EDITORIAL: Timber accord the best deal industry could likely get

May 26—Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has signed legislation that makes the Private Forest Accord — a deal reached between the timber industry and environmental groups — the law in the Beaver State.

We understand why many segments of the timber industry have embraced the forest management framework spelled out in the accord. Only time will tell whether it will provide the regulatory certainty that it promises.

Representatives of timber and environmental groups struck the deal last year after a year of talks mediated by the Governor's Office. Brown convened the panel in 2020 to avoid competing ballot measures on forestry regulations.

The legislation codifying the accord expands no-harvest buffers around streams, implements stricter requirements for road building, prioritizes non-lethal control of beavers and creates a new modeling system to avoid and mitigate the effects of landslides.

The legislation is expected to set the stage for a federal Habitat Conservation Plan for the state's private forests, which would shield landowners from liability under the Endangered Species Act when harvesting trees. That would be a huge benefit to private timber owners.

Support for the deal is not unanimous in the timber industry — critics argue that it complicates forest management, excludes excessive amounts of land from logging and was developed without sufficient transparency and public input. Some owners of smaller timber parcels could lose logging on up to half their land.

But several forest product companies and the Oregon Small Woodlands Association signed onto the Private Forest Accord with the understanding that it would provide more regulatory certainty and reduce the likelihood of disruptive lawsuits and ballot initiatives.

"There are no certainties in life, but we have a negotiated agreement that's supported by all sides," said Eric Geyer, strategic business development director for Roseburg Forest Products. "I'm confident we will have regulatory certainty for the elements that were negotiated."

Detractors in the timber industry view "regulatory certainty" as unrealistically optimistic.

They might be right.

Certainly, the timber industry will be held to the letter of the law and the rules that are developed. We are willing to accept that the environmental groups that are parties to the accord will make a good-faith effort to live up to the spirit of the deal, but they are under no legal obligation to be satisfied with the new framework.

And what of non-signatories to the accord who might try to get more restrictions on the ballot, or the next Legislature that wants to further tighten the rules?

As Eric Geyer said, there are no certainties. The accord probably was the best deal the industry was going to get.

We hope that it lasts.