Coalition puts forth forest plan
A coalition of more than 30 conservation groups, fishing guides and coastal businesses Wednesday unveiled a blueprint for state-owned forests in the Coast Range that would reserve half of the moss-draped rainscape for protection of fish, wildlife and water quality.
The proposal by the Tillamook Rainforest Coalition would leave half of the forests under an Oregon Department of Forestry plan that uses logging to create a range of forest conditions, from large, dense trees to open clear-cuts. The other half, much of it river corridors valuable to fish and wildlife, would be logged only when needed to thin overcrowded timber.
An economic study commissioned by the coalition said forest protection could have a greater payoff for coastal counties than accelerated logging because it would diversify area economies, ensure clean drinking water and attract more recreation spending.
"This gives us a chance to recover thousands of jobs we have lost because of habitat degradation," said Tillamook fishing guide Bob Rees. He said guides have seen business plunge due to declines in local fisheries.
But commissioners in rural counties that receive proceeds from state logging say the proposal betrays the goals of forests replanted by volunteers after the famed Tillamook fires decades ago. Counties turned the lands over to the state, with the expectation that consistent cutting would generate local dollars, they said.
"People in Clatsop County understand trees are not just a product to be cut and sold," said Clatsop County Commissioner Sam Patrick. "We understand people from the (Willamette) Valley want to come over and walk in the forest, but we also need to provide services for our people that people in the valley take for granted."
The forest reserve proposal may face a challenging legal road. If the Legislature were to approve an upcoming bill writing the changes into law, or voters were to pass an initiative doing so, counties may contest the changes in court as a violation of the deal that transferred the land to the state.
"It's something both sides would have to agree to," said Tillamook County Commissioner Tim Josi.
Current state law requires state forests to be managed for their "greatest permanent value," including timber cutting but also safeguarding wildlife. By some estimates, as much as a third of the forests are already off-limits to logging due in part to fish and wildlife needs.
The forest coalition went to great lengths to argue that greater forest protections would help area communities, not harm them. Businesses including the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Tillamook Guides Association, restaurants, markets and art galleries have signed onto the plan.
Logging overall would not decrease, but it would not increase as much as the state had planned.
"This is not an antilogging proposal," said Guido Rahr, president of The Wild Salmon Center and chairman of the coalition. "We respect the counties' needs for revenue."
Washington County Commissioner Dick Schouten appeared at a news conference Wednesday in Portland. Although his largely urban county receives some revenue from state forest logging, he said clear-cutting spectacular forests of the Coast Range is "like scraping paint off a Rembrandt to paint something else."
Rivers and streams emerging from the state forests supply water to some 350,000 people, including coastal towns and cities in the Willamette Valley.
Economics professors from the University of Montana and Pacific University in Forest Grove compiled a study for the coalition, concluding the Oregon Department of Forestry had neglected many values of forest protection. Healthy fisheries and wildlife could bring coastal counties enough hunting, fishing and recreational spending to drive more job growth than modest increases in logging, it said.
More information is available at www.tillamookrainforest.org.
Michael Milstein: 503-294-7689; email@example.com
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