Saturday, November 01, 2014

An environmental group's threatened lawsuit over management of the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests would hinder ongoing efforts to craft a new plan to manage these lands, Governor John Kitzhaber and state forestry officials said. "Through years of public-private partnerships, Oregon has made great progress on coastal coho salmon recovery. The Board of Forestry recently adopted, and is now designating, new state forest conservation areas, and we are in the midst of a robust public planning process addressing state forest management that includes ongoing collaborative discussions with conservation groups," said Governor Kitzhaber. "Threats of litigation undermine that progress and inject uncertainty into our next steps. It's hard to see how this legal saber-rattling helps improve state forests for all Oregonians."

Last week, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue the Department of Forestry, alleging harm to coastal coho salmon listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Following years of habitat restoration efforts under the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds, improvements in forest practices, and positive ocean conditions, coastal coho salmon spawning numbers in Oregon have reached record levels. In the past decade, average spawning numbers have increased, and in 2011 356,246 native spawning coho returned, which is the largest return since recording began in 1950.

Meanwhile, the Governor has tasked the Board of Forestry with crafting a new plan for more than 636,000 acres of state-owned forests in northwestern Oregon. The best-known of these lands are the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests in the northern Coast Range.

Last June, the Board committed to a planning effort that seeks to improve economic viability as well as conservation outcomes from state forests, most of which passed from private ownership to counties through tax foreclosure, following logging and large fires in the middle of the last century. The counties then deeded the lands to the state for restoration and long-term management. A share of timber proceeds now helps support education and other local public services.

Because of their fire and logging history, most of these forests are less than 80 years old.

State law requires production of a full range of benefits from state forest lands, such as timber production, recreation, wildlife habitat and clean water. Under the current forest management plan, however, the state's revenue from timber sale proceeds and other sources has not covered the costs of managing and protecting the forests.

Over the past four months, a stakeholder workgroup of conservation representatives, local timber industry executives, county commissioners, recreationists and a citizen advocate has sought agreement on elements of a new management plan. Their ideas will be reviewed by an independent science team and considered by a Board of Forestry subcommittee, which will make recommendations to the full Board for final action this fall.

"A lawsuit would be counterproductive," Board Chair Tom Imeson said. "It would introduce distraction and divisiveness to an already challenging process that's focused on consensus and on what works best for a broad range of Oregonians."

State Forester Doug Decker said the ongoing planning process provides many opportunities for public involvement. "We've invited Oregonians to help us chart the future of these important state-owned forests," he said. "The public interest and most durable long-term solution is best served by gaining the thinking of all interested Oregonians, and from sound science--not from litigation or a court case."

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