You can be savoring an IPA along the Umatilla River after a long day of adventuring in Oregon’s forests and honestly wonder if things couldn’t get much better. But sometimes those charged with managing this beautiful state let us all down. State government is not a place brimming with simple problems with easy answers. Still, The Oregonian reported over the weekend the Oregon Department of Forestry’s state forest division is “failing on almost every front.”
The division manages approximately 745,000 acres of forestlands across Oregon. Its budget is a mess and getting worse. That’s because, in part, it is funded solely by timber sales that aren’t happening. That’s led to cuts in staff. Fewer staff, in turn, makes it harder for the division to solve its problems. On top of everything, the agency is facing a lawsuit from 14 Oregon counties who claim they have not been getting the revenue they are entitled to from timber sales. They say they’ve been shortchanged $1.4 billion.
Legislators and Gov. Kate Brown have failed to provide adequate oversight of the division. Do you remember the special series of hearings called this past session by our legislative leaders to get to the bottom of this? Nope. They didn’t happen. What are they going to do about it?
Even members of the forestry board have grown frustrated. Brenda McComb, a board member and former forestry professor at Oregon State University, has “repeatedly asked staff members for more information around the existing inventory of trees and whether current harvest levels are sustainable,” according to The Oregonian. That’s a fundamental piece of knowing how well any management plan would work. She has not gotten it.
Forest policy is going to be divisive. There is no shared, statewide vision of how a state-owned forest should be managed. That may help explain but does not excuse the absence of oversight and leadership from the Legislature and Gov. Brown in managing the state’s forests.