Forestry issues a dividing line for state House

Timber policy divides the Democratic candidates for state House District 32.

Opinions on forest management among the Democratic candidates for state House District 32 appear, in some ways, to be as different as two sides of a timber line.

Clatsop County and local school districts haul in more than $20 million a year from timber harvests. The revenue has led to debates over how to balance the economic reliance on timber with environmental protection.

While Tim Josi is generally supportive of modern timber harvesting practices, Tiffiny Mitchell and — to a lesser extent — John Orr have called for changes.

Discussions at the state and county levels lately have revolved around a $1.4 billion lawsuit in which counties are suing the state, claiming the Department of Forestry has not held up its agreement to maximize timber harvests. Clatsop County was the only one of 15 eligible counties to opt out of the class-action suit.

In March, the county also withdrew from the Council of Forest Trust Land Counties, a subcommittee of the Association of Oregon Counties comprised of commissioners from areas with state forestlands. Unbeknown to county commissioners at the time, that decision also disqualified the county from the Forest Trust Lands Advisory Committee, which advises the state Department of Forestry.

Josi, a Tillamook County commissioner, supports the lawsuit and is chairman of both forest committees that Clatsop County left. As of Thursday, several of his top campaign donors were forestry-related companies or political action committees.

“It’s asked of me every day. I get people that say, ‘I’m not going to support you because you’re too close to the timber industry,’” Josi said. “Well, I’m guilty as charged. But what I tell people is, ‘I’m close to the people that make a living in the timber industry.’”

Josi argues that timber workers make more than double the income of service-sector employees.

“So you take these family-wage jobs, put these people out of business and then they go into the service-sector industry, and that just drives the economy down in Clatsop County,” Josi said.

The environmental impact of modern forestry practices — including clearcuts and aerial spraying — has been exaggerated, Josi believes. Also, “You can’t blame the timber industry for climate change. Climate change is because we’re addicted to fossil fuels.”

Orr and Mitchell, on the other hand, support the county’s decisions on the lawsuit and the forest committees.

Orr, while not calling for the elimination of practices such as clearcutting and aerial spraying, pointed to forestry as an issue that distinguishes him from Josi. The lawyer has worked in environmental law, is a project development manager for Trails End Recovery in Warrenton and was president of the North Coast Land Conservancy from 1996 to 2002.

“I’m not getting thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars from the timber interests or other interests,” Orr said. “They would trust him to represent and protect their interests in the Oregon State Legislature and to have a favorable view towards the Oregon Board of Forestry and the Oregon Department of Forestry.”

Orr has suggested that biomass energy production — as opposed to coal and other fossil fuels — could create family-wage jobs. He would prioritize water needs over timber interests and wants a better notification system to alert property owners and water managers ahead of aerial sprays, he said.

“You can’t drink timber products. You have to drink water,” Orr said. “You’ve gotta do the pencil out because water comes first.”

Mitchell, a case management coordinator for the state Department of Human Services, favors more aggressive environmental policies on timber, calling for the elimination of clearcuts and aerial spraying and increasing growth cycles of trees before harvesting them. She has been endorsed by the Oregon Sierra Club and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters.

“What recent policies entail are maximizing profits before taking care of the environment,” Mitchell said. “I think Oregon needs to look at other ways of managing forests.”

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