A new working model for forestlands
BY CHANDRA LEGUE
The unsustainable logging of the past century led to the boom and bust of many rural communities in Oregon and destroyed up to 90 percent of the ancient forests that once covered our region — wreaking havoc on fish and wildlife populations and limiting opportunities for recreation and other activities. The dense tree plantations and degraded streams that now cover hundreds of thousands of acres of public land lack the diversity found in unlogged forests and fail to provide good habitat for many kinds of fish and wildlife. Without restoration, these degraded lands will be unlikely to develop into properly functioning ecosystems.
The recent article on “Forest Stewardship” (EW, 1/10) explored some of the problems with the BLM’s flawed plan revisions that would dramatically increase destructive logging of old-growth forests. The article also tried to link the BLM’s plan with the 2003 Stewardship Contracting Authority, but it does not offer a complete picture.
“Stewardship” refers to a specific set of authorities granted to public land management agencies. It allows for innovative harvest prescriptions, trading goods for services, multi-year “best value” contracting and retention of receipts from a timber sale within the local area. The authority places conditions on the types of projects that can be implemented as stewardship: focusing on the restoration of forests and watersheds, benefit to local communities and collaborative development of management options.
While initially skeptical of the authority, Oregon Wild has, since 2003, been involved in numerous stewardship planning efforts by the Forest Service and BLM, and we have come to support stewardship contracting as part of a win-win solution to balance the needs of rural economies with the need to protect and restore our forests for future generations. While critics of the authority may have legitimate concerns, in our experience stewardship is accomplishing restoration goals with many benefits.
One of the most successful stewardship programs is in the Siuslaw National Forest. There, common ground and trust have been built among a diverse group of stakeholders that historically butted heads — including Forest Service staff, conservation groups, timber contractors, local landowners and watershed councils. The group has worked collaboratively to develop a common vision for restoration that will improve fish and wildlife habitat and the rural economy. With buy-in and agreement from the public on restoration principles, management agencies can successfully plan and implement projects that supply contractors with work, mills with logs and wildlife with improved habitat without the controversy of the past.
Stewardship makes up only a small fraction of public land management. Even so, in the Siuslaw stewardship contracts have to date resulted in thinning 2,000 acres, yielding 25 million board feet of plantation trees to local mills. In addition, the funds retained from the timber harvest have led to more than $1.7 million spent on additional restoration projects on both public and private lands — projects that restore endangered fish and wildlife habitat, improve water quality and build relationships between rural landowners and the managers of neighboring public land.
There is the potential for abuse of any authority, including stewardship: Who defines “restoration”? How do you address the negative impacts of logging and roads on soil, water and wildlife? These are important concerns. Solutions include a collaborative process with broad agreement about restoration goals, multi-party monitoring to hold managers accountable for their actions and careful planning that minimizes negative impacts and maximizes ecosystem benefits. These are safeguards that are all present in the stewardship process.
?The Siuslaw model won’t work everywhere. But other watersheds and collaborative groups can learn from its challenges and successes. The model is already being adapted to fit the needs of watersheds, including the Alsea outside of Waldport, the Clackamas near Portland and the McKenzie here in Eugene’s backyard. We believe that the opportunities for common ground and restoration benefits far outweigh the chances for abuse in these areas. At the very least, stewardship is a huge step forward from the devastating and controversial forest management of the past.
We should not allow something with as many potential benefits as stewardship to distract us from the Bush administration’s continued efforts to increase old-growth logging and dismantle environmental safeguards for our region’s wildlands, wildlife and waters.
Chandra LeGue is the western Oregon wildlands advocate with Oregon Wild (formerly Oregon Natural Resources Council) in Eugene.