After More Than a Year the Oregon Board of Forestry Has a Habitat Conservation Plan

By Greg Jacob
State Forest Advisory Committee and long-time Oregon Chapter volunteer

The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) has spent several years developing a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) in a process that has been open to the public and stakeholders, has gone through initiation and scoping, negotiation strategies, and a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis.  For two years, federal scientists have worked closely with the Department of Forestry to design the HCP’s conservation locations. On March 7, State Forester Cal Mukumoto will present his recommendation on whether to adopt the HCP, and the Board of Forestry will vote on whether to move forward with the recommendation. If the Board votes to adopt an HCP, we will see greater water quality protection for communities reliant on clean water, a stronger commitment to addressing climate change impacts, greater protection for salmon and steelhead, and support of endangered species recovery. It will result in a small reduction in industrial style clearcutting and heavy herbicide spraying. An HCP will enable the ODF to make long-term plans and investments by providing regulatory assurances and improving the predictability of its costs related to ESA listed species. 

For too long, the timber industry has overharvested our state forests, and now the industry is crying foul, claiming an HCP will adversely affect public services for rural counties. Then why, at their bidding, was the timber severance tax in the 1990s largely eliminated, resulting in a loss of over three billion dollars that would have gone to affected counties? In addition to adopting an HCP, it’s time for Oregon to restore the severance tax at a fair rate to help fund schools, drinking water protections and fire-safe homes and communities, as proposed in this legislative session’s SB 1593. It shouldn’t be ODF’s burden to manage state forestlands to maximize revenue to the counties. The onus for helping rural communities should instead fall on the Oregon legislature. 

A Habitat Conservation Plan is in keeping with ORS 530.050, requiring state forests be managed for the Greatest Permanent Value, defined as healthy, productive and sustainable forest ecosystems that over time and across the landscape provide a full range of social, economic, and environmental benefits to the people of Oregon.

Update March 7, 2024: The Board of Forestry voted 4-3 to approve the State Forester's recommendation and direct staff to finalize the HCP. Several motions to stall the HCP all failed by a 3-4 vote. Timber companies and advocates tried to prevent the HCP from moving forward with ten loaded logging trucks blocking the ODF parking lot and Oregon Natural Resources Industries signs lining State Street.

Now that the Board of Forestry has approved the HCP, the ODF staff will implement the State Forester’s recommendation (adoption of the HCP). ODF will provide needed support for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) to complete the Federal review of the HCP under NEPA and issue Biological Opinions. Next:

  • the Board of Forestry must adopt new Key Performance Measures for the Forest Management Plan.
  • The Key Performance Measures will be submitted in the next session of the Legislature.
  • In March 2025 it is hoped that the new Forest Management Plan will be adopted as an agency rule, after which the draft Implementation Plan is put out for public comment.
  • If all goes well, the BOF will adopt the new Forest Management Plan and the State Forester will approve the Implementation Plan.