More timber harvest on the way?


Sometimes it just takes time for elected officials to come around, and in the Northwest, federal and state leaders are beginning to understand the importance of working forests. Now it remains to be seen whether this will translate into more harvest of state and federal timberland — in order to improve the health of those forests and revitalize rural economies — but there are promising signs.

As we wrote about earlier this month (here and here), political momentum appears to be building. Now the Oregonian editorial board has responded to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber’s call for a revamp of state and federal timber policy. The paper says it agrees with much of what Kitzhaber is proposing. The numbers, for one, don’t lie.

Harvest numbers prove (the governor’s) point: The federal government owns and manages nearly 60 percent of Oregon forest lands, but these lands produce only about 12 percent of the annual timber harvest. Oregon’s relatively tiny state forests, at 3 percent of forest lands, produce nearly as much timber.

Meanwhile, Oregon’s private and industrial forests, which total 19 percent of Oregon forest lands, produce 75 percent of the harvest.

The Oregonian says it will be difficult for now to get something out of Congress, but the state “can start by getting its own forests in order.” State leaders should move forward on a land allocation system, like Kitzhaber is proposing, that sets aside forests for harvest and forests for conservation, while continuing to lobby on a federal level.

…Kitzhaber, the entire congressional delegation and leaders of the timber industry and environmental groups must keep pressing for thoughtful, collaborative change in the management of federal forests. If Oregon is ever going to get the most out of its forests, the governor has to deliver a lot more than one great speech.

In Washington state, State Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark is creating a panel of scientists and foresters to study how to stop a massive die-off of pine, fir and spruce trees in the eastern part of the state. Scientists agree that the outbreak of beetles and disease is due to the fact that the forests have been mismanaged over several decades.

Since land managers suppressed wildfires for so long, many trees in Eastern Washington’s dry forests are the same age, about a century old. That means they’re weak and susceptible to natural diseases and bug infestations — but there aren’t young, healthy trees around to stop or slow the annihilation.

The most likely fix? More logging. And in order to have an impact on the spread of beetles and disease, the harvest may have to be accomplished on a large scale the state hasn’t seen in a long time, according to David Peterson, a biologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Research Station.

Peterson…said areas thick with mountain pine beetles may pose a different challenge. There, many smaller-diameter trees would need to be removed to provide more light and water to larger, healthier, bug-resistant trees.

But to be effective, “we’d need to take action very quickly and over a significantly large area, before we get massive outbreaks,” Peterson said. “And we’re used to focusing on small events on small time scales.”