On Monday, February 10th, 2020, Governor Kate Brown announced an agreement between environmental and timber industry organizations to stand down on further advocacy for six ballot measures (3 from both sides) currently in the signature gathering phase in exchange for commitments from parties to support short term legislation on aerial pesticide spraying and stream buffers in southern Oregon and long term legislation (2022 session) that lays the groundwork for a habitat conservation plan (HCP) for salmonids and other aquatic species.
The environmental initiatives would have increased the size of stream buffers and no-spray zones for logging and aerial pesticide applications while the timber industry initiatives would have forced taxpayers to pay landowners for the economic costs of additional regulations (so-called “takings”). The agreement was crafted late last week and over the weekend and includes 13 signatories from each side. While the agreement has been hailed by Governor Brown and others as ‘historic’ and ‘extraordinary’ it is important to understand what it does or does not do on the ground and what the implications will be for the work of those not party to the agreement.
Key concerns from CSE’s standpoint:
- The agreement trades logging-related protections for streams that would be secured and in place January 1st, 2021 via initiative petition 45 for a process that may or may not lead to similar protections being put in place as a result of future legislation and an aquatic species habitat conservation plan. By all accounts from the advocates, the initiative had a very good chance of passing. While CSE thought the content of IP 45 was a significant compromise and underreach, we nonetheless remained supportive of the grassroots base that was set to see this initiative through to the finish line.
- The agreement was rushed through and announced over the weekend without consultations with the broader forest protection community, tribes, nor other stakeholders whose health, livelihoods and rights are directly affected. The initiative petitioners themselves were not notified nor consulted until very late in the drafting process of the agreement.
- While the agreement is among private parties, to be fully realized, it necessitates actions by the Governor, legislators and state and federal agencies. As such, it affects a far larger community of stakeholders than the 26 signatories or the subset of those who were actually engaged in the drafting process. This larger community has every right to weigh in with their concerns and objections.
- A strong grassroots network of volunteers that was cultivated to gather signatures, promote the initiatives and engage in media and educational events has been abandoned because the agreement requires that the political organizations created to help them financially and otherwise be dissolved (Section 4(a)iv) and because the initiative they were rallying around will be withdrawn. For example, the newly formed Forest Defense Team at 350 PDX was already allocating resources and scheduling volunteer time to pass this initiative. They were not notified of the agreement and only learned about it through media reports.
- Nothing in the agreement will significantly reduce the scale and pace of harmful clearcutting, road building, or pesticide spray operations now ongoing in Oregon at a massive scale. In the best-case scenario, the legislative fixes envisioned by the agreement will eventually curb these practices in discrete buffer zones along streams and rivers and, for spray operations, near schools and residential areas. Traditionally, agreements between environmental and industry groups would include at least some concessions by industry groups to halt – at least temporarily – harmful projects on the ground as a show of good faith.
- The overwhelming scientific case for phasing out industrial forest practices across the landscape in favor of climate smart alternatives is not addressed by this agreement. The phrase ‘climate change’ is absent despite industrial forest practices being the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state. The continuation of these practices has major implications for water, fish, and the adequacy of any protective measures negotiated by the parties. CSE’s position is that any major policy initiative on forests needs to have climate change mitigation and adaptation and the needs and concerns of frontline communities and respect for tribal sovereignty at its forefront and clearly stated as such.
- The agreement does not set up a process to modernize Oregon’s Forest Practices Act (OFPA) beyond the small buffer zones (50 to 100 feet) addressed by the agreement. Any characterizations to the contrary are false. CSE, Pacific Rivers and others first introduced legislation to modernize the OFPA in 2017. Of the ten elements, this agreement only addresses one category of reform (buffers).
- The agreement sets in motion a process to get a habitat conservation plan (HCP) in place to insulate logging corporations from lawsuits under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). HCPs are tools states can use under the ESA to extend habitat protection on private lands and give landowners more ‘business certainty’ with respect to projects (like clearcuts) that may adversely affect a listed species. But they have been roundly criticized as ineffective and far better for corporations than the species they are designed to protect. In California, a proposed HCP for Sierra Pacific Industries would give that company the right to modify or destroy over 600 occupied activity centers for northern spotted owls without legal recourse for wildlife advocates.
- The agreement legitimizes management of Oregon’s forestlands by large, foreign, and Wall Street corporations by providing them with business certainty and further cementing their ability to influence policy. Business certainty is the first overriding goal mentioned in the agreement (Section C(a)). Weyerhaeuser (Wall Street’s biggest forestland company) and Campbell Global (a foreign investor-driven corporation) are among signatories to the agreement. In response to the climate crisis, CSE and others are working hard to delegitimize these entities and get them off the land and out of the state to make room for the next generation of sustainable, climate smart foresters.
- The agreement requires all parties to ask the Board of Forestry to suspend work on rulemaking for Coho salmon and actively oppose any new petitions to protect watersheds and fish (Section 4(b)). Under this agreement, if CSE or partners wanted to petition the Board of Forestry to enact new rules for drinking watersheds, the signatories – including some of our environmental allies – would be required to publicly oppose our efforts and those of federally recognized tribes, whose treaties mandate protections for salmon. This is an unprecedented and highly divisive provision, and again, hands greater power to Big Timber. Notably, there are no provisions in the agreement for Big Timber to in any way publicly criticize their fellow timber companies for not playing by the rules of the agreement.
- The short-term legislation on helicopter spraying includes a ‘protest penalty’ for anyone engaged in lawful exercise of their first amendment rights (Exhibit B, Section 10). CSE is strongly opposed to penalizing protests, especially when people are protecting their health and safety. This provision feeds into a nationwide pattern of increasingly criminalizing protest against industries harming the environment. In addition to being bad policy, we also have questions about whether this provision would be legal considering Oregon’s expansive free speech protections.
- A key motivation for signing this deal was fear over passage of IP 53, which would require taxpayer compensation for any regulations that eliminate “substantially all of the economic value to the landowner of all or a portion of land.” From an economics standpoint, we believe meeting this standard would be exceedingly difficult to prove since most environmental regulations – including enhanced stream buffers – would actually add value (i.e. bigger trees that are more valuable when eventually harvested, ability to earn income from recreation, fish, ecosystem services, etc.). Moreover, there was no evidence presented to indicate that this measure had a good chance of passing or could not be defeated by a well-organized coalition.
Irrespective of the process agreed to by the parties, CSE and its partners will continue to work hard to advance more substantive protections for Oregon’s forests and watersheds in the coming months and years with a focus on climate change. As CSE and OSU researchers have documented, the timber industry is Oregon’s number one source of greenhouse gas pollution yet forestlands west of the Cascades have the potential to capture and store more carbon per acre than almost any ecosystem on Earth if well managed. As such, Oregon’s most significant contribution to the global climate agenda is to rapidly phase out Big Timber’s harmful logging practices on private lands and set aside public forestlands as forest carbon reserves.
The Forest Carbon Coalition, co-managed by CSE, is making headway in laying the groundwork for this transformation for a new president, Congress, and state legislatures, including Oregon. While we are concerned that the process kickstarted by this agreement will divert attention away from the ‘forest defense is climate defense’ campaign, we are hopeful that the environmental parties to the agreement will correct the initial error of excluding climate considerations from the agreement and make climate change, tribal rights, and the concerns of frontline communities front and center in their negotiations.
From the staff and Board at CSE