18 September, 2010

Reclaiming the old rhetoric on Oregon's forests

David Moskowitz
Oregonlive, September 17, 2010, 7:00 AM

Ben Shelton's tired rallying cry for the wood products industry to take back "what is ours" fails to acknowledge what has transpired in the industry and on the forest landscape since the 1980s.

The forest industry and forest communities barely survived Oregon's recession in the 1980s, while rampant over-harvesting of federal forests was institutionalized through congressional riders. The subsequent realization that only about 5 percent of federally managed old-growth remained, and that less than 1 percent of old-growth remained on state forests was startling to people across the country. This led to a sea change in public opinion about the value of old-growth forests from what precious little remained. Scientific understanding about the affects of timber harvest on watershed health came of age at the same time. These two forces were joined by the Clinton-era Northwest Forest Plan, which finally did what Teddy Roosevelt had tried to do – and what The Oregonian predicted in 1907 – protect the nation's forest from ultimate annihilation.

At the same time, the timber industry was undergoing major changes through corporate mergers and acquisitions, a changing tax structure that led to corporate restructuring, mill closures and mill "make-overs" for the switch from the nearly extinct big logs to today's even-aged 40- and 50-year-old logs. Ben Shelton pines for the days of yore that were actually more like Hollywood-created facades of prosperity propped up by unsustainable logging levels and favorable corporate tax structures. The days of the locally headquartered and vertically integrated timber industry around which entire communities relied are over and they "ain't coming back."

No single factor is to blame for these changes, and no single factor will solve forest health issues, rural community stability and the need for cross-boundary management decisions (something former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has championed). The future that Shelton desires will not be delivered by sounding a battle cry. Oregon's forests can, will and do provide multiple benefits and values to communities and individuals across Oregon and the nation in the form of clean water, carbon storage, recreational opportunity, native plants, a place for solace, a hedge against the uncertain effects of climate change and, yes, even wood products. All of these forest resources – whether from federal, state or private forestland – can be produced by collaborative management, by understanding and using the best available scientific information and by complying with existing environmental regulations. And if all of these products from "our" forests (in the broadest national sense) are properly valued, they will produce benefits for "our" communities (in the Oregon sense).

This can, and is happening without the meaningless hue and cry to "reclaim our forests and manage what is ours." That's what happened in the early 1990s when citizens across the nation demanded that the forest service stop over-harvesting a national treasure – Oregon's old-growth forests.

David A. Moskowitz of Northeast Portland is director of development for WaterWatch of Oregon.


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