News, State Forests

Oregon State Forest Habitat Plan Clears Key Hurdle

Thanks to strong public support, this legacy plan now moves on to federal review. 

On March 7, a plan to protect thousands of acres of key fish and wildlife habitat on Oregon’s North Coast got a big boost when the Oregon Board of Forestry voted to advance the state forest habitat conservation plan (HCP).

With this vote, the state forest plan—years in the making—moves on to final federal review with a decision expected by early 2025. If finalized, the plan will return to the Board for one last vote and more opportunities for public comment. 

“This month’s vote to move the plan forward would not have happened without a huge show of public support,” says Michael Lang, Wild Salmon Center Senior Oregon Policy Manager. “Thousands of Oregonians stood tall for state forests despite relentless pressure from the timber industry to reduce conservation areas and increase logging.”

Over the past year, thousands of Oregonians joined our Stand Tall Oregon campaign to urge the state Board of Forestry to advance a legacy plan for Oregon state forests. (Photo: Little North Fork Wilson River, Oregon North Coast. Credit: Brady Holden.)

Over the past year, Oregonians showed up to support strong protections for state forests, which are home to six world-class wild salmon and steelhead rivers—the Trask, Wilson, Kilchis, Miami, Nehalem, and Salmonberry. The proposed state forest plan restores balance to state forests that have been overharvested for the past two decades, threatening these key salmon strongholds. Lang notes that the plan will also ensure the stability of timber harvests over generations—at a level that doesn’t threaten other recreation and wildlife values for these public lands.

The state forest plan covers 634,000 acres across Western Oregon, including more than half a million acres located in the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests in Oregon’s rugged North CoastDrawing up to 100 inches of rain annually, the region’s forest, stream network, and connected tidal wetlands drive a natural fish factory, with thousands of coho, cutthroat trout, winter steelhead, and famous runs of fall Chinook that arrive in waves from September to March of each year. The Tillamook River basin is also home to the southernmost viable runs of chum salmon. Together, North Coast strongholds draw salmon and steelhead anglers from across the United States, driving a $550 million outdoor recreation economy. 

The proposed state forest plan restores balance to state forests that have been overharvested for the past two decades, threatening key salmon strongholds.

Chum salmon. (PC: Alamy)

The region’s benefits extend beyond superlative wild fish habitat. The North Coast’s mature, temperate rainforests of Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, cedar and hemlock provide shade and a natural filtration system that supplies more than half a million residents with drinking water from Hillsboro to the coast. And they help fight climate change by absorbing and retaining vast amounts of carbon. 

The March 7 vote marks a high point in this long campaign to ensure the health of Oregon’s North Coast forests. But Lang notes our work isn’t finished yet. 2024 will bring new chances for Oregonians to keep the HCP on track and support better protections for healthier state forests and the salmon strongholds they nourish.

Measuring the circumference of a tree on Oregon North Coast state forestland. (PC: North Coast State Forest Coalition.)

“We’re a big step closer to a state forest plan that’s far more aligned with the core values of Oregonians,” Lang says. “But we’re not there yet. Over the coming year, we’ll again be counting on Oregonians to stand tall and get this legacy plan to the finish line.”

Stay tuned for more opportunities to support the HCP and more balanced management of Oregon’s state forests.

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News, State Forests

Anchoring the Tillamook’s Recovery

On a Wilson River tributary, a new future for Oregon’s state forests comes into view. 

From an old hilltop logging road in the Tillamook State Forest, adventurers can catch sight of a long stretch of the Little North Fork of Oregon’s Wilson River. 

For decades, this has been steep-slope logging country, a place where thick yarding cords still hang from ridgetops. But from this perch, you can also see a rare patch of old-growth in the near distance: remnant forest that survived last century’s Tillamook Burn wildfires. 

According to Charles Wooldridge, a fisherman, photographer, and artist who’s lived in Tillamook County since the early 1980s, this intact habitat could be key to the future of Oregon’s once-lush North Coast forests, as one nucleus for their regeneration.

Tillamook County resident Charles Wooldridge and canine companion Maxine on a May 2023 hike in the Tillamook State Forest. (Photo courtesy Charles Wooldridge.)

