Published Piece: Talkin’ Trees

Oregon Board of Forestry considers new forest conservation classification; public input sought at upcoming meeting

Published in HIPFiSH Monthly, March 2012. 

Oregon Tree Stand - Erin J. Bernard

Oregon Tree Stand – Erin J. Bernard

Around these parts, you don’t have to walk far in any direction before you find yourself nose-to-bark with some towering hardwood giant or other, and Pearl Rasmussen wants to keep it that way.

The Astoria resident and North Coast State Forest Coalition field organizer sees the sprawling stands of spruce and western hemlock that dot her backyard as a precious natural and cultural inheritance – one Clatsop County residents must band together to preserve and protect.

“A lot of people live here because they feel a close connection to the natural landscape,” Rasmussen said. “Our reputation of being a green state isn’t something we can just rest on; it’s something we have to keep working towards. We have to keep that value alive.”

But how? She’s sure glad you asked.

Those interested in weighing in on the future of Oregon’s forests are invited to attend a March 12 public hearing in Cannon Beach that could alter the way state forestlands are labeled – and treated – far into the future.

In accordance with state law, The Oregon Board of Forestry is holding two public meetings this month to collect input on a proposed change to forestland classifications that would add “High Value Conservation Areas” as a classification within the Forest Land Management Classification System, allowing OBF to better distinguish those areas of state-owned forests being managed with an eye for conservation.

At the moment, all of Oregon’s state-owned forestlands are divided into three types: General Stewardship, Focused Stewardship and Special Stewardship.

The High Value Conservation Area label would be used as a sub-category under the Special Stewardship classification. What qualifies as a “special” conservation value? It might be anything from a stream buffer to a spit of fragile soil to a salmon habitat, Rasmussen says.

In the Clatsop district, the Plympton Terrestrial Anchor, the Buster Terrestrial Anchor and the Sweethome Terrestrial Anchor are all being considered for the designation.

The change was first taken under consideration by OBF last July, thanks in part to the grassroots advocacy efforts of NCSFC.

The Portland-based non-profit aims to support balanced forest management, particularly within what its website calls the “crown jewels” of Northwest Oregon: the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests.

Keeping an open line of communication between the public and OBF is crucial to the success of those efforts.

The seven-members who comprise the OBF guide the Oregon Department of Forestry in its management of more than 800,000 acres of Oregon forests.

ODF takes a three-legged approach to forest management, according to ODF Public Information Officer Kevin Weeks: supporting the environment, ensuring enough timber is harvested to support counties economically, and preserving the recreational value of Oregon’s forestlands.

“We have to take all three of those legs of the stool into account when drafting forest management plans,” he said. “What we’re doing is making sure we meet in the center.”

The board has gotten a welcome earful from conservation-minded Clatsop County residents in recent months, Weeks added.

“A lot of people, especially from Astoria and the Clatsop County area, spoke in support of board taking action to label areas of the Clatsop State Forest as ‘High Value Conservation Areas,’” he said of the July board meeting.

This type of dialogue is exactly what NCSFC is after, according to Rasmussen.

“We see ourselves as a conduit to help people participate in the conversation,” she said.

The coalition has been busy rallying the support and participation of a broad swathe of the community, whether that means bussing them to out-of-town meetings, like they did last July, or offering meeting attendees all the free information and gourmet pizza they can consume, as they’ll do at the Cannon Beach meeting. (Compliments of Cannon Beach’s Pizza a’fetta, if you were curious.)

The current iteration of OBF has been very receptive to public input, Rasmussen says, which presents a golden opportunity to get long-sighted conservation legislation in place.

The revision would apply to all land overseen by the Board of Forestry, which includes the Tillamook, Clatsop and Santiam State Forests in Northwestern Oregon, but the fact that one of the two upcoming hearings will be held in Clatsop County is a positive sign in Rasmussen’s eyes.

“It shows they are paying attention to the people who live in affected communities,” she said.

Conversations about conservation aren’t always easy to have in a community that counts timber among its heritage industries, Rasmussen admits, but she believes that stewardship is also tied up in North Coast heritage.

“Everybody here recognizes timber revenue is important, but it’s also important to balance that with areas managed for habitat and recreation,” she said. “Being able to hear an owl call in the forest or go hiking and not have to see a road is something all Oregonians want and value.”

The classification isn’t expected to affect projected harvest numbers in the foreseeable future, according to Weeks.

“This doesn’t designate any new conservation areas in state forest, nor does it affect proposed timber harvest levels set for now,” he said. “It’s basically a designation on maps so people know this area is meant for high-value conservation.”

The NCSFC will host an hour-long open house before the public meeting, during which attendees can learn more about the proposed changes, ask questions about the coalition’s work, and get assistance in preparing their own testimonials.

An ODF hearings officer will facilitate the public hearing portion of the meeting and be on hand to answer questions, Weeks said.

Comments gathered, along with staff responses and recommendations, will be presented to OBF for review before the rule is considered for adoption, likely at OBF’s June board meeting.

An additional public hearing is set for March 13 in Hillsboro.

The upcoming meetings are just the beginning of the conversation, Rasmussen says, and there’ll be plenty of opportunities to give further testimony and to nominate specific areas for designation later on, with the ultimate goal being to preserve and restore Clatsop County’s wild areas for generations to come.

“I think it’s a real shame that we don’t have a lot of mature healthy forest left,” she said. “But it’s something we can hope for in the future to have in our county, and that’s what’s beautiful and exciting about project – the idea that my great- great- great-grandkids could have huge, old trees to walk underneath.”

 -Erin J. Bernard

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