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Agreement is a bright spot in state forest policy

In February of 2020, we wrote a hopeful editorial, noting that a group of timber companies and environmental groups had agreed to begin working together to overhaul the Forest Practices Act, the state law that governs logging on privately owned forest lands. That work has led to real progress.


The law, first enacted in 1971, is in need of an update, and the agreement signed last year avoided a bruising battle at the ballot box. Both sides were poised to push competing ballot measures in last November’s election. Environmental groups wanted restrictions on aerial spraying of pesticides on forest lands and sought increased protections for streams and rivers by expanding streamside buffer zones. Industry groups wanted compensation paid to private landowners when state regulations limited the ability to log.

Helicopter spraying had sparked controversy in Lane and Lincoln counties, and local residents had mounted initiative campaigns, but were stymied by state law, which barred local governments from regulating pesticide use.

The streamside buffer issue was frustrating to environmental groups in Southern Oregon because the state Department of Forestry had expanded protections in Western Oregon forests in 2016, but not in southwest Oregon because conditions vary by region, and the department did not have hard data for this part of the state.

Facing the prospect of competing initiative petitions, Gov. Kate Brown pushed both sides to negotiate instead.

After a series of meetings, the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding pledging to spend two years updating forestry rules, with the goal of presenting legislation in the 2022 session.

On Saturday, the governor’s office announced an agreement to move forward with a series of measures to protect streams, limit erosion, improve forest roads and adjust forest practices going forward.

The work is not finished by a long shot. Legislation must be prepared for the session that begins after the new year, and the two sides are preparing to work toward a habitat conservation plan, which will allow continued logging while protecting wildlife habitat in the process.

That work will not be easy, and it will take time. But bringing environmental groups, the timber industry and private forest owners together to work on solutions is far better than asking voters to decide complex forestry issues at the ballot box.

Participants on both sides deserve Oregonians’ thanks for their hard work in getting to this point, and encouragement for the task that still lies ahead.