“The Little North Fork basin escaped much of the salvage logging and forestry practices we see nearby,” Wooldridge says. “Because of that, it still has healthy populations of wild fish, amphibians, and large game. Nature will move out and find a place, if you have that species health.”

This year, these foundational populations of fish and wildlife could get a boost from a new habitat conservation plan under consideration by the Oregon Board of Forestry. If enacted, the plan would protect the Little North Fork’s precious old-growth stand within one of several dedicated conservation areas comprising roughly half of Western Oregon’s state forestlands. The plan’s conservation areas would transition 250,000 acres of the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests from their current patchwork of clear cuts to a landscape that prioritizes fish, wildlife, and the human communities who rely on healthy forests.

Meanwhile, the plan would continue to manage another 250,000 public acres for timber production—with updated rules and more reliability, ensuring the long-term viability of a legacy industry for North Coast communities. For Wooldridge and others, it’s a compromise plan, but one that creates at least some room for North Coast forests to breathe again.

“After the Burn,” Wooldridge explains, “many counties wound up relying on the state to take care of the forest. But one thing they didn’t agree on back then is what a forest is. When you have species like yew, fir, and cedar that can live for hundreds of years, is it a forest if you keep logging it on a 30-year rotation?”

Wooldridge, who frequently uses the warren of old logging roads in his backyard to bushwhack deep into the Tillamook, seeks out these mature zones of alder and maple, giant remnant conifers, and steep slopes covered with tiger lilies, wild onions, and native succulents. He recalls seeing one ancient fir tree in this vicinity, somewhere near Stanley Peak. The massive tree was many centuries old, and the Burn had blackened one entire side, but it still produced seeds and cones, actively regenerating the landscape around it. 

“The places back there in the coastal forest that have old-growth, they’re mysterious and inviting in the same way—primordial,” he says. “Even when I just drive by, I can imagine all these things are there. And that makes me happy. Though I’d be much happier if I knew these places would be left alone to function as large-basin anchor habitat on all levels.”

Wooldridge’s friend and sometime fishing buddy Bob Rees, Executive Director of the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association, has for years pushed Oregon’s Department of Forestry to advance the habitat plan toward a final vote, currently scheduled for sometime this year. Even now, representatives of the timber industry and some rural counties still try to derail the plan completely.

“We’ve already lost so much,” Rees says. “Take the industry I represent, which relies on the productivity of wild fish. We’re becoming an endangered species ourselves. But we can still move the needle for salmon. And a habitat conservation plan for state forests is a step in the right direction.”

Salmon and steelhead are keystone species, Rees reminds us—meaning that with productive salmon runs come productive wildlife populations and healthy landscapes that feed on the marine nutrients brought upriver by salmon. In many ways, he says, the Little North Fork of the Wilson is an ideal place to focus this ambitious, needle-moving conservation strategy

Already, the Little North Fork is a big producer of the wild fish that drive work for Rees and his colleagues. It’s a “fish factory” for late-run fall Chinook. And it supports the mainstem Wilson’s relative abundance of Oregon Coast coho—an endangered species—as well as wild winter steelhead and cutthroat trout. Together with the neighboring Kilchis and Miami Rivers, the Wilson is also a rare stronghold of wild chum salmon: a species that’s all but disappeared elsewhere in Oregon.

Bob Rees, Executive Director of the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association, says we need to move the needle fast on habitat recovery to have a chance of preserving the wild fish productivity that sustains livelihoods like his. (Photo courtesy Bob Rees.)

These fish runs are hardy holdouts, cherished by Rees and his fellow anglers. In nature’s interwoven way, these fish thrive in part because ancient and mature parts of this forest still exist inside this fractious landscape: canopies that shade streams, root systems that filter water and build food webs, and fallen trees that provide shelter for small fry. 

This year, we have a chance to protect much of what makes the North Coast so special: from its wild fish runs to the primordial magic of its forestsLet’s make sure we win this plan for our public lands. And then, let’s transform the Little North Fork of the Wilson River into an anchor for the ancient forests, abundant wildlife, and wild fish of the North Coast’s future.

