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Survey: Oregonians support forest projects

A statewide survey last month indicates Oregonians overall have a practical but measured attitude toward timber harvests and other forest management practices. A sizable percentage believe there is too much logging in Oregon forests, but the vast majority believe commercial timber harvest plays a role in actively managing healthy forests.

The survey, by the nonprofit Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, queried 1,554 Oregon residents online between Nov. 10 and Nov. 19.

As always when considering forest management, broad generalities — “too much” logging vs. “too little,” for instance — don’t reflect the reality of what is actually taking place. Most logging in Oregon takes place on state or privately owned forestlands, although the federal government owns most of the forests.

While four in 10 survey respondents said too much logging is taking place, more than 75% said forest management, including commercial harvest, is important to maintain forest health. The trick is deciding where that management should happen.

Although very little logging occurs on federal forest lands, there is a longstanding debate over some of that federal land. Here in Southern Oregon, higher-elevation federal forests are managed by the U.S. Forest Service, while lower-elevation timber is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management. Much of that BLM land was historically set aside specifically for sustainable timber harvest, with the federal government splitting the proceeds with county governments in Western Oregon.

In recent decades, BLM timber harvests have sharply declined, and much of that forest is overgrown as a result.

It ought to be possible to conduct carefully planned logging to thin those forests, and BLM officials say they are attempting to do that, but environmental groups are pushing back, claiming the agency is using forest resiliency projects as an excuse to increase commercial logging. The result is lawsuits aimed at stopping the projects, which means nothing gets done.

The irony here is that both sides want the same thing: healthier, more fire-resilient forests.

An Oregon State University fire researcher told Jefferson Public Radio that the BLM’s Medford District and the environmental group KS Wild “should be in some sort of couples therapy.”

The survey from last fall suggests Oregonians understand the need to pursue restoration projects that will thin fire-prone forests, removing flammable vegetation and leaving behind mature trees better able to survive wildfires. The Values and Beliefs Center, in comparing the 2022 survey with one from three years ago, notes that in 2019, more than half of Oregon residents surveyed rated federal, state and private forest management as good or very good. In 2022, only four in 10 felt that way.

The message to forest agencies and environmentalists should be clear enough: Stop bickering over motives and find ways to get these crucial projects done.