Environmentalists And Timber Industry Reach
Agreement On Forests, Avoiding Oregon Ballot Fights
What has looked for months like an epic looming battle over
Oregon’s forests has been called off under a new deal reached by
environmental groups and logging industry players.
In an agreement announced Monday, conservation-minded groups
have agreed to abandon a series of ballot measures aimed at
stepped-up protections for forest waters, and at limiting aerial
spraying of pesticides, among other things.
At the same time, timber industry players are planning to ditch
their own ballot measures – filed in response to the
environmental proposals – that would require landowners be
compensated when state regulations curbed their ability to log,
and alter the makeup of a state board that controls forest
The deal could result in the most significant changes to
Oregon’s forest practices since the adoption of the Northwest
Forest Plan in the 1990s.
“Healthy forests and a vibrant forestry industry are not
mutually exclusive, and Oregonians need both for prosperous and
sustainable communities,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said.
“The Cooperating Parties acknowledge that they have an incentive
to reach a compromise on historically difficult issues without
risking adverse outcomes in an election,” reads a memorandum of
understanding signed by 26 groups – 13 on either side of the
issue. The list includes environmental activists such as Oregon
Wild, the Audubon Society of Portland, and the Oregon League of
Conservation Voters, along with large timber outfits such as
Stimson Lumber, Roseburg Forest Products and Weyerhaeuser.
Speaking on behalf of the forest industry coalition, Greg
Miller, a former Weyerhaeuser spokesman, said the agreement
would increase environmental benefits and provide certainty for
the business community.
“This is the time, this is the historic moment where we can
drive benefit for all Oregonians,” Miller said.
Another company signing the deal, Roseburg Forest Products,
stood by its current practices and said the agreement was about
setting aside differences.
“While we are confident in our current science-based forest
practices, we recognize the need for a direct conversation about
forest management,” spokeswoman Rebecca Taylor said. “The
cooperative agreement announced today charts a path to provide
greater assurances for a strong and vibrant industry and a
Bob Van Dyk of the Wild Salmon Center, speaking on behalf of the
environmental coalition, said the new agreement could bring
Oregon up to date with environmental protections already adopted
by its neighbors. Habitat conservation plans are already in
place throughout forests, with the same ecology and many of the
same landowners, throughout Washington state.
Oregon Wild Executive Director Sean Stevens, also a signer of
the agreement, said that depends on the progress made over the
next two years.
“This agreement is only a first step in a longer journey,”
Stevens said. “Conservation of Oregon’s forests, and communities
that live around them and rely upon them, is not guaranteed at
the end of this process.”
engaging in an expensive and uncertain war to win over voters,
both sides have agreed to participate in a mediated process of
up to 18 months, according to the memo. The goal: to arrive at a
federally approved “habitat
for how private forests should be managed with an eye toward
ensuring protection of vulnerable species and water resources.
In the meantime, timber industry players have agreed to support
a bill in this year’s legislative session that would increase
notification requirements for aerial pesticide spraying on
private timber land, and increase buffers for such spraying
around schools, homes and streams.
has been a controversial practice for decades. It is a linchpin
of industrial-scale forestry, as many timber owners consider
spraying in the early years after a clear cut the most effective
way to kill unwanted plants and regenerate a new crop of Douglas
fir seedlings. It is also the subject of complaints from
neighbors and environmental groups about potential drift or
runoff into water. Multiple communities in Oregon’s coast range
they were sickened by
wayward pesticides meant to kill unwanted plants on private
The timber industry successfully fought additional no-spray
buffers and requirements for notifying neighbors of aerial
spraying during previous legislative sessions, but the industry
also had indications those issues would be more vulnerable on
the ballot than in the hands of lawmakers.
Voters in Lincoln County approved a ban on aerial spraying in
2016, which was later overturned in court. That was despite
industry groups and other opponents of the ban outspending
supporters $475,000 to $21,600.
Beyond that, the
industry’s own polling also has shown that voters in coastal
counties have widespread support for logging but are nonetheless
“very susceptible to the idea of banning aerial pesticides,”
according to a memo
obtained by OPB and The Oregonian/Oregonlive through
Oregon’s public records law.
The 2018 memo from the Oregon Forest & Industries Council, which
represents large timber companies and many of the signatories to
today’s agreement, outlined poll results from 500 likely voters
in coastal Oregon.
The polling showed that, when given context about why companies
use pesticides, between 55-57% of likely voters polled thought
aerial spraying was “unnecessary” or “bad” and risked the spread
of harmful chemicals through air and water. About a third of
those polled considered the practice “necessary” or “good” for
growing mature forests and supporting an important industry.
“Underlining the difficulty of this conversation,” the memo
states, “voters who have immediate family employed in the timber
industry or are employed themselves oppose aerial pesticides at
the same rate as voters overall.”
The newly-announced deal also includes restrictions on
stream-side logging in southern Oregon’s Siskiyou region, rules
meant to protect fish. The region was exempted from those
logging buffers, which are in place throughout the rest of the
state’s coastal forests.
The mutual disarmament avoids what looked like a potentially
bruising ballot fight later this year. And according to some
players in the agreement, it creates a path by which Oregon
could push forward protective policies long sought by
environmental groups, while offering more certainty to property
owners about how they can manage their land.
The agreement, brokered by the governor’s office, came together
in four meetings held over the course of just two weeks,
according to one participant.
While the deal calls for both sides to largely drop ballot
proposals, it explicitly allows a legal fight over three of
those proposals to continue.
petitions, filed with backing from the group Oregon Wild, all
sought to step up protections against spraying and logging near
forest waters and other sensitive areas. But all
three were rejected by
Secretary of State Bev Clarno, who found they were
Petitioners have challenged that opinion, and the case is
currently before the Oregon Court of Appeals. The memorandum
indicates the group intends to see the case “to
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