Take Action: Halt the timber industry grab on Oregon’s state forests.

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A Proud Legacy: Bob Van Dyk’s 12 Years in Oregon Policy

Wild Salmon Center’s Oregon Policy Director steps down, after a tour de force that has changed the state’s forest rules.

Shared from, December 2022

In the early 2000s, Wild Salmon Center CEO Guido Rahr started bumping into Bob Van Dyk at Oregon Board of Forestry meetings. At the time, replanted Douglas fir trees were beginning to reach merchantable sizes on state forests in northwest Oregon, five decades after the Tillamook Burn.

Rahr was deeply concerned about imminent and widespread logging scheduled for these forests, home to some of the best remaining salmon runs in the Lower 48. And Van Dyk, a political science professor at Pacific University, was coincidentally turning his academic focus to the controversy over fish and forest management. Van Dyk was also a map geek who had learned some basic GIS that allowed him to examine public land management. The more Van Dyk learned about state forest management, the clearer it became that the Oregon Department of Forestry was a case of regulatory capture: the timber industry dominated an agency that was tasked with protecting the public interest.

Nehalem River, Oregon (PC: Justin Bailie).

Thus began our long partnership with Van Dyk. Initially moonlighting with WSC for several years while holding down his tenured professorship, Van Dyk renounced tenure and came on full time as our Oregon and California Policy Director in 2015.

Bob Van Dyk documenting some of the remaining older growth trees in the Tillamook Forest in 2012 (PC: WSC Staff).

His combined accomplishments over the last 12 years are nothing short of monumental. But perhaps his greatest achievement is influencing a change of perspective: the Department of Forestry, which oversees 10.8 million acres of private and state forestland in Oregon, no longer looks at those lands as a giant tree farm. Years ago, a colleague called Van Dyk a “forest Jedi” for all his time spent deep in the Tillamook. But equally important—and more true to the moniker—were the endless hours he spent with board members and elected officials convincing them that it was time for change.

This month, Van Dyk steps away from full time work at WSC. He assures us he’ll still be around to stand up for forests, and we sincerely hope he does. Thank you, Bob, for all you’ve done to date for Oregon forests, water, and wild salmon.

2010Conservation groups push back against clearcutting state lands

A coalition of fishing and conservation groups led by WSC and Bob Van Dyk petitions the Oregon Board of Forestry to reconsider its decision to weaken conservation committments on the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests.

Stream scientist Charlie Dewberry, WSC’s Bob Van Dyk, and former WSC staff Tom Miewald reviewing Tillamook State Forest land maps (PC: WSC Staff).

2012: Scientist appointed to Board of Forestry

WSC leads the effort to appoint the first scien­tist, Cindy Deacon Williams of Medford, to the Oregon Board of Forestry, which oversees rules for state and private forest land in Oregon. It brings a more analytical approach to decision making.

2012: Oregon Board of Forestry supports conservation

Before a growing chorus of more than 100 conservation supporters in Tillamook, the Board of Forestry approved designating part of Oregon’s state forests as “high value conservation areas.”

Tillamook River, Oregon
Tillamook River, Oregon (PC: Guido Rahr).

2013: North Coast State Forest Coalition founded

WSC helps lead a broad conservation coalition to defend Or­egon’s North Coast, including the Northwest Steelheaders, Oregon Council of Trout Unlimited, Northwest Guides and An­glers Association, the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club, and, eventually, Pacific Rivers.

2014: High Value Conservation Areas established

Oregon Department of Forestry finalizes protections for fish and wildlife habitat on more than 140,000 acres of the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests in Northwest Oregon.

A tour of the Tillamook Forest in 2014 with WSC’s Bob Van Dyk, former WSC staffer Chris Smith, WSC President Guido Rahr, former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, fishing guide Bob Rees, and Ian Fergusson (Northwest Steelheaders, Native Fish Society).

2015: Board of Forestry increases stream buffers on private land

This marks the first major improvement in stream protections in twenty years. “But,” says Van Dyk, “there is a long way to go just to meet the level of protections that federal standards require.”

