Banks, News, ODF

Banks’ Mayor Jones, Hampton Lumber push back against ODF’s Western Oregon Habitat Conservation Plan

An Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) could have disastrous effects on regional economies — especially those in and around Banks and Gales Creek — according to Portland-based Hampton Lumber, which operates a lumber mill on Commerce Street in Banks. 

Laura Wilkeson, Hampton Lumber’s state forest policy director, told the Banks City Council in April that ODF’s proposed Habitat Conservation Plan — an agreement aimed at protecting wildlife species and ecosystems while providing landowners operation flexibility and assurances — could result in 60 percent of state forestland being restricted from harvesting. 

The way the statutory forest harvest revenue formula currently breaks down is ODF receives 36.25 percent while counties receive 63.75 percent. Washington County distributes 20 percent of those revenues to its general fund and road fund, and another 25 percent goes to the county school fund.

In related news, the Oregon Court of Appeals recently reversed a $1.1 billion verdict against the state for how it manages forests, ruling that the state wasn’t obligated to maximize logging and profits. Lawyers for at least one county fighting the state said they would appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court.

A Hampton Lumber PowerPoint presentation, obtained by the Banks Post & Gales Creek Journal, says a proposed overall 60 percent reduction in ODF forest harvesting would result in 30 percent less revenue for Washington County, or $13 million annually, and a 50 percent budget deficit for ODF.

ODF has managed about 750,000 acres of Oregon state forest land since the early 1900s, Wilkeson said, much of which is located in the Clatsop and Tillamook State Forests, the very lands where harvests contribute to a large share of local economies, she said.

The current draft plan would allow, through the year 2092, for ODF to manage about 640,000 acres of forestland west of the Cascade Mountains, including the Tillamook State Forest, and reduce harvests by as much as 30 percent over the lifespan of the 70-year plan.

That would result in about $13 million less in available annual revenue to Forest Land Trust Communities and their taxing districts, according to a January 2022 NW Oregon Forest Policy Update obtained by the Banks Post & Gales Creek Journal.

A letter dated April 13, 2022, written by Banks Mayor Stephanie Jones to the Oregon Board of Forestry, says the Habitat Conservation Plan, originally created in 2020, does not consider “the impacts it will have on our residents,” Jones wrote. “Our small town of (fewer) than 2,000 people depends on the economic activity that the forest sector provides.”

Jones stated that the Hampton Lumber sawmill “employs roughly 65 people and supports hundreds of indirect jobs throughout the community.” The mill also receives about 50 percent of its logs directly from regional forestland, Wilkeson told the Banks City Council.

For instance, the Hampton Lumber study finds more than 75 family-owned businesses worked in ODF sales for Hampton in 2021, including 17 logging, hauling, and road construction contractors, as well as 61 subcontractors, including those working in industries that include trucking, timber-falling, road building, and fire compliance.

Jones’s letter says that local businesses rely on timber harvests from working public forests and that the local region is lucky to be so close to two state forests that provide wood fiber, recreation opportunities, and environmental benefits to residents.

“However, if the current draft of the HCP were to be approved, their livelihoods and our community will be severely and negatively impacted … and local schools also will lose funding as a result,” Jones wrote.

The Hampton presentation also says the ODF’s Habitat Conservation Plan was “developed without (a) socio-economic analysis.”

The presentation says more than 75 small, family-owned businesses contributed ODF sales to Hampton Lumber in 2021.

A public comment period for the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Western Oregon State Forests Habitat Conservation Plan is open until June 1, 2022. Individuals can participate by going online to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries website.

This story originally noted a public comment period was open until May 17; in fact, the period is open until June 1.

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