A chinook salmon smolt. (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife)
After nearly a year of negotiations, representatives of timber companies, small forestland owners, and conservation and fishing organizations reached an agreement through the Private Forest Accord.
The negotiations were an effort to avoid an expensive and messy fight at the ballot box over competing initiatives around Oregon’s forest laws.
The agreement proposes changes to the Oregon’s Forest Practices Act, which governs logging across 10 million acres of private forest in Oregon.
It is a big deal and a big step forward for Oregon.
I was privileged to be at the table representing Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, one of the conservation groups. It was an intense but rewarding experience, and the outcome promises strong benefits for current and future Oregonians. Both the timber industry and the conservation community may have charted a new way of developing forest policy through collaboration.
So, what is in the agreement?
The main focus is expanded buffers for streams. Shade from trees helps keep the water cool and buffers reduce sediment from logging. These buffer strips are critical, especially now that climate change is warming streams. Further up the stream network, new strategies around headwater streams will help keep streams from warming and protect at-risk wildlife, including amphibians.
Forest roads get much needed attention too.
Roads can severely impact water quality and block salmon and steelhead migrating to upstream habitat. Roads can be chronic sources of fine sediment that can plug streams and smother salmon spawning areas.
The accord’s agreement establishes new goals and specific rules for forest roads. These rules would limit road-related sediment to streams through better drainage of the road system. They would also ensure better fish passage, especially for salmon and steelhead, where roads cross streams and can block fish and other aquatic life.
The agreement is not only about big industrial timber companies, though. One-third of Oregon’s private forest are owned by small forestland owners, and they own much of the best salmon habitat. They often face pressures to convert their forests to other uses.
The accord would help small forestland owners protect their salmon habitat by creating a program to ensure there is adequate funding for improving fish habitat on small forestlands.
A truly innovative part of the agreement is to do more for beavers. Oregon is the Beaver State after all (sorry Duck fans). There is a growing recognition of the critical role that beaver dams play in supporting many wildlife species, including salmon.
The agreement outlines new rules to better protect beavers. These include a requirement that all beavers killed on private forestland are reported and prioritizes non-lethal strategies for beaver conflicts.
There is also an annual commitment from landowners ($5 million) and the state ($10 million) to a 50-year fund to help improve habitat and protect water quality. This funding will be used to help salmon and steelhead through restoration projects.
There will be hard work ahead transforming the agreement into laws and rules, but both sides are committed to working together to make that happen.
If we can sustain the goodwill and partnership that the Forest Accord seeks, that could be the most important benefit for Oregon of all.
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