The plan will probably mean increased cutting -
mostly commercial thinning - in the 600,000 acres of forest located principally
in northwest Oregon. "During the past 15 years, clear-cut harvest accounted
for most of the timber volume from state forests, with less emphasis on
commercial thinning," said Mike Bordelon, the Forestry department's Area
Director responsible for the state forests in northwest Oregon. "Under the
new management plan, we estimate we'll be thinning about 10,000 acres a year for
at least the next decade," he said.
the forest of diseased stands is the first order of
business. The mostly Douglas Fir forests will eventually
become more diverse, as hemlock and cedar are added.
Timber mill owners, county
officials and environmentalists are less pleased, though guardedly supportive of
the plan. John Hampton, chairman of Hampton Affiliates in Portland, said that
the plan changes the original intent of state forests - away from being managed
strictly for revenue production and towards management for multiple purposes.
County officials have pretty much the same beef, that forests must now be
managed for social benefit, recreation and environmental values, in addition to
monetary return. Environmental groups are upset that the plan doesn't go far
enough to protect the wildlife and habitat from logging activity. In spite of
not being able to please everybody, Forestry department folks seem delighted
with the outcome.
They've put almost six years of
work into the novel plan, including a Herculean effort to involve the public and
other interested parties along the way. If the plan works according to its
design, it could be a model for forest management elsewhere, even on federal and
private forestlands. Until the 1930s, the lands that make up the bulk of
Oregon's state forests were privately held. By then, the old growth had been
cut. A series of forest fires - cumulatively called the "Tillamook
Burn" - lay waste to vast tracts. According to Jim McCauley, the director
of water quality and forest regulation for the Oregon Forest Industries Council,
"the salvage in those forests wasn't worth enough to pay for the taxes
owed." So private landholders gave up their properties to the counties, who
in turn, deeded them to the Board of Forestry, with the proviso that revenues
from sale of timber would be shared with the counties.
Tillamook State Forest as it looks today. In the past, the
forest was managed strictly as a revenue producer.To that
function, the new plan adds social, recreational and
environmental goals and objectives.
State forests have recently been
producing about 200 million board feet of timber annually, which has distributed
$75 million among 15 counties in and around those forests. Approximately $30
million of that was spent on schools in those counties, according to McCauley.
Estimates vary as to how much timber might come off these same forestlands under
the new plan. State Forester Jim Brown said he believes that 175 million board
feet will be harvested annually at first, but the figure should rise to about
300 million board feet annually over the next 40 years.
It will take decades for the
now-uniform forests to become the complex, biodiverse landscape envisioned in
the plan. The first step is to thin and harvest for the general health of the
forests. "What exists today is primarily a closed, single canopy system
that needs treatment," said Bordelon. "Some areas are so dense, there
are no crowns left." Stands that are diseased or too crowded will most
likely be harvested entirely, Bordelon said, "and then we'll start again
with a different mix of fir, hemlock and cedars native to this part of the
"Tillamook Burn" as it looked in the 1930s.
He estimates that as much as
100,000 acres in state forests are now affected by the Swiss needle cast
disease. The rest of the forest will become a patchwork of mature timber,
layered stands and open meadows, designed with both timber value and a healthy
habitat in mind. Customized thinning and reforesting on a watershed by watershed
basis will eventually develop a varied landscape with multiple thriving
resources. "We're restoring an ecosystem and at the same time we're making
use of the timber it produces," said Mark Labhart, district forester in the
Tillamook State Forest. "We think it's a win for everybody."
Bordelon said the discovery of
endangered owls and murlettes living in the relatively young state forest
dispels the notion that endangered species will only live amongst old growth. A
key part of this management plan hinges on that continuing to be the case.
Theoretically, as the plan is carried out, there will always be a supply of
mature stands with layering and older forest structures - between 40 and 60
percent of the forest at any given time - where wildlife can take up residence
when the older stands are harvested. But the federal government must agree on a
separate Habitat Conservation Plan before harvesting can take place in areas
known to house endangered species. An estimated 15 percent of the land will
likely remain untouched, due to sensitive wildlife issues, inaccessibility or
recreation sites, said Bordelon.
of Oregon took over management and began Reforestation
efforts in the early 1940s.
Many of the thousands of miles of
logging roads that once crisscrossed these forests have grown over. Of the roads
that remain in use on the Tillamook State Forest, many are in need of
improvement, according to Bordelon. He said that about $3 million a year will be
spent in the near term to bring roads, culverts and drainage ditches up to
current standards. Because of steep terrain, Labhart said that most of the
thinning will be done by small cable operations. The small diameter timber will
most likely be chipped. He added that those contracted for the thinning
operations will have to be accustomed to "finesse logging."
"We're not the loggers," Labhart added, "so we'll let the
professionals use their best judgement about which trees to cut, once we
describe the treatment and desired condition after harvest."
Brad Will, a Board of Forestry
member said the plan would support 20,000 jobs directly or indirectly. Value of
standing timber in the forests is estimated at about $5 billion. Mike Propes, a
former forester and a Commissioner in Polk County for the past 12 years, said
that "nearly 50 percent of the land in this county is forestland."
Hampton's big timber mills at Willamina and Tillamook depend on the forest
resources for the jobs they provide in the county. Propes said that; "It's
vitally important that these forests are managed properly, so that they can
provide for both county revenue and the environment."
Both Propes and Hampton worked on
the plan during its five-year gestation period. Both are hopeful that the plan's
first goal: "to secure the greatest permanent value to the citizens of
Oregon" will not be misconstrued to mean protection of the environment at
the expense of timber harvests, jobs and healthy community economies.
For his part, Propes said he hopes
that Oregon Legislators will approve the budgets necessary to monitor the forest
management efforts. Hampton, who served on the Board of Forestry under three
different governors, said that neither the timber industry, the counties nor the
environmentalists got everything they wanted in the plan. "We're willing to
live with it," he said, "and I hope the other people who didn't get
what they wanted will also live with it." He's not holding his breath. Tim
Buckley is a freelance writer living in OregonHe has written about federal land
issues since working for the BLM in Alaska in the early 1970s.