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Forest practices on the agenda in Salem

50 years ago the new Oregon Forest Practices Act (OFPA) set a standard for forestry operations to protect our soils, water and wildlife. It wasn’t a perfect law, but it was a great first step. Now, 50 years later, we see the need to update the OFPA and bring it into a 21st century where forests are struggling under a changing climate.

The governor asked six conservation groups and six timber industry representatives to study the issue and come up with recommendations. The result was the Private Forest Accord (PFA), now before the Legislature as a starting point to rewriting the OFPA.

Senate Bill 1501 has been introduced to update the OFPA. While the bill adopts the many provisions of the PFA and deserves to pass, it should not be the end of the discussion. The bill also contains an emergency clause to get the protections to our forests in place before Nov. 22, 2022. The legislation goes to the Oregon Board of Forestry to implement new rules and provides opportunity for further review.

A rewrite of the OFPA should result in a strong forest economy over the next 50 years. Forest economy, not timber economy, because our forests provide much more than timber, including water, soils, wildlife, clean air and more. It is extremely important that the Legislature get this right. It is not about supporting the timber industry or environmentalists; it is about protecting the state’s richest resource.

Particularly now, as we struggle through the worst drought in 1,200 years, as absentee industrial forestland owners scrape our landscapes clean and replace vegetation with Borg genetics, as the Forest Service gets credit for limiting fire spread while the Bureau of Land Management continues to log off the most fire-resistant trees, it is critical to find a balance in our forests that benefits both humans and forests.

Trees will continue to be cut in Oregon, but we cannot afford to return to the high harvest days of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and beyond. We might take a hint from the dean of forestry at Oregon State University, who finds Oregon is sending softwood lumber to a worldwide market when we should be promoting the unique characteristics of Douglas fir. Look at the end of a Douglas fir 2-by-4 milled as little as 50 years ago and you’ll see many growth rings. Today’s fast-growth Douglas fir 2-by-4 will have few rings, sometimes only three four. The density of our unique Douglas fir wood makes our resource much richer than the softwood with which we currently now compete. In essence, we are growing trees the wrong way to make the most of what we have.

We must be more concerned with the health of the forest when we harvest. We must replant with an appropriate mix of species, ages, and whatever it takes to maintain the forest balance that will continue to provide us with forest benefits into the future. Unless and until we can balance our timber harvests with the full benefits and health of our forests, we risk losing them.

Fifty years from now our children and grandchildren may want to re-write the OFPA for changing conditions. Let’s hope our Legislature keeps working on making sure they have forests to talk about.

Jack Duggan holds degrees in forestry and communications. He lives on and stewards forest land in the Applegate.