Gov. Kate Brown’s office announced Monday that timber industry and environmental groups have reached a historic agreement to work together to overhaul state laws governing timber practices and endangered species protections.
The deal is expected to bring an end to an array of dueling initiative petitions that could have sought voter approval this November to either protect the industry or the environment.
A memorandum of understanding was signed by about a dozen environmental groups and about a dozen timber companies and associations. Industry representatives joining the agreement came from companies like Roseburg Forest Products, Lone Rock, Seneca Sawmill Company and Weyerhauser. Environmental groups signing on included Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild, the Wild Salmon Center and Umpqua Watersheds.
The timber industry and environmental leaders have agreed to pursue science-informed policy. They’ve agreed to withdraw the competing initiative petitions that could have become ballot measures in November, and to support legislation updating timber practices to protect threatened and endangered species, including salmon. They’ll also support passage of new legislation expanding buffers for aerial pesticide sprays.
Rebecca Taylor, spokeswoman for Roseburg Forest Products, said this is a unique opportunity for timber companies and environmentalists to set aside their differences and develop solutions to some very complex regulatory issues around forestry.
“That’s a conversation that needs to happen — a direct conversation — so while we are very confident in our current science-based forest practices, we do think that this cooperative agreement, the MOU, it charts a path to provide greater assurances for a strong industry and a healthy environment,” she said.
She said having a direct, face-to-face conversation between the groups could help prevent them from going around in circles.
“The goal is to have a more productive conversation around these issues that are important to all Oregonians. I think that if you’re ever looking for a constituency that cares about the environment and cares about trees and forestry, then the foresters working at some of these timber companies are a good place to look. They do care about the land, the water, the air and the trees, so I think there’s some shared interests we could leverage here,” she said.
Bob Van Dyk, Oregon policy director at the Portland-based Wild Salmon Center, told The News-Review on Monday that the timber companies first met with the governor in January, and the environmental groups joined the discussion a little over two weeks ago.
“We met four times and by the end of the fourth time, we had this agreement, so it was really quick. But because we kind of knew each other and the issues were familiar, we could work pretty quickly because for so long, we’d been sort of going back and forth about the different issues. So we didn’t have to start from scratch,” he said.
Van Dyk is hopeful about where the new agreement will lead.
“I feel more optimistic than I have in the past. There’s some real commitments being made by the timber industry to seek a new direction,” he said.
The industry and environmental groups will come up with a Habitat Conservation Plan to commit to endangered species protections stricter than those called for in the Oregon Forest Practices Act. In exchange, the companies will get protection against Endangered Species Act lawsuits from the environmentalists.
“It’s a way of trading certainty over conservation commitments for certainty over the ability to conduct your operations,” Van Dyk said.
Umpqua Watersheds released a statement Monday saying the Oregon Forest Practices Act hasn’t evolved with society’s needs and is due for an update. The OFPA’s failure has led to landslides, loss of aesthetic landscapes, declining fisheries and wildlife habitat and lower water quality, Stanley Petrowski of Umpqua Watersheds said in the press release.
“Umpqua Watersheds has been working hard for decades to improve the health of the Umpqua Watersheds Basin and eagerly embraces the opportunity to make major improvements in the Oregon Forest Practices Act that will help protect fisheries, wildlife, and aquatic habitat, as well as provide for improved quantity and quality of water. Such improvements are in the best interest of the citizens of the state of Oregon and here in the Umpqua Basin,” Petrowski said.
The memorandum of understanding signed by the groups calls for mediated meetings to be held over the next 18 months. Legislation based on the plan the cooperating parties will develop out of those meetings will be enacted through the legislature, no later than the 2022 legislative session, according to the agreement.
Some new legislation is expected at this year’s session, also. Brown said in a press release the pact proves that when groups work together with a willingness to compromise, they can create a better future in Oregon.
“Oregonians want healthy forests and fish, a vibrant forest sector, and prosperous rural communities. These are not mutually exclusive goals,” Brown said. “The conversations that brought forth this agreement, coupled with sound science, will bring certainty for everyone involved while protecting Oregon’s environment and endangered species.”