The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) has a big problem on its hands. Last week it became clear that the 70-year State Forest Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) ODF spent years developing will decimate the agency’s budget, do significantly more economic harm to surrounding communities than was previously reported, and shutter many large and small forest sector businesses in the process. While the counties, taxing districts, and local forest sector businesses like Hampton have been sounding the alarm for years, the Board of Forestry has allowed this process to continue based on ODF’s unrealistic promises and inaccurate projections. Whether or not they admit it publicly, ODF is encountering a troubling reality; their proposed HCP isn’t delivering what they claimed it would. It’s time to take the blinders off.
Five years ago, ODF pitched the idea of an HCP to the Board of Forestry under the premise that such a plan would provide certainty and support the twin goals of enhanced habitat conservation and increased financial viability. The plan would increase conservation measures while also allowing for 250 million board feet (MMBF) of timber harvest annually. These harvests generate revenue for ODF operations and county services and create economic opportunities for hundreds of local forest sector businesses and wood manufacturers.
What’s so great about an HCP and how does one go about getting one? A land manager (in this case, ODF) usually proposes a set of long-term plans that include a range of conservation measures and the federal agencies involved in regulating fish and wildlife (NOAA and USFW) give a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down to each plan. Once the federal agencies have signed off on your plan, the likelihood for environmental lawsuits over harvest operations is reduced so long as you follow the plan. Here’s the thing; the agencies don’t tell you exactly what you need to do to get a thumbs-up on your plan. They simply react to the plans they receive.
To the dismay of the counties and surrounding communities, instead of fully analyzing a variety of conservation approaches, and preparing an HCP that delivers the best approach for all Oregonians, ODF staff prepared a single “preferred alternative” and submitted it to the federal agencies blind to the consequences. The Board of Forestry was told submission of the application was merely “a step in the process,” and analysis of how the plan might perform would come later. The federal agencies are now analyzing that plan in isolation.
And how did that plan come together? Almost entirely behind closed doors. Over the course of two years, ODF staff met with other state and federal agencies in closed meetings where lines were drawn on maps and conservation measures discussed in private. Only after the work was completed was it shared with the public and the Board of Forestry. ODF gathered all its eggs in the dark and placed them in a single basket. Occasionally, ODF would release rosy harvest predictions that were greeted with a great deal of skepticism by the counties, rural communities and forest sector workers who reviewed them. In confirmation of that skepticism, those projections were slowly and repeatedly revised downward.
The facts have certainly changed. The question remains, will the Board of Forestry and ODF have the sense to alter course?
Now near the end of their journey, ODF has submitted its preferred alternative to the federal agencies and a little daylight is revealing that the bottom of the basket has fallen out entirely. Last week, ODF released harvest projections for the next two years based on its preferred alternative HCP. Starting this year, annual average harvests will drop as low as 165 MMBF a year, a 34% reduction from the annual 250 MMBF ODF presented to the Board of Forestry just a few months ago. According to ODF, these lower harvest levels are not expected to increase over the 70-year life of the HCP. The counties, along with rural public service providers, residents and local businesses will just have to absorb the social and economic losses, and live with the mess. ODF’s hope, one assumes, is that state legislators will allow some of that shortfall to be offset with dollars from the state’s General Fund.
I believe the festering problems now coming to light are due to a lack of transparency and oversight from the Board of Forestry. No one likes to admit mistakes. There is undoubtedly significant pressure to live with the current plan given the time and energy that has been invested to date. However, this plan would lock the state and the surrounding counties into a long-term management regime that will affect local communities for generations. It would be a disservice to all Oregonians to push through a flawed plan just to save time and face.
Given HCP implementation is resulting in radically different outcomes than what was originally projected, the Board has an obligation to re-evaluate ODF’s proposed HCP. Luckily, the Board has time and options at their disposal. The federal agencies have never claimed a less restrictive HCP that allows for more harvest activity wouldn’t also pass muster. The Board can and should direct ODF staff to prepare a revised HCP (heck, maybe two!) that gets harvests levels back up to the levels proposed at the start of this process. ODF staff have already done a lot of the legwork required, they just need someone to tell them it’s okay to try again.
The facts have certainly changed. The question remains, will the Board of Forestry and ODF have the sense to alter course?
ODF is asking for public comment on the proposed harvest levels and implementation plans that are a direct result of this flawed HCP. If you share our concerns, you can make your voice heard by submitting your thoughts here. Even better, you can send your comments directly to the Board of Forestry at email@example.com and to the State Forester at Cal.T.Mukumoto@odf.oregon.gov
Steve Zika, CEO
The world needs this fiber. It will be harvested somewhere. Why not in some of the most productive and regulated forests in the world? Would you prefer to export your environmental impacts to other poorer countries with less forest regulations? I would rather see American jobs, American lumber, for American homes, instead of importing resources we already have!
