Short-sighted choices harm forest, public
October 20, 2014
I am writing to address some inaccuracies in Samuel Lee III’s Sept. 27 guest viewpoint, as well as to shed some light on issues relating to the Elliott State Forest.
I volunteer with Coast Range Forest Watch, and we are dedicated to keeping the Elliott public. CRFW is a volunteer group anyone can join. Most of us live and work in Coos County. Some of our volunteers have children and grandchildren in public school here. We are citizens concerned about the futures of schoolchildren as well as the health of our forests.
In order to raise funds for our operational costs, we need a fiscal sponsor registered as a 501(c) 3 nonprofit group. Our fiscal sponsor is the League of Wilderness Defenders (not the League of Forest Defenders, as Lee wrote.) Because it is also volunteer-run, the group’s board membership changes somewhat from year to year, and it doesn’t have a fancy website. It is common practice for small or new organizations to have a fiscal sponsor.
Some CRFW volunteers, myself included, are certified marbled murrelet observers. We attend the same training as contracted surveyors who work for the state Department of Forestry and other managing agencies. This training is provided by Mad River Biologists according to Pacific Seabird Group protocol.
The main difference in our surveys is that we don’t get paid to do them. We have performed more than 100 surveys in the Elliott State Forest, and we often see murrelets without hearing them. They can fly silently.
Marbled murrelets are listed as federally endangered and threatened in Oregon. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services studies indicate a steady decline in murrelet populations throughout Washington, Oregon and California from 2001 to 2013. The combined Alaska and Canada population is around 500,000. However, the combined Washington, Oregon and California population is only about 18,000.
Murrelet nesting requires tree limbs at least 4 inches in diameter, with adequate cover from predators on all sides. A 1995 Forest Service report estimates that, before logging, 1 million to 1.5 million hectares of suitable murrelet habitat existed in Oregon’s Coast Range. Today, there are only around 200,000 hectares. To me, it looks like murrelets need all the help they can get. When it comes to school funding, the children of Oregon were dealt a bad hand from the start — to move forward, the best option for Oregon is to decouple school funding from timber receipts, period.
Most of the Elliott is designated as Common School Land, which, according to the Oregon Constitution, is to be managed to “obtain the greatest benefit for the people of this state, consistent with the conservation of this resource under sound techniques of land management.”
In 1992, this responsibility was condensed to state that the “greatest benefit for the people” condition requires the State Land Board to maximize long-term revenue to the Common School Fund, “within the context of environmentally sound management.” Clear-cutting mature forest stands containing endangered species habitat while neglecting crowded, even-age plantations is not environmentally sound management.
Short-sighted management choices have cost us all: The Department of Forestry and the state violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to protect stands where marbled murrelets nest. Furthermore, the 10-year Implementation Plan that the department is using for the Elliott states that “partial cutting” or “thinning” improves forest health in plantations while producing timber revenue, and that up to 500 acres of the Elliott can be thinned every year.
However, no thinning has been done in the Elliott for a decade. If federally managed forestlands adjacent to the Elliott can produce revenue through almost exclusively thinning, so can the Elliott. Today, 50 percent of Oregon’s total education funding comes from the state. Of that portion, trust land revenues make up about 1.4 percent. The maximum amount the Elliott is expected to generate is about $13 million annually. At most, the Elliott could provide 0.2 percent of the $6.75 billion total spending power for public schools between 2013 and 2015.
While every cent of money for our public schools is important, it’s also important not to exaggerate how much timber receipts from the Elliott actually contribute to schools. The Elliott is more valuable to schoolchildren as an intact, rare forest that provides clean air, water and educational opportunities than as a fraction of a percent of public school funding revenue.
Coast Range Forest Watch is currently meeting with the Department of Forestry, the Department of State Lands and others with vested interests in the Elliott to develop an alternative management strategy that protects endangered species while still benefiting students. Perhaps the “single-minded extremists” Lee was referring to in his column are those who would sacrifice the long-term health of our communities and our access to public lands for meager, short-term profits.
Amanda St. Martin of Coos Bay is a volunteer with Coast Range Forest Watch.
Samuel Lee III’s September 27th Guest Review: http://registerguard.com/rg/opinion/31851814-78/a-bird-thats-not-threatened-is-endangering-our-schools.html.csp