state forest

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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