A plan to protect critical animal habitat in nearly 640,000 acres of western Oregon state forests is nearing its final stage.
A review of the environmental impact of the Western Forests Habitat Conservation Plan was released on March 18 and Oregonians have 60 days to submit their thoughts and concerns to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Fish and Wildlife Service who will be in charge of the authorization of the plan.
The 70-year plan is designed to better protect 17 species identified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. These animals live in the western forests of the state where logging occurs.
The plan would also provide legal protections for logging companies, giving them more assurance about where they could harvest trees and helping them avoid being sued under the Endangered Species Act.
The plan creates a patchwork of protected habitat areas, primarily in Tillamook and Clatsop counties, which cover about 4% of Oregon’s Coast Range.
Currently, the state forest department determines where logging can take place by spot surveying areas to see if any endangered species are present. It’s costing the agency a lot of time and money and disrupting some logging operations, according to Michael Wilson, a department official who worked on the habitat conservation plan.
Under the new plan, which took nearly four years to develop, the agency will focus on protecting critical habitat in areas where species are known or likely to congregate, spawn or nest. feed, rather than investigating places in the western state forests for nests. and animals.
Within the newly protected habitat areas, there would be larger no-logging zones on land adjacent to rivers and streams to protect endangered coho and chinook salmon from sediment and heat. It would also prohibit or enact seasonal bans on logging in areas known to be nesting and feeding grounds for endangered birds like the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet.
The 1,850-page environmental review of the habitat conservation plan includes a “recommended option” and five alternative options for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider when issuing permits critical to the Oregon Forest Department over the next year.
One such permit would allow for the “incidental take” of endangered animals that are killed or relocated to areas outside the 640,000 acres of protected habitat, in exchange for stricter regulations in protected habitat areas.
Public comments on the environmental impact statement will be accepted until May 17, and a virtual public meeting will be organized by the National Fisheries Agency from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday 6 April.
The state Forest Department hopes to have its final environmental impact statement completed in early 2023 and have the West Forest Habitat Conservation Plan ready by next spring for approval by the State Forest Board.
Once implemented, the plan and the health of endangered animals would be monitored by the state Forest Department and enforced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.