Commissioners respond to State Forest multiple-use issues

We don’t usually respond to Letters to the Editor because we believe people should have an opportunity to provide their opinions on matters important to them. However, when statements or assumptions are made that are not factual or are outright misrepresentations of us or Tillamook County, we feel obligated to respond.
In a recent opinion piece, Bob Rees makes some statements that are not only misrepresentations but are disparaging to Commissioners Josi and Baertlein, the County, and the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF). In Mr. Rees’ letter, he attempts to give the perception, by stating numerous times, that state forests are not being managed for multiple uses. He further tries to convince you that the issue about clearcutting is all about cutting more timber and that we need to have more conservation areas to keep that from happening by espousing lack of “Multiple Use”. He advocates that we need more protections for “habitat species headed for extinction”. Mr. Rees mentions that ODF is “clearcutting younger stands” and that ODF needs to “mitigate against floods and drought”. Mr. Rees alludes that the way state forests are being managed now “contributes to declines of juvenile salmon”. Mr. Rees goes on to say that “these are public forests, let’s manage them as such”. Mr. Rees’ final comment is that if these forests are “managed sustainably, they will provide a multitude of benefits for generations to come”. In other words he’s trying to convince you that state forests are not being managed sustainably or for multiple uses.
Mr. Rees wants you to believe that we are headed for a train wreck and we need to turn the ship because if we don’t all the important attributes of sustainability and multiple use will be in danger. This could not be further from the truth.
Here are the facts: Over one half of Tillamook County is being managed by ODF, who are the stewards of these forests and their habitats. Did you know that 38 percent of the Tillamook State Forest is already set aside for no timber harvest? These areas include riparian zones along streams, High Risk Sites for landslides, Salmon Anchor Habitats, recreation sites and trails, and areas with poor, shallow soils. Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet habitats are also protected. And yet, Mr. Rees would give you the impression that there’s very little forest conservation and we need to reduce harvesting and increase the protected areas from 38 percent even though the remaining 62 percent is managed to produce a variety of forest habitats across the entire landscape.
Mr. Rees mentions that ODF is clearcutting younger forests. What would be ODF’s goal in doing that? On the forest tours we attend, we don’t observe this practice occurring and it certainly does not make economic or environmental sense. The only thing we agree with Mr. Rees on is that ODF is converting Swiss Needle Cast diseased Douglas fir stands. In the 1950’s, ODF should have replanted the burned over coastal strip timber lands with disease-resistant Hemlock trees but Hemlock seeds and seedlings were unavailable, thus leading to the Douglas fir plantings in the coastal Hemlock zone. This is a mistake we believe ODF will not repeat.
Mr. Rees alleges multiple uses are either not happening or are severely limited in the Tillamook Forest. We respectfully disagree. The Tillamook forest provides a multitude of recreational uses, which are supported by 116 miles of trails used by hikers, horse riders, and motorcyclists. Last year about 38,000 people camped in the nine campgrounds and five off-highway (OHV) staging sites. Many more people used the seven additional day-use areas, for picnicking and sightseeing. Did you know the Tillamook Forest Center along Highway 6 hosted 5,000 students last year? Tourists stopping for a visit to learn about the forest and its transformative history also add to the visitor count.
Fish are also considered a multiple use. Mr. Rees gives the impression that current forest management conflicts with fish conservation and that we need more protected areas to preserve the habitats that support our fisheries. There are five major rivers that flow out of the Tillamook State Forest and support Tillamook Bay’s “world class” fishery, most notably for famous Chinook salmon. The Tillamook Forest produces significant numbers of young salmon, which begin their life cycle in the headwaters. A few years ago, ODF and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife placed non-lethal fish traps on a few tributaries to research how many young fish were being produced and out-migrating to the ocean. One trap was on a tributary to the Wilson River called the Little North Fork of the Wilson River—it’s just as you enter the forest past the Wilson River RV Park on the left. In just one year, 1.4 million Chinook, 154,000 Coho, and 11,000 steelhead fry out-migrated from the Little North Fork. This 12-mile long Wilson River tributary is only one of an expansive tributary network of the five rivers in the Tillamook State Forest. It tells us the forest is producing a lot of fish under ODF’s forest management regimes. Mr. Rees would lead you to believe the whole system is going down the tubes and we need to set aside more of the forest with more conservation areas.
Mr. Rees mentions floods and drought. As we know, forests trap water and sediments, and shade streams to retain cool water temperatures. ODF annually spends millions of dollars replacing culverts and bridges to improve fish passage and creating drainage systems to divert water off roads. While the forest is managed to trap sediments as much as possible, sediment retention can be difficult when the forest receives over 100 inches of rain, sometimes over a short duration.
Lastly, Mr. Rees leads you to believe the Tillamook State Forest is clearcut heaven. We encourage you to take a drive into the public forest and take a look for yourself. Most of the roads are open to the public. Do you see devastation that requires harvest reductions or locking up the forest in more conservation areas? What you will see is a well-managed forest with a variety of forested landscapes. Yes, you will see clear-cuts. We need a variety of forest structures across the landscape, like open stands that provide deer and elk forage. We also need older forests that provide valuable habitat for species such as voles, Spotted Owls, and Marbled Murrelets. We assure you ODF is cognizant of the need for producing revenue for our college, schools districts, and yes, the county, so we can continue to provide law enforcement, health, planning, juvenile, and election services, to name a few.
After the four fires – commonly called the Tillamook Burn – the forests were deeded by the counties to the State for the purpose of growing, harvesting, and sustaining forestlands. Unfortunately, the current Forest Management Plan has so many environmental and recreational requirements in place that ODF is no longer able to pay its bills. They are operating on their reserves, which will be gone by 2020. A new plan is being considered by the Board of Forestry. When the new Plan is adopted, the forests will continue to be managed sustainably and with many multiple uses for generations to come. Mr. Rees would have you believe otherwise.
Board of Commissioners,
Tillamook County