June, 2001





 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. 

Ridding 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. 

The 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 country." 

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. 

The state 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.



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