All of us who care about the rivers of Tillamook County need to get pumped up for a fight. We need to act, and we need to prepare ourselves for more action in the future. Here’s the deal: A handful of county politicians, backed by the timber industry, are using the current recession as an opportunity to attack Oregon’s State Forests. They have been effective at pushing the Oregon Department of Forestry to drastically increase harvest levels since 2001. But last November, ODF came out strongly against further increases, and recommended that harvest levels be scaled back based on their best science. The timber industry and Oregon’s rural counties were outraged and moved to cut ODF off at the knees.
This week they introduced legislation that would redefine ODF’s mandate for forest management by defining the value of state forests as only timber revenue. Their bill also includes a declaration of emergency upon passage, giving them an express lane to their goal of 90% harvest in 40 years.
Below is the first in a series of articles designed to inform the public and call for action to help us kill this bill. I ask you to read it and distribute it to everyone you can. Post it on your blogs, print it in your mags. If you disagree with what I’ve written, or if you find errors, let me know. I’m happy to work on it until you are satisfied. And there will be more to come–more stories, more details, more photos. The next piece will focus on the positive, by showing off the world-class steelheading that Tillamook County offers, and emphasizing the need to protect her rivers.
Thanks to Bob Van Dyk at the Wild Salmon Center for starting this dialog, to Jeff Mishler for stoking the fire and providing photography, to Dave Moscowitz for consulting on the house bill and political system, and to Guido Rahr, Jay Nicholas and Ivan Maluski for their commitment to the Tillamook.
Let’s kick some ass.
Oregon Counties Reject Science and Attack State Forests, Fish & Wildlife
While President Obama promises America’s citizens that the best available science will lead environmental policy under his administration, a number of Oregon’s state and county politicians are attempting to circumvent science and double the harvest from state forests, putting the future of wild salmon and steelhead at risk. At the center of the debate are the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests, known collectively as “The Tillamook.” The Tillamook encompasses over 500 square miles of temperate rainforest—among the most productive and least protected forestlands in North America. Rainfall in excess of 150 inches per year feed the legendary salmon rivers of the Tillamook—the Nestucca, Trask, Wilson, Kilchis and Nehalem. These rivers are known for producing incredible sea-run fish, but populations have declined sharply in recent years. Some species are at serious risk, including spring chinook and chum salmon. But all of the Tillamook’s rivers support strong runs of wild fall chinook and winter steelhead.
Oregon’s Forest Management Plan (FMP), adopted in 2001, allows for the “sustainable” harvest of up to 150 million board feet of timber per year from the Tillamook. In reality, harvest rates from 2002 to 2008 have bounced between 175 and 225 million board feet. Several county commissioners, backed by the timber industry, want more. The counties need more money to help pay for important public services and schools, and they see the Tillamook as their cash box. The timber industry wants to use the current economic crisis as a lever to ensure unbridled access to Oregon’s public forests.
Logging on the North Fork of the Trask, looking NW across Hembre Ridge towards the Wilson River. How many clear-cuts can you count? This photo was taken last summer. Yet Tim Josi wants to dramatically increase harvest? Photo courtesy of Jeff Mishler
Tim Josi, Tillamook County Commissioner and chair of the Forest Land Trust Advisory Committee, recently stated his belief that harvest levels should be raised to 300 million board feet, and together with some state legislators and the timber industry, is pushing a house bill (HB 3072) to force a dramatic increase of timber harvests from Oregon’s state forests.
Forester managers disagree with the proposed increase. In fact, last November the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) recommended that logging be scaled back to 144 million board feet per year, explaining that coastal forests have proved to be less productive than had been expected.
According to Andy White, District Forester for the Tillamook District, the productivity of many of the Tillamook’s stands was over-estimated in the FMP. “Growth in these stands has slowed dramatically, said White. “Nearly all of the Trask is plagued with simple, poorly growing stands fraught with health issues that are growing slower than they should for the Coast Range.” White was referring to stands that are the result of replanting efforts in the 50s and 60s following a series of catastrophic fires known as the “Tillamook Burn.”
A Legacy of Recklessness
On a hot August day in 1933, loggers in Tillamook’s ancient forest were ordered to halt all activities due to the high risk of fire. Such closures were normal in the driest month of the year, since forest fires were a known hazard. Humidity had reached a dangerous low on this day, and the stop-order spread quickly through the forest. One independent logger, having heard the decree, decided to ignore the risks and ordered his crew to load one more truck. As the last massive log was dragged along the forest floor toward the bed of the truck, eyewitnesses say a spark flared several feet in the air, instantly igniting the log and starting what would become the most catastrophic wildfire in American history. The fire raged and spawned other fires, some popping up many miles from the front line. Over the weeks that followed, firefighters fought heroically to save camps and settlements in the forest. Many settlements were lost, but human lives were saved. Then things got ugly. Winds shifted and the complex of separate fires converged, exploding like an atom bomb into a cloud that mushroomed tens of thousands of feet into the atmosphere. The cloud was seen as far away as Yellowstone Park. Old-growth trees rocketed hundreds of feet in the air in a display that was described as “apocalyptic.” Rain eventually prevailed, as it always does in the Tillamook, but by the time the fire died, it had burned over 240,000 acres, or 375 square miles. Most of the burn had been old-growth forest.
After the fire, a massive wave of salvage logging spread through what was left of the Tillamook. Roads were cut indiscriminately, and the already tortured landscape was ravaged. The heavy logging activity, combined with dry summers and denuded, parched land triggered another massive fire in 1939, burning over 190,000 acres. Again, salvage operations took what they could. Harvest ramped up even more during World War II, and like clockwork, in 1945 another massive fire ran wild, measuring 180,000 acres.
