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Oregon forester approves controversial habitat conservation plan for state lands

A log truck on the Trask River road near Tillamook.
Amelia Templeton
A log truck on the Trask River road near Tillamook.

Oregon forestry officials are moving ahead with a controversial plan that will reduce logging on state lands west of the Cascades.

The Western State Lands Habitat Conservation Plan will change the way the state complies with the federal Endangered Species Act when logging in state forests.

At a meeting Thursday, Oregon State Forester Cal Mukumoto recommended the Oregon Board of Forestry move forward with the current draft of the plan, with minor adjustments.

“It would be easy for me to kick the can down the road for the next state forester or future board members to have to deal with,” Mukumoto said. “But that doesn’t help the [Oregon Department of Forestry] or communities that rely upon state forest lands for a variety of benefits.”

The Board of Forestry subsequently voted 4-to-3 to continue moving forward with the plan as drafted. Without any major hurdles, the state could finalize it by the end of the year, then get federal input in 2025.

Many timber companies oppose the plan because of projections showing it could reduce timber harvests by 15-25%. A group of loggers showed up to the meeting Thursday to protest.

Rep. Cyrus Javadi, R-Tillamook, represents the region that will be most impacted by this plan: Tillamook and Clatsop counties.

“The people in our district depend on their livelihoods for this,” Javadi told the forestry board. “They’re third-, fourth- and fifth-generation loggers whose lives are going to be turned upside down because of the dramatic reduction in harvest levels.”

Much of the revenues from state timber harvests go toward local services in counties and special districts, like schools and rural firefighting.

A habitat conservation plan allows, to a certain extent, a project to harm specific endangered species during activities like timber harvesting. It also outlines ways the project will otherwise protect those same species.

Currently, the state uses a different method of complying with the U.S. Endangered Species Act called “take avoidance.” Before logging an area, biologists survey habitat for any protected species and outline ways to protect it during logging.

But Oregon Department of Forestry officials have long said that method has historically opened the agency up to lawsuits that allege the department harmed protected species despite its survey efforts.

“We do need an HCP,” state forest division chief Mike Wilson said at Thursday’s meeting. “Take avoidance will not work for us. It’s arguable how well it’s worked for us in the past.”

The state is also pursuing habitat plans for other forestry projects, including the Elliott State Research Forest and the Private Forest Accord.

The Western Oregon State Forests Habitat Conservation Plan covers 640,000 acres of state lands west of the Cascades, mostly in Tillamook and Clatsop counties. The draft outlines protections for 17 species of fish, birds, mammals and amphibians for the next 70 years. They include the northern spotted owl, the marbled murrelet, several salmon species and the coastal marten — all of which rely on mature and old-growth forests.

The plan’s protections include larger buffers around streams to protect water quality and maintain cooler temperatures.

Copyright 2024 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

April Ehrlich is an editor and reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Prior to joining OPB, she was a news host and regional reporter at Jefferson Public Radio.