This article originally appeared in the Eugene Register-Guard.
Since the middle of June more than half a dozen opinion pieces have appeared in the Register Guard about management of timber, some attacking forest management practices and some standing up for the industry. Even for someone like me, who is intimately familiar with forestry – it’s a lot. The most recent piece by Jason Gonzales, (Oregon’s Outdated Logging Rules Need Reform, August 3) compels me to offer another perspective and clarify the facts.
Mr. Gonzales and I have one thing in common: we’re both registered lobbyists for organizations with clear objectives. He is a lobbyist for an environmental organization while I work for a trade association representing forest landowners. One could say that makes neither of us objective.
However, I’m also a professional forester and a former agency regulator. Maybe more importantly, Oregon’s forests are a big part of who I am. I have long family ties to Oregon’s forests – my grandfather managed land in Lane County, and I grew up helping my dad manage our family forestland. Those experiences inspired me to pursue a degree in Forest Management from Oregon State and a career in the timber industry. I understand the concern about how forests are managed because as a father raising my children in Oregon, I want strong environmental protections for them. My children regularly help out on my father’s forestland and swim in the cold water filtered by the forest. They see butterflies, deer, elk, and songbirds all thriving in open habitat created by clearcuts. It’s important to me that they value sustainable forestry so one day they, too, can manage our natural resources for the next generation.
It’s through this lens that I feel compelled to weigh in and I can say with professional confidence that Oregon has some of the strictest and most science-based forest protection laws and management practices in the world.
A large portion of Oregon’s forest practice rules are aimed at protecting water quality, fish and wildlife. The indisputable fact is that actively managed forests provide abundant clean water – state agencies confirm the best water quality in the state comes from forested watersheds, including those that have significant management. Clearcuts are heavily regulated in Oregon – the size is limited and landowners are required to protect rivers, streams and provide wildlife habitat. Clearcuts provide real benefits: abundant sunlight is required to re-establish shade-intolerant Douglas-fir forests and clearcuts mimic natural disturbance like fire and provide habitat for species like the northern alligator lizard that requires clearings for foraging and basking.
Furthermore, foresters are required by law to replant when we harvest. There is no “cut and run” in Oregon – that’s illegal – and there is no Douglas-fir monoculture. We plant more than four million tree seedlings every year, species such as Douglas-fir, Hemlock, Cedar, Noble Fir or Spruce. It’s the local forester’s job to assess the site and figure out what mix of trees to replant in order to grow a vigorous and healthy forest. Then we make sure those seedlings grow successfully into a new forest. Oregon law requires that reforested areas must be vigorous enough to out-compete grass and brush within six years. It’s for this reason that we sparingly use pesticides once or twice over 40 to 60 years to give seedlings an opportunity to out-grow invasive weeds like scotch broom and blackberry that threaten to choke them out. Put in perspective, forestry is collectively responsible for just four percent of total annual pesticide use in Oregon.
Actively managed forests provide ongoing environmental benefits while still providing the most sustainable and eco-friendly building materials available. Not to mention the tens of thousands of family-wage jobs created for Oregonians.
Modern forestry relies heavily on research, applied science, and experiential knowledge. This is how natural resources should be managed – with science, not with ideology. If you have questions about what happens in the forest, I’d encourage you to follow our Facebook page, Oregon Tree Talk, or visit our website at www.ofic.com for information about what actually happens in the woods from the people actually doing it.
Seth Barnes is the Director of Forest Policy for Oregon Forest & Industries Council, a trade association representing more than 50 Oregon forestland owners and forest products manufacturers.