Private forest deal passes Senate, clearing way for House vote – Oregon Capital Chronicle
The private forest accord passed the Oregon Senate on Wednesday, heading for a final vote in the House before the end of the short February session.
“I think we’re making history this morning,” Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, said before the vote.
The bill would change how more than 10 million acres of private forests in the state are managed to protect at-risk animals and water quality in rivers and streams.
The agreement, called Senate Bill 1501, passed with 22 Democrats and four Republicans in favor. Five Republicans opposed it.
The deal would radically change the rules for logging private forests established in the Forest Practices Act, a 50-year-old regulation dictating various rules, including the proximity of logging to rivers and streams and the use of pesticides.
The Private Forest Accord directs the State Forestry Board to update the Forest Practices Act, requiring larger unharvested areas around rivers to protect fish habitat and end commercial trapping of beavers and the killing of beavers on private forest lands. It calls for improved roads in private forests and sets tougher logging standards on slopes, which can cause landslides that send harmful debris into rivers.
If the Private Forest Agreement is approved by the House, it will form the basis of a habitat conservation plan regulated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Habitat conservation plans must comply with the Endangered Species Act, which means that private loggers would be immune from prosecution under the law.
Small forest owners would also receive a tax credit to help compensate for the loss of certain areas they previously exploited.
The agreement excludes forest land belonging to the nine Oregon-based tribes, but allows them to participate in the habitat conservation plan.
About 35 people or entities testified about the bill or filed written testimony, many of them in support. Glen Spain, regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, said the legislation marked “an unprecedented opportunity” to bring together the timber industry, conservation groups and the fishing industry.
“Modernizing Oregon’s Forest Practices Act to improve riparian buffers, prevent landslides, protect drinking water and reclaim valuable salmon habitat is good for Oregon’s economy. , will end decades of conflict in Oregon’s “Timber Wars” and finally put Oregon’s forestry practices on a truly sustainable footing, including long-term stability that’s also good for jobs and timber industry communities,” said Spain.
Those who opposed included several small logging companies, a Coos Bay County commissioner, the Oregon Farm Bureau, and individuals like Hanna Van Camp, who comes from a logging family on Oregon’s southern coast.
“Dramatic changes of this nature should not be decided in closed meetings without an opportunity for input from those affected,” Van Camp said in written testimony. “Asking us to trade our ability to harvest timber for a tax credit is short-term thinking, resembling the mindset of big business, not family businesses.”
The new legislation is the product of nearly a year of negotiations between logging companies and conservation groups who were asked to work together by Governor Kate Brown in late 2019.