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Conservationists Want Forest Areas for Salmon Habitat

by Jonathan Brinckman
The Oregonian, October 12, 2000

Several groups want to limit logging along streams and valleys
in the Tillamook and Clatsop forests

Conservation groups Wednesday proposed sharply limiting or prohibiting logging along key streams and rivers covering 30 percent of prime state forests just west of Portland.

Ecotrust, Oregon Trout and The Wild Salmon Center mounted the first answer to a plan by the Oregon Department of Forestry to allow logging across the 615,000 acres of Tillamook and Clatsop state forests.

Trees in those forests are reaching harvestable size. It has been 40 to 50 years since mostly Douglas firs were replanted after the forests were razed from 1933 to 1951 by four wildfires known collectively as the Tillamook Burn. Thousands of Portlanders, between 1948 and 1973, volunteered in the replanting.

The fate of the Tillamook and Clatsop forests hangs on a decision: Will the forests be returned to logging or set aside as preserves, emphasizing recreation? A wide range of strategies has been proposed, with some conservationists considering a ballot initiative to make the area a state park inaccessible to loggers, while loggers have proposed harvesting.

The Oregon Department of Forestry this year found a middle ground: It wants to allow logging but at a far slower pace than normal for timberland. That plan was adopted by the Board of Forestry last month and will be the subject of public meetings this fall.

Wednesday, however, three conservation groups said the state is not going far enough in protecting rivers and streams used by salmon. The groups' counterproposal, which they called "anchor habitat for salmon," calls for setting aside 16.6 percent of the land to preserve key salmon habitat, 6.4 percent to protect all stream sides and valley bottoms, and 7 percent to protect steep slopes and to prevent landslides.

The anchor habitats are key. Charles Dewberry, an ecologist working for Ecotrust, said his research shows that in poor, dry years, 80 percent of salmon use 18 percent of the available habitat.

"All parts of the landscape are not equal for fish. It's these areas that function literally as anchors of the salmon population," Dewberry said. "If we lose those anchor habitats, we lose the anchor population, and when that happens, it's a dead end."

Guido R. Rahr III, executive director of The Wild Salmon Center, said salmon will be saved only if those best areas are preserved. He said salmon need streams and rivers surrounded by large trees.

"This is one of our last chances to get ahead of the extinction curve here in Oregon," Rahr said. "We've got to protect what we've got."

Ed Backus, director of community programs for Ecotrust, said the plan calls for a lower level of logging than would be allowed under the state proposal. Still, he said, the plan makes economic sense because logging would be far higher than now and fishable levels of salmon and steelhead trout would be restored.

Backus said that while logging under the state plan would increase by about twofold, logging under the salmon plan would increase 1.75-fold.

"This is not a reduction in logging, it's a slight decrease in the amount of growth," Backus said. "What we're saying is back off 25 percent of the doubling."

State forestry officials said they thought the conservationists were high in their estimate of how much logging would increase under the state plan. But they also said neither the state plan nor the conservationists' plan was developed enough for detailed comparison.

Timber industry representatives are skeptical. Jim McCauley, director of water quality and forestry regulation for the Oregon Forest Industries Council, said that the only way to get larger trees along streams is to thin and remove smaller trees.

The conservationists' plan does not permanently prohibit logging in areas identified as key for salmon; it allows logging after 125 years. McCauley was not reassured by that.

"Once you physically draw lines on the map, it is hard to get those lines to move," McCauley said. "We would expect them to become permanent eventually."

Jonathan Brinckman
Conservationists Want Forest Areas for Salmon Habitat
The Oregonian, October 12, 2000

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