Your pursuit of the HCP will cause more harm to communities and contribute to a calapse of our society, Oregon was built on growing , harvesting and manage of our forests. When you lock them up, you restrict all oregonians to a bright future. We need trees to establish new products and to keep our infrastructure in tact. We have watched our Federal Forests get locked up, only to watch them burn. The only thing our Federal Government has created is a fire fighting industry. Please don’t follow their footseps.
Very well stated and reasonable set of arguments Steve. I hope people listen and act on your recommendations.
Our State Forests have been the lifeblood of our local communities and forest products industry in Northwest Oregon for decades. These Forests are healthy and produce some of the best timber, clean water, healthy wildlife populations, and carbon sequestering Forests in North America.
This HCP is fatally flawed and I would hope the Board of Forestry would walk away from the idea of implementing the HCP. Oregon needs to get back to the business of sustainably managing these Forests for the consistent and predictable flow of timber products which these Forests were initially set up for after the Tillamook burns in the 1930’s.
If we don’t produce timber and lumber in Oregon to fulfill our housing needs where will this lumber come from? Probably from some third works Country that has no environmental regulations or laws. I hope those people making this decision on the ill fated HCP can see the big picture and make sure we get our needed lumber from Oregon Forests that are sustainably grown and go back to the drawing board for a better option!
I agree that transparency with the public should be considered early on, before any plan is reviewed by NOAA and USFW. And, certainly once reviewed, a clear response on what it would take to bring the plan into compliance with whatever laws and regulations are pertinent. I’m not sure that simply retreating to the original proposal of 250 MMBF accomplishes any of this–how was that figure arrived at in the first place. In any case, transparency and public inclusion, need to be central to developing such a plan.
Please, let’s get back to managing our FOREST. I witnessed a lot of the conversion from “The Tillamook Burn” to “The Tillamook FOREST”. As a retiree of 33 years (1969-2002) with the US Forest Service at the Hebo Ranger District, I witnessed those who were not impacted at all, devastate a totally self sustainable FOREST, that used to totally support our local school district, provide massive job opportunities and a whole lot more. ODF is totally capable of managing The Tillamook Forest for timber production, wildlife management, and recreation. Let’s MANAGE our State Forest to its potential without special interests groups neutering this FOREST.
This outcome was EXPECTED by any knowing person who has or had a career in the Forest Products sector. Since 1993, I have watched Mega Pulps from the East profit each and every time the Governments arbitrarily reduced timber use. First it was exporting their original stand railroad sections into the export log market. They KNEW they would run out in the 1980s. They operated on unfriendly stock buyouts of companies that had the same stand rotation basis as ODF: 70 years. Medco. G-P, Willamette Industries. And many others. First order of business was to liquidate the standing timber and replant GMO trees to be harvested in half that rotation time. So, with no Federal timber and little other to buy, mills had to liquidate or build new to cut logs 4′ TOP diameter and larger and no larger on the butt end of 20″. Why 20″ NGOs defined “old growth” as trees 22″ diameter outside the bark breast high. Site 1 and 2 managed forests in Oregon grow tress larger than that in over 36 years. I have logged 50 year old doug fir 40″ dbh.
Politically driven tax laws drive timber growing. No expenses of a capital nature are allowed until the timber is cut. In a word, management is NOT a business expense deductible until harvest. Gross revenue has all the expenses from site prep and planting to maintenance and site management up to and including logging are only allowed after harvest revenue is counted. The capital gains are taxed at the time. Most larger timberlands are now managed under tax law as Real Estate Investment Trusts. Essentially, timberland and life insurance are similar in length of life and time. Hedge life insurance liability with timberland.
The larger the holdings, the more an outfit can get to annual harvest and planting, and the only downfall is that they MUST harvest or the trees grow larger than the primary conversion facilities can take due to the 22″ old growth definition. Today, oversize in the South is sold for about $700 a load because the new mills, many Canadian owned, will only receive machine cut and processed logs. No chain saws allowed. The short rotation time is about 24 years. But the machinery costs over $500,000 per unit. 5000 acres cannot support machinery ownership. And now that trees are too big for mills, many times logging costs more than the logs are worth. I would be remiss is I also did not note that the modern mill and efficiencies are with large volumes and quarter billion dollar or more mill investment. No gypo competition today. And when a mill fails, as BOF and ODF seem intent on in Clatsop, Columbia Washington and Tillamook counties, it is NOT going to be replaced. Too costly and as usual, depending on government is a bad bet. Unless, of course, you are part of the government, which today is data and media doing the chores assigned by the deep state and now weaponized Justice Dept, IRS, and writing bad checks on empty accounts.