North Umpqua River, Oregon (PC: Ken Morrish).

2019: #FailingForestry Oregonian series

The “Failing Forestry” series in Oregon’s largest statewide newspaper details chronic mismanagement at the Oregon Department of Forestry. “They basically opened up some of the fattest, juiciest, most accessible stands of trees they have to clearcutting,” Van Dyk tells the Oregonian. “Our overarching concern is that this is unsustainable.”

Looking north over the Oregon Coast from atop Indian Chieftain peak towards Cannon Beach, clear cuts dominate the view. (PC: Thomas Robinson).

2020: Timber industry, conservation groups agree to negotiate

The breakthrough agreement, led by the Wild Salmon Center, means that industry and fishing and conservation interests avoided potentially costly ballot measures aimed at forest reform. Governor Kate Brown presides over the signing of the agreement in Salem.

Oregon Private Forest Accord negotiations (PC: Bob Sallinger).

2020: New statewide pesticide rules, new logging rules in Southern Oregon

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Legislature passes improved rules preventing the spraying of pesticides near homes, schools, and drinking water streams, as well as new protections from logging near streams in the Rogue-Siskiyou region of Southwest Oregon. 

2021: Private Forest Accord signed, sealed, delivered

Nine months of high stakes negotiations bear fruit on October 30, 2021, with timber interests and conservation groups—the latter led by Van Dyk—backing big improvements to the Forest Practices Act which governs 10 million acres of private lands. The Legislature adopts the agreement in full several months later.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown and key stakeholders at the signing of the Oregon Private Forest Accord in 2022.

2022: Elliott secures new role as State Research Forest

Completing a long process that reverses a potential sale of the 82,000-acre tract to be logged, Oregon’s oldest state forest is finally protected by strong and durable conservation commitments.

Elliott State Forest, Oregon (PC: Greg Vaughn).

2022: Linn County lawsuit stopped

Led by Linn County, Western Oregon taxing districts that draw revenue from logging on state forests sued the state for more than $1 billion in damages, alleging a drop in logging proceeds starting in the 1990s. Van Dyk campaigned with others against the suit, claiming the state had legal latitude to balance logging with other forest uses. The Oregon Appeals Court and Supreme Court both agree, paving the way for increased conservation on state lands.

In the coming year, a major piece of Van Dyk’s legacy for Oregon forests still hangs in the balance, as the Board of Forestry works to approve a Habitat Conservation Plan for North Coast state forests—along with other critical forestlands in the western half of the state.

This 70-year plan would assure stronger streamside and upland protections for fish and wildlife, protect drinking water, secure recreation opportunities, and create a durable and lasting rainforest stronghold for wild salmon and steelhead right here in the heart of Northwest Oregon. As Van Dyk steps back, he hands the reins to new WSC Oregon Senior Policy Managers Stacey Detwiler and Michael Lang to carry this work over the finish line. And we’ll need your help, too, to honor Bob’s work and secure this win for Oregon!

Tillamook River, Oregon
Tillamook Forest, Oregon (PC: Jeff Mishler).
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Appeals court reverses verdict that awarded $1 billion to Oregon timber counties

The Oregon Court of Appeals on Wednesday reversed a jury verdict that awarded Oregon timber counties and taxing districts $1.1 billion they say they are owed from lost logging revenue on land they donated to the state.

The court determined that Oregon can manage more than 700,000 acres of donated forestland for a range of values like recreation, water quality and wildlife habitat — not just logging.

“The Court of Appeals decision today is a victory for Oregon’s environment as well as for sound forest management,” Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said in a press release.

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Plan for logging Oregon’s state forests while protecting imperiled wildlife moves forward

A state forest plan that aims to protect endangered species across 640,000 acres of forestland west of the Cascades while providing certainty for logging is moving toward its final stages.

The proposed Western Oregon Habitat Conservation Plan would provide protections for 17 federally listed endangered species and ensure logging in other parts of the forests to limit the potential harm to those species. The species list includes the coastal marten, red tree voles, Northern spotted owl, and Oregon coast coho.

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