Editor’s note by Larry Mauter, LCSWA Director: Jim James is a member of the forest landowner negotiating team for Private Forest Accord and the past executive director of the Oregon Small Woodlands Association. He has 38-years’ experience as a professional forester and 10 years as executive director of the Oregon Small Woodlands Association.
Oct. 20, 2021 will go down in Oregon’s history as a truly remarkable day. In the early hours of the morning, following five long days of intense negotiations that capped off over a year of constructive conversation led by Oregon Governor Kate Brown, representatives from the forest sector, including myself, representing small forest owners signed an agreement with a coalition of environmental organizations on proposed changes to Oregon’s Forest Practice Laws. But more than that, it’s a paradigm shift in how we collectively approach forest policy in Oregon.
“I can say with complete sincerity that this is the first time in my career, and likely in Oregon’s history, that collaboration and compromise of this magnitude has been reached between diverse parties with a long history of being at political odds with one another. I am extremely proud to have been part of this process.”-Jim James
I have been involved in the forest sector for my entire career, with both large industrial forest landowners and later, representing family forest owners. I can say with complete sincerity that this is the first time in my career, and likely in Oregon’s history, that collaboration and compromise of this magnitude has been reached between diverse parties with a long history of being at political odds with one another. I am extremely proud to have been part of this process.
This PFA process required a thorough review of the best available science and the realities of forest management for both large and small forest owners. Each party invested considerable time and energy in the process, pouring over data and consulting scientific experts to find common ground and compromise. With this agreement, we are charting a new path of collaboration over conflict for Oregon forest policy. This new era embraces the diversity of our state and the diversity of values shared by private forest owners. This includes providing cold, clean water; fish and wildlife habitat; recreation opportunities; renewable wood products; and supporting tens of thousands of family wage jobs in Oregon.
It is important to note, the FPA agreement includes special accommodations for small forest owners to address the disproportional impacts we could face. There are provisions for alternative practices and state funding for certain activities. These are designed to prevent a burden on small forest owners that could make converting small private forest land into other uses (like residential) much more attractive. Small forest owners are part of the state’s forest sector producing 12% of Oregon’s average timber harvest. Our hope is that long-term regulatory certainty will, in fact, allow Oregon’s forest sector to grow and thrive well into the future.
Oregon has long been an innovative leader in science-based forest policy. In 1971, I was a young forester when Oregon became the first state in the nation to enact a comprehensive set of forest practice laws that safeguarded water, fish and wildlife habitat, and soil and air. With guidance from professional foresters and scientific experts, these state laws have been updated nearly 40 times in the subsequent years. I am proud of what has been accomplished during my career to produce good outcomes for those shared values.
We let that same science-based mindset take the lead in the Private Forest Accord negotiations. We’ve built on that success by focusing changes in three primary areas:
- We created a scientifically valid stream buffering program that not only protects fish where they live, but which will result in continuous habitat creation and provide conservative temperature buffers in the face of climate change.
- We implemented a state-of-the-art steep slopes management program that improves on the results of natural landslides in a highly targeted approach to ensure that trees and coarse gravels create quality fish habitat while protecting against harmful sedimentation.
- We built on 20 years of good work under Oregon’s voluntary Plan for Salmon and Watersheds to create the highest forest road building and maintenance standards of any state with an aggressive, mandatory timeline for completion. This agreement will ensure that all forest roads allow for fish migration and do not result in sediment into streams.
At the end of the day, all of this is going to be immensely expensive for Oregon’s forest sector. This is a difficult “win” to celebrate, and we kept that fact front and center during the negotiations. The last thing we want is to make it financially impossible to maintain managed forests on private lands in Oregon, or to put additional burdens on the state’s rural communities.
Considerable work remains. Next, we will ask the Oregon Legislature to help us enshrine these changes in law. Then, we will work with the Oregon Board of Forestry to implement them. If we are successful, we are confident these changes will allow us to secure a statewide Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) on private forestlands in Oregon.
This last part was the driving force for our coalition and made the very expensive investment worth it. Achieving long-term regulatory stability though this process will allow Oregon’s private forestlands to continue as a vital, economic cornerstone, while providing for the needs of fish and wildlife in a new way that makes everyone proud.