21st century challenges demand 21st century solutions. By modernizing our logging laws and embracing climate smart forestry, Oregon can revitalize rural jobs while simultaneously protecting the many benefits that our forests provide.
Many small scale foresters in Oregon are adopting sustainable forestry practices with future generations of foresters in mind.
What Oregon Needs to Do To Protect Future Forests and Jobs
- By protecting forests in drinking watersheds, Oregonians around the state can ensure their watersheds provide low-cost, abundant clean water into the future.
- Many cities around the state have proactively protected their watersheds; however, most rural communities in western Oregon remain vulnerable to water quantity and quality issues caused by industrial clearcut logging and problems have arisen in Corbett, Rockaway Beach, Yachats, Oceanside, Nehalem, Arch Cape, Netarts, Coquille, Willamina, Yamhill, Dallas, and other towns in Oregon.
- As climate change increases our water challenges, we must modernize Oregon’s forest practices to protect forests’ natural ability to store, filter, and gradually release water all year round
- Ecological forestry holds great potential to revitalize rural economies while protecting water quality and safeguarding the other benefits that our forests provide. Ecological foresters recognize forests as systems that balance a wide variety of benefits – such as watershed health, wood products, recreation, carbon storage, and wildlife habitat (Franklin, Johnson, and Johnson 2018).
- This approach is more labor-intensive than modern industrial logging, and translates into more jobs. For example, instead of one logger operating a feller-buncher to clearcut an entire stand of trees, ecological forestry relies trained foresters who make informed decisions about what is harvested and what is left standing and people who plant, clear competing vegetation and are involved in the harvest.
- Ecological forestry entails letting trees grow for 70-80 years – instead of 35-40 years – before harvesting. This not only produces higher quality wood products, but also optimizes the wood-production capacity of our forests and results in greater carbon storage (Diaz et al. 2018). Responsible stewardship of Oregon’s forests can also help buffer frontline communities and endangered species from droughts, wildfires, and other extreme weather events in future years.
- Currently, the vast majority of Oregon’s waterways receive no buffer from logging – this includes streams and creeks that run year round! The rivers and streams that do receive buffers are still not adequately protected from logging impacts.
- In order to keep sediment levels and temperatures low in our streams and rivers, we must expand minimum no-logging buffers, and add buffers where they currently don’t exist. By updating Oregon’s protective buffers to align more closely with Washington’s buffers, we can improve water quality while ensuring the long-term viability of our wood-products industry.
- Leaving more trees along rivers and streams not only protects important habitat for fish and wildlife, but also results in higher carbon storage on the landscape.
- Currently, hundreds of Oregon’s rivers and creeks violate clean water standards, largely due to rampant clearcut logging and poor road standards.
- Oregon should follow the lead of other states, like Washington, by improving standards for logging roads, which are major vectors for delivering sediment and debris to waterways. Oregon can also decrease the risk of landslide events by prohibiting clearcut logging in steep mountain slopes and unstable areas.
- Providing no-cut buffers around Oregon’s headwater streams – which currently receive no protection – can also help improve water quality by reducing the amount of pollutants that reach waterways.
- In order to protect the health of rural communities, fish, and wildlife from the dangers of toxic pesticides, we need to limit the use of toxic chemicals near rivers, streams, and sources of drinking water.
- Instead of relying on heavy pesticide-use, foresters should encourage diverse tree and plant life, which increases biodiversity and climate resilience in our forests.
- More than 30 years ago, the Forest Service banned aerial spraying of herbicides in Oregon’s National Forests, and ever since has successfully regrown forests without using this dangerous practice.
- Currently, Washington and California tax large industrial timber corporations and direct the revenue into paying for schools and roads in rural communities; however, 20 years ago timber industry lobbyists effectively eliminated Oregon’s severance tax – resulting in a dramatic reduction in funding for our rural communities (Oregonian and OPB article, June 2020).
- By bringing back Oregon’s severance tax and requiring large corporations to pay their fair share, we can revitalize rural communities that have historically depended on this funding. Revenue can also be directed towards restoring watershed health, enforcing forest practices regulations, and educating the public about responsible forest stewardship.
Restoring our Carbon Debt
The cutting of Oregon’s older forests over the past century has transferred massive amounts of forest-carbon to the atmosphere, creating a “carbon debt” that we can only repay through improved forest practices.
- Climate-smart forestry involves letting trees grow longer before logging and leaving more trees behind after logging, which results in more resilient forests and greater carbon storage than the current industrial model. Research has found that forests in the Pacific Northwest adhering to “Forest Stewardship Council” (FSC) standards store roughly 30% more carbon than current forests practices (Diaz et al. 2018).
■ Climate-smart forestry also helps protect rivers and streams, and provides habitat for fish and wildlife. By supporting the companies that have adopted truly sustainable logging practices we can safeguard the multiple benefits that our forests provide while also ensuring the long-term viability of Oregon’s wood-products industry.