After the fire: Burma Road in the south portion of the Tillamook Burn. Courtesy of Bert Pickens.
When the ashes had settled from the third fire, over 355,000 acres had been burned, much of it repeatedly. The forest land, most of which had been privately held before the Great Depression, ended up in the hands of the surrounding counties due to tax foreclosures. The counties, unable to manage the land, transferred ownership to the state in exchange for a promise of future timber revenues. A massive replanting effort was undertaken, and Oregonians united in the cause of restoring the Tillamook. One more fire would burn another 32,000 acres in 1951, again the result of human activity, but restoration was well underway and would continue through the 1960s. The recurring fires had become known as the “six year jinx,” and by the winter of 1951, less than two percent of Tillamook’s original old growth forest remained.
Ironically, when a coalition of concerned Oregonians fought in 2004 to set aside a portion of the Tillamook for uses other than timber harvest, outraged county leaders and the timber industry argued that such preservation would increase the risk of catastrophic wildfire. Playing on the fears of rural Oregonians, timber interests ran television ads warning of impending fires if environmentalists got their way. But too few of Oregon’s citizens knew the full history of the Tillamook to understand the incredible insult that claim represented. Reckless timber harvest had been the sole cause of the Tillamook’s past devastation and posed the greatest risks for its future.
Stealing from Future Generations
Today, as the Tillamook is maturing into a fine young forest and watersheds are in a relative state of restoration, a handful of politicians backed by the timber industry work to undermine Oregon’s Forest Management Plan. They strive to increase harvest from the Tillamook, claiming that their interest is for the schools, communities and future generations. But a bizarre dissonance rings loudly overhead. While they claim that the resulting revenues will help counties weather the current economic downturn, they must be painfully aware that timber prices are at their lowest levels in decades. Many of the Tillamook’s scheduled timber sales are finding no buyers. ODF is slashing prices on some timber sales to entice potential suitors, which means the state is tossing its public resources into a black hole. A recent editorial (March 10th, 2009) in the Daily Astorian put it this way:
As financial regulators stood by or actively facilitated the monstrous housing bubble, forests were felled to provide the raw materials. Professional foresters are a big step up from the irresponsible financiers on Wall Street, but they still fell victim to some of the same thought patterns when it comes to asset management.
There is a troubling mismatch between the pace at which forests mature and the rate at which they are logged. Fifty-year harvest rotations dwindled to 40 and have been pegged at as little as 35 in recent years. That is demanding a lot from soils and watersheds.
Because of calls from local communities for revenues and employment, even in public forests there is constant pressure to step up harvests.
We need a much longer and more deliberate planning horizon for the woods, one that places explicit financial value on their role in keeping carbon out of the atmosphere, purifying water and a host of other essential functions. Forests must no longer be managed solely to maximize financial returns in the current fiscal year for shareholders, whether those shareholders own corporate stock or serve on county commissions.
To make matters worse, and to revisit the theme of fire, state foresters admit they cannot interest timber companies in the tops of trees that lay in piles at every harvest site. There’s just no money in it for the loggers. So these piles remain exposed as potential fuel for forest fires.
The Greatest Permanent Value
Oregon Statute requires that state forests be managed to “secure the greatest permanent value of state forestlands to the state.” The same statute defines “greatest permanent value” (GPV) as “healthy, productive, and sustainable forest ecosystems that over time and across the landscape provide a full range of social, economic, and environmental benefits to the people of Oregon.”
House Bill 3072 represents an immediate threat to the Tillamook and its vital rivers by seeking to amend the statute, redefining GPV, requiring the Board of Forestry to revise forest management plans to achieve policy and goals described in the new bill AND declare an emergency, effective upon passage of the bill. The following is taken directly from the proposed amendment:
SECTION 1. ORS 530.050 is amended to read:
530.050. (1) As used in this section, “secure the greatest permanent value” means to ensure that lands are forests managed primarily for timber production in order to produce revenue for counties, schools and local taxing districts that receive revenue from those lands.
The proposed changes move directly against public and scientific opinion. In 2006 ODF hired a contractor to conduct a survey of Oregon’s residents and state forest stakeholders. The survey tested knowledge of, values regarding, and attitudes toward natural resource management in Oregon state forests. The survey found that ecological values were more important to Oregonians than timber values or recreation values on state forests. Scientific opinion within ODF, as discussed earlier, warns that the state is already over-harvesting, particularly in the Tillamook.
What You Can Do
I strongly urge concerned citizens to become more informed on this issue, to support the organizations that are fighting for sound forest management, and respectfully express your urgent opposition to HB 3072 directly to the legislators. According to sources in the state capital, this bill will get a hearing and has a high likelihood of passing in Oregon’s House of Representatives. You can help change that by writing letters and making phone calls to the Representatives listed below.
Our fight for the Tillamook will take staying power. This is the first of many rounds. So let’s all use this round to learn the process and do our best, knowing that we will have to act many more times in the coming months and years to secure protection for the forest and rivers we love.
Below is a road map to start that journey.
And stay tuned for more installments of Tillamook County Chronicles. Next time: Wild Steelhead of the Tillamook
Please write letters and/or emails to these members of the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Communities Committee (general districts in parentheses):
Brian Clem, chair (Salem)
Arnie Roblan, past chair (Coos Bay)
IMPORTANT: all emails to the above should include a cc: to the Committee Administrator, Beth Patrino
Learn more by clicking on these links:
Thank you, Rob Russell