The end result is more and more concentration in fewer hands of America’s working timberlands. When the State of Oregon decided to NOT log 55% of their land base, there is NO money to run the present woke forestry employment center with the current administrative overhead and employment. Gov Brown did just that to the Elliott State Forest: sold it for a dime on the dollar to OSU and then used taxpayer money to loan the capital to OSU. The Elliot forest had grown the Common School Fund to over a billion dollars. Now it is tinder and
due to steepness of slopes and east of the coastal fog belt, will burn just like it had before the US Govt traded it to the State for all the CSL sections isolated and not available due to unsurveyed and unclaimed public domain closed to occupation by homestead laws. Feds saved survey money and State got access to a single ownership 80,000+ acres. Brown sold it because she and Kitzhaber decided is was the woke thing to do: keep their Green credentials by not challenging NGO ceaseless litigation under ESA.
That aside, the purposeful and deliberate decision to NOT cut state timer failed to note that ODF is financed by the 64% of gross revenue from selling timber. The malign idea is “don’t cut timber and you don’t incur expenses and ESA liability.” The fops and poofs appointed to the BOF by the last four far left Democrat governors are not a majority of folks who understand economics, but only preservation and sequestration. That is NOT a costless process. Yet the revenue stream has choked the agency to where it has not had the funds to collect money due it from Federal agencies and other States for fire fighting contracted assistance. When you run a theater and cannot pay a ticket seller and ticket taker, you are not long to be in that business.
The nanny state now runs a forest ownership with inadequate revenue to pay the salaries and PERS. Nor does it have the resources to pay for wildland fire response. Purposefully made insolvent by academics and bureaucrats who think that they can tax and pay to maintain less access and allow for public use.
The bottom line is that all the while ODF and USFS, BLM, reduced their finances, injured and killed rural Oregon’s forest and ranch economies in favor of subdivisions in Bend, Weyerhaeuser grew larger and larger. Every million board feet of public timber now fodder for fire only increases the value of every acre of timber that Weyerhaeuser, Plum Creek, et al. own and must stay on a defined harvest schedule or they have no market for logs. So they cut every day, and send logs out every day, and Oregon has less timber due to that 60% of Oregon that is Federal, State and other government owned land only maintains and grows an environmental disaster of no longer forested public lands. ODF, BOF and Democrats lied to Oregonians when they sold $13 million in bonds to reforest the Tillamook Burn. When the timber grew back, the tyrannical urban majority voted to not cut it. Much of it needs cutting if only because it was originally reforested with doug fir seed from incompatible sources by elevation, soil type, even state of origin. You can only imagine how seeds from Idaho have failed to prosper on the Oregon Coast. Swiss needle cast? Root rots? I don’t know all the issues. But when you can’t remove, gain revenue, and replant with real native site matched seedlings, you are in idiot. BOF is now idiot ideologues. No other way to explain the arrogance and ignorance. The toady class of woke bureaucrats at ODF are neutered by politics and are never going to risk their jobs.
I see no good outcome in the conversation. I do admire and praise small forestland owners like Starker Forests for their work to grow trees for harvest in a very smart and responsible way. Family is the stockholder. They have fought to keep their independence. They are an example for forest management. None take the time to be shown by the Starker Forests how they have changed, modified, improved, by doing. You never make scrambled eggs until you break an egg. You trust that good husbandry of your chickens will ensure there are more eggs. Oregon Board of Forestry is a deficient and arrogant entity. It now is just another of many in Oregon Government. OLCC can’t regulate marijuana and now we see they also might be getting the best “bud” for themselves, as they have done with rare whiskeys. Oregon failed to equally, equitably distribute Federal Covid aid and pay unemployment. Never has been fixed, but covid is not as dire and one wonders how much of that money is going to “other” accounts. Police can’t police. When things go henhouse, the first thing you hear is “our communities of color” charging racism against white male Americans. That is first grade name calling. Same mentality.
I turned 80. I once worked in the same area as the Hampton Family. The Jones Family. They are everything that the State of Oregon is not. Honest, accessible, fair, pleasant, very very smart and dedicated to being better every day. Same with Starkers. Local, invested, and caring. All the the State is not.
“And how did that plan come together? Almost entirely behind closed doors. Over the course of two years, ODF staff met with other state and federal agencies in closed meetings where lines were drawn on maps and conservation measures discussed in private. Only after the work was completed was it shared with the public”
Isn’t this what Hampton, other timber industries and the heads of OSWA did to the small private woodland owners regarding the Private Forest Accord???
It was wrong in both cases.
Who are the people that wrote this HCP?
I wonder if they even have any Oregon Native blood in there veins?
We can’t have ODF taking away the good forest management we currently have.All of our rural community relies on it.And yes if this flawed plan goes through we will probably be getting our lumber from some foreign county that doesn’t care about the environment in any way.Please do the right thing and stop this poorly written proposal.