Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 4.17.08

Health First
Time to revise state forest practice goals

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a two-part series on forest management in the region. You can find the first at

Oregon’s Forest Practice Act (FPA) allows forest liquidation and the unlimited use of forest poisons and fertilizers, all of which impact human quality of life and publicly owned resources within private forests like water, fish, and wildlife. Because forest management is driven by goals, reforming the FPA’s goals to favor human safety first takes a big step forward in reducing forest poisoning.

The current FPA goal says, “It is declared to be the public policy of the state of Oregon to encourage economically efficient forest practices that assure the continuous growing and harvesting of forest tree species and the maintenance of forestland for such purposes as the leading use on privately owned land, consistent with sound management of soil, air, water, fish and wildlife resources and scenic resources within visually sensitive corridors … that assures the continuous benefits of those resources for future generations of Oregonians.”

How about if the FPA goal read more like this: “It is declared to be the public policy of the state of Oregon to protect humans, soil, air, water, fish, wildlife and scenery from dangerous or degrading forest practices in order to achieve a high quality of human life, the sustained growth and harvest of mature timber, and a continuous flow of all forest resources for future generations of Oregonians.”

By leading with the protection of the public and their forest resources first, forest poisoning could be challenged and reduced under the Forest Practice Act. The health of Oregon’s citizens should come before some out-of-state timber company’s “economically efficient” bottom line!

To encourage safer, saner forestry, the rule-making body, the State Board of Forestry, needs to become more responsive to the well-being and desires of the people than to industry. Though the board is appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate, in reality corporate timber still holds the scepter over a board that wields power over our common forest resources. Making both the state forester and Board of Forestry members subject to the voters through elections might be one way to return reasonable control and accountability to the public.

What about banning clearcutting to reduce forest poisoning? Considering the abundance of ugly, chemically dependent cuts, banning clearcutting has obvious appeal. It would, however, be ecologically and scientifically more defensible to restrict clearcut sizes to a fraction of those currently allowed (240 acres) along with larger established buffers. A 20 to 40 acre unit buffered by similar sized units restocked with 10 to 20 year old trees would provide for regenerating shade intolerant species like Douglas fir or pine. Smaller, better buffered units foster a less chemically dependent forest landscape and slow forest liquidation.

Industry, logging 80 percent of Lane’s total annual harvest, must cut younger trees and more acres each year to “sustain” their output. As they shift from sawtimber to wood fiber, they are “competing” (read “more chemicals”) with third world producers with even fewer environmental constraints.

Another effective way to slow this trend would be to reinstate the harvest privilege tax for owners of over 5,000 acres, “forgiven” since 1999 when House Bill 3575 sneaked through the Legislature. Reinstated, this tax could be coupled to tree age at harvest. Owners who cut younger trees pay more; owners who let their trees grow older pay less. Growing older trees would slow harvest rates and, by diminishing the “economic efficiency” of chemical investment, reduce forest poisoning. Growing higher quality stands would also help regain Oregon’s historical market niche — the processing of mature timber.

Reasonably profitable and poison free industrial scale forest management is possible, as proven by examples like the 100,000 acre Collins Pine Alamanor Forest in Northern California. This kind of sustainable forest management is bolstered by California’s forest practice rules that disallow forest liquidation and unrestricted use of poisons.

Though Lane is hammered more by industrial forestry than other counties, our commissioners can’t interfere with Oregon’s forest practices rules. And our state representatives are either too dependent on industry’s campaign money or too intimated to advocate reform. Bottom line: bringing archaic forest practice rules into harmony with 21st century science and society will take well focused and funded citizen initiative efforts.

Getting a few good initiatives passed won’t be quick or easy, but, if successful, it will provide a safer, higher quality forest environment for ourselves and future generations.

Roy Keene is the senior forester for the Institute For Wildlife Protection.