There is no doubt a more collaborative approach in our Northwest forests than there was 20 years ago. As we write about often, timber leaders, environmental groups and local, state and federal government are coming together in communities to reach solutions that work for everyone.
But that doesn’t mean everybody is working together all of the time. This week marks the 20-year anniversary of the Northwest Forest Conference and the plan that came out of that historic meeting – the Northwest Forest Plan. The Medford Mail Tribune covered the anniversary with two stories (here and here) full of interviews with participants from all sides.
Everyone involved says that the conference was historic and necessary, but there is more skepticism for the Northwest Forest Plan. Environmentalists and timber groups agree the plan did little to help the spotted owl, for instance, though they differ on the factors behind the failure.
Timber industry representative Jim Geisinger is also disappointed in the conference’s outcome, albeit for different reasons.
“In hindsight, it didn’t resolve a single issue,” he said.
The timber industry believed the 1994 plan would provide an annual harvest from federal lands of slightly more than 1 billion board feet each year, he said.
“If the plan was implemented as it was intended, there would be more people working now,” he said. “Both the forests and mills would be healthier than they are.
“Of course, history has shown we have never come anywhere near that number, only 400-to-500 million in any given year…”
“…The conference didn’t meet our expectations,” he said. “Something needs to change, not just for the industry but for the forest itself. We are burning up more of our forest every year than we have ever logged. Ever.”
What is also clear is that the timber wars of 20 years ago are not over. The Northwest Forest Plan may have offered a reprieve but not an end. Environmental groups are continuing to file lawsuits, like this and this, even for relatively modest thinning projects. And timber leaders and local officials are fighting back in court. Three Washington timber counties – Lewis, Skamania and Klickitat – and the American Forest Resource Council in Portland are filing lawsuits challenging the new spotted owl habitat plan.
Environmentalist Andy Kerr says one battle that continues is in Oregon timber counties.
(Kerr) believes another timber war is brewing on U.S. Bureau of Land Management timberlands known as the Oregon & California Railroad Co. lands.
“We are now having essentially a mini-timber war regarding those O&C; timberlands in Western Oregon,” he said. “It’s essentially a little version of what was the great timber war of 20 years ago. It’s smaller, it’s muted, but it’s a timber war.”
The collaborative approach is growing, which is exciting, but lawsuits may be the price of doing business.