The Private Forest Accord passed the Oregon Senate on Wednesday, making its way to a final House vote before the end of the February short session.
“I think we’re making history this morning,” Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, said before the vote.
The bill would change the way 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 accord, called Senate Bill 1501, passed with 22 Democrats and four Republicans in favor. Five Republicans opposed.
The accord would dramatically change logging rules for private forests established in the Forest Practices Act, 50-year-old regulations dictating various rules, including how close logging can occur to rivers and streams and the use of pesticides.
The Private Forest Accord directs the state Board of Forestry to update the Forest Practices Act, requiring larger unlogged zones around rivers to protect fish habitat and ending commercial beaver trapping and the lethal removal of beavers on private forestland. It calls for improving roads in private forests and sets up stricter logging standards on slopes, which can cause landslides that send harmful debris into rivers.
If the Private Forest Accord is approved by the House, it would form the basis of a Habitat Conservation Plan regulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Habitat Conservation Plans must comply with the Endangered Species Act, meaning private loggers would be shielded from suits under the act.
Small woodland owners would also receive a tax credit to help offset the loss of some areas they formerly logged.
The accord excludes forestland owned by the nine Oregon-based Tribes but allows them to opt into the habitat conservation plan.
About 35 people or entities testified about the bill, or filed written testimony, with many in favor. Glen Spain, regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, said the act marked “an unparalleled opportunity,” to bring the timber industry, conservation groups and the fisheries industry into agreement.
“Modernizing Oregon’s Forest Practices Act to improve riparian buffer zones, prevent landslides, protect drinking water and recover valuable salmon habitat is good for the Oregon economy, will end decades of conflict in Oregon’s ‘timber wars,’ and finally put Oregon’s forest practices on a truly sustainable basis, including a long-term stability which is also good for timber industry jobs and communities,” Spain said.
Those who opposed included several small woodland businesses, a Coos Bay county commissioner, the Oregon Farm Bureau and individuals like Hanna Van Camp, who comes from a logging family on the southern Oregon Coast.
“Sweeping changes of this nature should not be decided on in closed door meetings with no option for input from affected individuals,” Van Camp said in written testimony. “Asking us to trade our ability to harvest timber for a tax credit is short-term thinking, which sounds like the mindset of the large corporations, and not that of the family-owned operations.”
The new legislation is the product of nearly a year of negotiations between timber companies and conservation groups that were directed to work together by Gov. Kate Brown in late 2019.
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