The timber industry and environmentalists are headed toward a showdown over forest management that could bring as many as nine ballot measures before the voters next November.
At issue is a fundamental disagreement over what forest practices best protect water quality. The two sides are also gearing up for a possible fight over what role the timber industry should play in making the regulations that govern forest management in Oregon.
The environmentalists fired the opening volley with Initiative Petitions 35, 36 and 37 in July. All three were rejected by Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno, who said the petitions failed to meet the requirement that each measure cover a single topic.
The environmentalists sued, hoping to overturn that decision.
While that case works its way through the court system, the environmentalists filed three pared-down initiative petitions — 45, 46 and 47 — in October, in an attempt to meet the single topic requirement.
Last week, the timber industry fired back, filing three initiative petitions of its own. They’re numbered 53, 54 and 55.
The environmentalists propose changing the laws to block clear-cuts in landslide-prone areas and to create more restrictive rules around spraying of herbicides near waterways.
They argue that intensive logging in landslide hazard locations increases sediment and debris in the forest waters that become Oregonians’ drinking water. They also argue that aerial application of toxic herbicides is allowed across broader areas of forest watersheds in Oregon than in other states and that this affects forest waters and endangers Oregonians’ health.
Their first set of proposed measures would additionally prevent people with conflicts of interest from sitting on the State Board of Forestry. Those who make money from the industries the board regulates could not become board members. These conflict of interest rules weren’t included in their second round of petitions.
The pro-timber petitions filed last week would do three things. First, Initiative Petition 53 would change the Oregon Constitution to provide that any time the state makes a law or regulation that eliminates the economic value of a property, it would have to provide just compensation to the landowner.
Second, Initiative Petition 54 would mandate that policies related to forest management be based on peer-reviewed science and on the forestry board’s consensus.
Third, Initiative Petition 55 would change the composition of the forestry board to expressly include industry representatives, small woodlands owners and wood manufacturing employees — people who would be barred under the environmentalists’ proposed conflict of interest rules. It would also include three members nominated by state agencies to represent environmental advocates.
Sara Duncan of Gallatin Public Affairs, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Forest and Industries Council, said barring those industry representatives from the board would amount to regulation without representation. She said it’s important to have members who work in the timber industry because they are the ones who have experience in managing the forests.
Duncan said the landslide and spraying rules proposed by the environmentalists aren’t based on science.
“There has been a movement — and you can see it in the ballot initiatives of the anti-forestry activists — to put in regulations, prescriptive regulations that have no backing by science. We think that’s a bad idea,” she said.
Duncan also said reducing timberland owners’ ability to manage their forests increases the risk of wildfire.
“We think that will increase catastrophic wildfire risks in Oregon and we don’t think Oregonians want that, nor can they afford it. It’s bad for our health. It’s bad for the health of the forest. It pollutes our air and our water and we think that’s a bad idea,” Duncan said.
She said the spraying that environmentalists object to is necessary to ensure that newly planted trees aren’t choked out by Scotch broom and blackberries before they have a chance to grow into forests to replace those that have been harvested.
Water quality in the state is excellent today, especially in forestlands and including actively managed forest, Duncan said.
“So we know that the laws that are in place to protect water quality in the forest, those are working,” she said.
Kate Crump of Rockaway Beach is a chief petitioner for the environmentalists’ initiatives. She does not think the state’s current forestry laws adequately protect the water Oregonians are drinking.
“I feel like they’re extremely unsafe, and I feel like there’s a complete lack of transparency on what is happening in our drinking watersheds in forestlands,” she said.
And that, she said, has everything to do with the forestry board’s membership.
“They’re the ones that are making the decisions and they are responsible for allowing Oregon to fall behind our neighbors in our forest practices. They’re responsible for not protecting our forest waters further for communities and people and wildlife,” she said.
She also disputed the assertion that her petitions’ proposals are unscientific.
“All of our measures are backed by science. I definitely feel like that’s an inaccurate claim,” she said.
Crump is a fishing guide for Frigate Adventure Travel. She became concerned about her water after she received a notice in the mail saying elderly or pregnant people shouldn’t drink it.
“I was like what, I live in America. How is this a thing?” she said.
There wasn’t a factory upstream, but she said she discovered the water flowed through recently cut industrial timberland. She walked to the headwaters and said it looked like a bomb had gone off and she learned it was being helicopter sprayed with herbicides and pesticides.
Crump said caring about clean water and forests is a core value for Oregonians.
“It’s very important to people to protect these places and to have clean water and to know that it’s safe for their children to drink and play in it,” she said.