A proposal to cut more timber on the Clatsop and Tillamook state forests has divided North Coast residents.

SEASIDE — A proposal to cut more timber on the Clatsop and Tillamook state forests has divided North Coast residents.

At a hearing in Seaside Thursday on proposed changes to the Oregon Department of Forestry's 2001 Northwest Oregon State Forest Management Plan, about a dozen people voiced opposing viewpoints on whether the new plan would be better or worse than the old one.

The plan aims to balance the economic, environmental and social values of the 630,000 acres of forest land in the Coast Range, including 150,000 acres of the Clatsop State Forest and 300,000 acres in the Tillamook State Forest. But, as State Forests Deputy Chief Mike Cafferatta explained Thursday, the 2001 plan — which took about six years to create — is failing to meet its goals for generating timber revenue.

If foresters were to increase logging to meet the original revenue targets, they would fall short of the plan's environmental goals of creating older tree stands that provide habitat and ecosystem health.

The Oregon Board of Forestry is now considering changing the plan to reduce the goals for older-type forests from 40 to 60 percent of the landscape to 30 to 50 percent to allow for more timber harvest and better economic returns on the forest land. To free up more forest land for logging, the board is also looking at dropping its federal Habitat Conservation Plan, designed to protect species listed under the Endangered Species Act, and replacing it with a state-run Species of Concern Strategy, which would take a new approach to protecting habitat for 40 species, including those listed as threatened and endangered. The resulting level of timber harvest would put state forests at 72 percent of the output they would get under an industrial forest management model.

Environmental groups have protested the changes and have even accused ODF of breaking the law in not using the best available science in redesigning the plan. Leaders in the Clatsop and Tillamook counties, which receive revenue from timber sales, have argued the changes are necessary to maintain government programs.

State foresters manage land for 15 forest trust land counties that receive a share of timber revenue because they deeded cutover or burned lands to the state many decades ago. Now that the forests have begun to grow back, timber sales in state forests produce revenue for local schools, governments and taxing districts.

Last year, the Oregon Department of Forestry delivered $42 million in revenue payments to the 15 trust land counties, including $16.3 million to Clatsop County and $11.5 million to Tillamook County.

Clatsop County Commissioner Patricia Roberts spoke on behalf of all five county commissioners at the hearing Thursday, supporting the proposed changes and arguing additional timber revenues are needed to support social programs as well as the community as a whole.

Clatsop County resident Tom Scoggins, who worked for Oregon Department of Forestry for 34 years and was involved in implementing the 2001 forest plan, said it was "obvious" after a few years of following the plan that foresters wouldn't be able to meet environmental, social and economic targets in 10 years as projected.

Scoggins said he supports the changes to the plan, including the move away from the Habitat Conservation Plan, which he said "was going nowhere" because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service "had no desire to work with us on a plan that would actually be beneficial for ODF."

Jewell resident Carolyn Eady, who sits on a state forests advisory committee for the Board of Forestry and provided input during the development of the 2001 plan, said the progress ODF has made in the state forests is visible on the ground, and the proposed changes will have "negative consequences."

Eady said the projections of timber revenues in the forest management plan were "never intended to be concrete," and the changes being proposed would increase harvest to the point where the amount of older forest would be 30 percent - on the low end of the proposed range.

"I think it's disingenuous for the Department of Forestry to describe this as a modest increase," she said. "The proposed attempt to rebalance the plan will leave a three legged stool with two legs very short, and I think people will react to it very negatively."

Clatsop County resident Michael Manzulli said he values the clean water, fresh air and healthy ecosystem that older forests provide, and that counties need to find new ways to generate revenue. Increasing clearcuts in the state forests, he said, "is a major step in the wrong direction."

The Board of Forestry is scheduled to consider results from the rulemaking process at its April 2010 meeting. If the board approves administrative rule changes, on-the-ground changes in management of these forest lands would likely take effect following revisions to implementation plans.