Negotiations to Improve Habitat Protections on Private Forestland Begin

by Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director

On January 12, Governor Kate Brown kicked off the first of a series of negotiation sessions as part of a groundbreaking agreement between conservation groups and forest industry representatives that aim to propose new protections for imperiled aquatic and riparian species across 10 million acres of private forestland in Oregon.

Oregon’s Forest Practice Act has long been recognized as having the weakest protections for private forestlands on the West Coast. These negotiations represent an unprecedented opportunity to collaboratively develop and advance new protections necessary to protect salmon, steelhead, bull trout, and other species currently listed or proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Over the next 18 months, negotiating teams representing conservation groups and timber companies will work to develop a set of reforms to the Oregon Forest Practices Act, which would be codified through legislation and could then be formalized through a statewide Habitat Conservation Plan (a plan approved by U.S. Fish and Wildlife and NOAA Fisheries demonstrating compliance with the Endangered Species Act).

Elliott State Forest
Photo by Robin Meacher.

In February of 2020, Governor Brown brokered an agreement between 13 conservation and fishing groups and 13 timber and forest products entities to abandon a costly and divisive ballot initiative fight in exchange for proactive legislation supporting collaboratively developed changes to forest practices. This agreement, called the Private Forest Accord, led to bipartisan legislation that passed with overwhelming majorities in June 2020. The legislation codified the historic agreement, funded the negotiating process now underway, and enacted a set of significant reforms to the Forest Practices Act, some of which went into effect January 1. These new laws restrict helicopter applications of pesticides on forestland within 300 feet of homes, schools, and drinking water, and created a new, first-in-the-nation real-time neighbor notification and reporting requirement.

Bird Alliance of Oregon was one of the 13 conservation signatories to the 2020 Private Forest Accord and is pleased to be one of the six conservation representatives on the current negotiating team. We view this effort as the most significant opportunity in decades to bring the Oregon Forest Practices Act up to modern science-based standards.

The conservation representatives are Bob Van Dyk (Wild Salmon Center), Sean Stevens (Oregon Wild), Chrysten Lambert (Trout Unlimited), Bob Sallinger (Bird Alliance of Oregon), Joseph Vaile (Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center), and Dr. Kelly Burnett (aquatic scientist). For the timber sector the representatives are Adrian Miller (Rayonier), Diane Meyers (Weyerhaeuser), Cameron Krauss (Seneca Sawmill Company), Heath Curtiss (Hampton Lumber), Eric Geyer (Roseburg Forest Products), and Jim James (Oregon Small Woodlands Association). The State of Oregon is also engaging tribes through their sovereign-to-sovereign relationships, and conservation groups are reaching out as well.

As with any negotiation of this scale and complexity, there are no assurances of success, but we are hopeful that the next 18 months can deliver real results. Kudos in particular to Wild Salmon Center, Oregon Wild, and Crag, who laid the groundwork for this unprecedented effort.