Associated Oregon Loggers Condemns Conservation Plan

Photo by Kristy Tallman – Trucks circled the block around the capital on March 7 in protest to the new Habitat Conservation Plan the Oregon Department of Forestry passed at their March 7 board meeting.

The forestry sector and rural communities in Oregon have been jolted by a recent decision made by the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) Board. On March 7, the board passed a contentious State Lands Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), causing uproar due to its potential to significantly reduce state forest timber harvests by 34 percent, resulting in substantial economic and job losses across the state.

In a statement, Rex Storm, Executive Vice President of the Associated Oregon Loggers (AOL), denounced the board’s decision, stating, “This decision is not just devastating; it’s a glaring example of short-sighted policy-making that disregards the intricate balance between our ecosystems and economic vitality.”

The HCP seeks to align western Oregon’s forests with the federal Endangered Species Act, safeguarding habitats crucial for at least 17 imperiled species. However, the plan also involves reducing timber harvests on state forests, which according to opponents of the HCP, could lead to diminished revenue for local county services and a decline in employment opportunities in rural areas already grappling with economic challenges.

During the board meeting, concerns were raised about the lack of transparency and fairness in the decision-making process. Betsy Johnson, the former gubernatorial candidate for governor in Oregon during the 2022 election and a vocal critic, expressed skepticism about the possibility of any changes, suggesting that the decision had been predetermined. “The decision was made ages ago,” she asserted, highlighting what she believed was a lack of genuine debate or consideration for alternative perspectives.

Despite years of public comment and ardent feedback from counties, taxing districts, businesses, residents, and several Board members to improve outcomes and balance the HCP, State Forester Mukumoto and Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) staff remained steadfast in their initial proposal, seemingly overlooking the significant socio-economic and conservation consequences of their actions.

Chair Jim Kelly’s assertion during the vote that, “Projected harvest volumes for the next three years are quite healthy…” was criticized by Storm as a diversionary tactic. Storm emphasized, “Chair Kelly tried to divert attention from the reality of significant timber reductions for the next 70 years by discussing projected future harvest volumes over the next three years, assuring job reliability without directly addressing the negative long-term impacts of the decision.”

To the AOL, the approval of the HCP signals a troubling shift towards more restrictive forest management practices, reminiscent of federal policies from the 1990s that harmed local communities without yielding significant environmental benefits. The plan designates vast areas as ‘no touch’ zones, hindering proper forest management and exacerbating regional timber supply constraints.

AOL maintains that logging is conservation, emphasizing its role in protecting Oregon’s forests from wildfires and insect-borne diseases.

In response to the board’s decision, the Oregon Republican Caucus, like AOL, also criticized the HCP, referencing scientific perspectives, including findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which recognize managed forests as significant contributors to climate mitigation. They stressed the potential benefits of sustainable forest management, including the production of renewable wood products vital for addressing issues such as homelessness, affordable housing, and forest fires.

“The HCP will exacerbate these issues,” they warned, advocating for “proper and sustainable management” of forests as an alternative solution.

Previous to the vote, Governor Tina Kotek had written a letter to the Board dated Mar. 5, 2024, acknowledging the complexity of the decision-making process while commending the Board members for their dedication. She wrote, “This is certainly a difficult week for each of you serving on the Board as you decide whether the State Forester should finalize and submit the proposed HCP for Oregon’s westside forests.”

Kotek’s letter highlighted ongoing efforts to address the fiscal impact on Trust Land Counties resulting from reduced harvest levels anticipated under the HCP. She assured the Board of her commitment to finding solutions, stating, “I see a viable pathway forward to address the estimated reduction in timber receipts that would result from implementing the anticipated HCP.”

In light of these concerns, the AOL calls for immediate action to revisit and revise the HCP to ensure a more balanced approach that can meet both conservation and economic objectives. The organization remains committed to working alongside community leaders, forest operators, and residents to ensure that ODF maximizes allowable harvest volumes under the HCP and that stakeholders’ voices are considered in the ongoing development of a Forest Management Plan for State Forests.