Oregon governor makes a bold move


Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber spoke to his state’s Board of Forestry this week and had some bold ideas that you don’t often hear from governors, especially on timber issues. His proposal is relevant not just for Oregon but every Western state.

(Kitzhaber told the board) to step back from the “politically driven seesaw management” of the state’s timberland and adopt a balanced approach that can be extended to the much larger federal forests as well.

Kitzhaber, in a rare appearance by a governor before the board, said current management practices put state, federal and private forests in isolated silos, when they should be viewed as an interconnected landscape.

“We are mired in ongoing conflict — timber sale by timber sale, forest by forest — rather than engaging in a holistic strategy” that balances environmental, economic and community values, the governor said.

What this means in concrete terms are permanent boundaries within the forests, setting aside land for conservation and land for timber harvest, Kitzhaber said.

This approach does have drawbacks, according to Board Chairman John Blackwell.

Blackwell noted there’s still the risk of both sides – timber and conservation communities – being unhappy with the results. Conservation groups might not get as much land as they want in protected areas across the landscape, he said, and the timber industry could be concerned that once you start zoning conservation areas there will be a “creeping” effect that will gradually rope off more and more of the timber.

The governor seemed to offer carrots for both timber companies and environmental groups.

He suggested the board adopt strict performance standards to measure the success of forest policies and re-examine the longstanding model that produces timber by cutting forests in a way to encourage structures similar to old growth, rather than for maximum timber yield.

He also encouraged the board to act more aggressively to protect fish and wildlife habitat, particularly along salmon streams and on hillsides vulnerable to landslides, which will create conservation jobs and give everyone a better idea about what to expect from state forests.

Kitzhaber told the board to take a new look at its business model, taking into account the economic problems faced by timber counties, where plummeting federal timber revenues have left them struggling to survive.

Both timber companies and environmental groups said the proposal is worth exploring.

The Sierra Club, Wild Salmon Center and Association of Northwest Steelheaders issued a joint statement applauding the idea of establishing conservation areas.

Ray Wilkeson, president of the Oregon Forest Industries Council, said Kitzhaber’s ideas are worth a try both on state and federal land.

“If anybody can do it, it would be him,” Wilkeson said of Kitzhaber.