On December 7, the Tillamook County Commissioners made their decision about Tillamook State forest lands being part of the Linn County Class Action Suit, which would result in more clearcutting of our watershed. It took them 9 minutes. It was not surprising that they agreed to stay in this suit against the State. What is troubling, however, is their absolute implacability to differing opinions—not only to citizen opinion and experience, but even to scientific assessments.
There was no encouragement for discussion or question about the consequences of this suit that affects us and the place where we live. No announcement to the public that the issue was on the agenda December 7 and citizens were welcome to comment and question. The decision was made 6 weeks before the deadline without public participation. And, as we soon found out, the issue could NOT appear as an agenda item in a future meeting because it had already been voted on. Many of us were stunned by the lack of democratic process on an issue that directly affects us.
Those of us who have tried to speak out in letters and opinion pieces—and those who represent organizations dedicated to the health of streams, fish, forest, wildlife—have all been lumped together as “Environmentalists” who play on FEAR in order to get donations from people. (yes. One of our commissioners actually said this.) And Chris Smith, North Coast Forest Coalition has been accused of “intent to disseminate Bad Information.” See his 10 reasons we should opt out of the lawsuit on North Coast State Forest Coalition web site. And then, of course, there is me, and I get “emotional.” It is invalid, you see, to care that forests are disappearing.
On the Winter Solstice, Dec. 21, at noon in Manzanita a group of Watershed Heroes spoke at a Commissioners meeting. They were allowed 3 minutes each in the public comment period, but they shared their time—and presented a powerful, knowledgeable, impassioned testimony—for the forest, for the waters, for the earth. The Commissioners were totally impervious to their statements; made no effort to address the questions and issues presented and ended with prepared statements alleging that their decision, which they were not changing, was an action on behalf of the poor in Tillamook County and that those with opposing views should be more compassionate. No mention of other, alternative sources like a timber industry tax) to provide county revenue. Here is the link to the video of their presentation. It is inspiring.
If you feel this issue should have had an open discussion, if you have questions you would like to ask about its consequences, or if you know you are opposed to it and don’t know what to do—we are still circulating a petition that will be presented in the three minute public comment period at the beginning of the County Commissioners meeting in early January. We hope to have 200 signees by then. If you live in Clatsop County, the same petition is being circulated there. Here is the text of the Petition. See links below:
WHAT IS A FOREST WORTH?
The Linn County Class Action Law suit forces us to ask this question. The suit claims that the Board of Forestry mismanaged State forest land and owes the counties 1.4 billion dollars in back payment for trees they failed to harvest. The major purpose of the State Forests, the suit claims, is to provide revenue. Environmental and recreational “values,” it says, have undermined this purpose. By participating in this law suit, Tillamook County is assuming that timber harvest can be dramatically increased with no harm to the environment.
BACKGROUND: The State Board of Forestry was directed in 1941 to manage the lands “so as to secure the greatest permanent value of the forest lands to the state.” In the 90’s Oregon Department of Forestry actively promoted a management plan they called “Structure Based Management” which aimed at achieving a diverse stand across the landscape that they hoped would replicate the health and regenerative ability of the native forest. Integral to this approach was an analysis of the existing forest and landscape. Citizens were encouraged to comment on the plan. Many of us were involved in this discussion. Two scientific reviews were completed. The 1941 law which could be interpreted in multitude ways was subsequently amended in 1998 and the phrase “permanent value” was defined more specifically to include watershed protection, erosion control, and recreation. (Statute OAR 629-035-0020 ).
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF GREATEST PERMANENT VALUE? As provided in ORS 530.050, “greatest permanent value” means healthy, productive, and sustainable forest ecosystems that over time and across the landscape provide a full range of social, economic, and environmental benefit to the people of Oregon.
These benefits include, but are not limited to:* sustainable and predictable production of forest products that generate revenues; *properly functioning aquatic habitats for native fish; *habitats for native wildlife; *productive soil, and clean air and water; *protection against floods and erosion; and *recreation.”
HOW MUCH DOES THE STATE CURRENTLY HARVEST? The current State plan tries to strike a balance among many values—but leans strongly toward timber production. The current plan allows extensive clear-cutting (55%); even the oldest forests are not excluded from this—as evidenced by the recent clear-cutting of the 250 acre irreplaceable Homesteader forest along the Nehalem River. Another 18% includes thinning and road construction. Approximately 27 % is currently off limits—either too steep, too rocky, or home to threatened and endangered species.
HOW WOULD THE LAW SUIT AFFECT US IF IT SUCCEEDS? If this lawsuit succeeds, it will redefine the “value” of a forest, and likely lead to drastic increases in industrial style logging—more clear-cuts, more spraying. We already have one of the weakest Forest Protection Acts in the Northwest and minimal protection for our forest land and streams. An example in point, the State was denied Federal grant money this year because of failure to meet the standards for clean water in our streams.
CONCLUSION: We support the 1998 amendment to the Oregon Law that provides a balanced and scientific evaluation of the state forests for the best uses that benefit all—longterm. It is shortsighted and scientifically unfounded to promote more timber harvest, especially with the widespread clear-cutting in the county by the timber industry. We know more now about the environmental impact of these practices than we did when the initial agreements between county and state were made. The legal amendments defining “greatest permanent value” clearly state that the “value” of a forest is broader than revenue from timber harvest.
to sign petition link for TILLAMOOK COUNTY