Timber and conservation groups strike deal to update forest management rules for 10 million acres of private land

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After decades of controversy and a year of intensive negotiations, the conservation and timber groups reached a deal early Saturday to update the rules governing timber harvesting and forest management on 10 million acres of private land in through Oregon.

The Agreement on Private Forests, which was announced on Saturday by Governor Kate Brown, offers a variety of new protections for sensitive and threatened species and would provide more regulatory and legal certainty for logging companies and small forest owners regarding l logging on their land.

The agreement has yet to be codified in new legislation, and the state plans to use it as the basis for proposing a federally overseen habitat conservation plan. Such a plan, if approved by NOAA Fisheries and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, would protect forest land owners from lawsuits under the Endangered Species Act in exchange for firm commitments to conservation of their lands.

These commitments would include larger uncut buffer zones for streams bearing fish; new buffers for streams that were previously unprotected; new rules governing logging on steep slopes to minimize erosion and protect habitat, improve logging and logging roads; new minimum harvest standards for small forest owners; compensation for small forest owners who are affected by the rules; and new protections for beavers, among others.

“This agreement will help ensure that Oregon continues to have healthy forests, fish and wildlife, as well as economic growth for our forest industry and rural communities, for generations to come,” said Brown in a press release.

Friday was the deadline for the parties to come to an agreement, and they worked until 1 a.m. on Saturday morning before signing the agreement. The negotiations arose out of dueling voting measures that the conservation and timber groups proposed in 2020.

To avoid this costly and divisive struggle, Brown negotiated an agreement between timber and conservation groups to hold mediation talks to update the Oregon Forest Practices Act, a law passed in 1971 and revised. on several occasions since that sets standards for commercial logging in the state.

The first step in that process was the passage of Senate Bill 1602 in 2020, which set new standards for aerial pesticide spraying and neighbor notifications and funded discussions that culminated early on Saturday.

Bob VanDyk, the Oregon policy director for the Wild Salmon Center, led the negotiations for the conservation groups. In an email to “Friends of the Forest” on Saturday, he described the contents of the deal.

“A lot. But before I cover that, let me say we tried to get a lot more and we made some very painful compromises,” he wrote. He said the deal promised “More wood, less hot water and a lot of carbon storage as well. The total number of rivers affected by this is not easy to calculate, but certainly several tens of thousands of miles, probably closer to 60,000 miles on 10 million acres.

The negotiations allowed forest land owners and logging companies to help manage a rule change that conservationists see as outdated and long overdue, to avoid more onerous restrictions that could result from a successful voting measure. and reduce the risk of future litigation.

David Bechtold, an attorney who represented the Forest Business Coalition in the negotiations, said in a press release that the agreement heralded “a new era that will deliver the best results for Oregon’s private forests and the communities that depend on it to provide year-round clean water, recreation, renewable wood products and family jobs.

–Ted Sickinger; [email protected]; 503-221-8505; @tedsickinger


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