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Program encourages planting forests.

Byline: Diane Dietz The Register-Guard

Ever feature yourself a timber baron, strolling like literary he-man Hank Stamper through your own mighty forest?

Well, if you've got 10 acres or more, the state Department of Forestry would like to plant that forest for you under its Forest Resource Trust program.

The program supplies the trees, the natural resources technicians, the tree-planting crews and, finally, the chemicals to knock down competing weeds while your new forest gets started.

The landowner's only obligation would be to pay back the upfront cost of planting the trees - but only as a fraction of the profits, if and when the landowner decides to cut and sell the trees.

"They've essentially got a growing investment that they could, in 25 or 30 years, harvest and have quite a pot of money," said Keith Baldwin, acting manager of the Forest Resource Trust.

The state Department of Forestry estimates there are 51,000 could-be Hank Stampers in Oregon who could qualify for a trust-sponsored forest.

The Forest Resource Trust program had its genesis in the early 1990s in the thick of the timber wars when then-Secretary of State Phil Keisling led an attempt to find some common ground between environmentalists and forest product companies.

"It was one of the few places in the early 1990s that they could sit at the same table together and agree on something," Keisling said.

The thing they agreed on: Private lands that were cut over before state replanting laws emerged and were then covered over by scrub trees and blackberries weren't doing the environment or the industry any good, Keisling said.

Well-stocked forests - even tree farms - would be more beneficial for fish and woodland creatures, scenic quality, biodiversity, carbon sequestration and other good stuff like that, Baldwin said.

The best place to grow trees - those with Class I or Class II soils in the lowlands - had by then been cut over and were left to blackberries and scrub.

"Yeah, there were some big trees there, but the land doesn't regrow those trees very fast once you cut them - and yet here's the land that's most productive from a forestry standpoint lying fallow, often covered with brush or blackberries," Keisling said.

Creating lowland forests on private lands would improve the environment and planting, tending and ultimately harvesting those trees would provide jobs, Keisling said.

"It felt like a win-win," he said.

The Oregon Legislature created the program in 1993 and the Department of Forestry got it up and running in 1995.

The only landowners who don't qualify are those who already own or control forest product companies - and they can join six months after they retire or divest.

Still, the results have been disappointing.

Only 42 Oregon landowners have signed up for the free forests during the past 11 years, and only 843 acres of new timberland has been planted under the program, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.

During the past year, the Oregon Department of Forestry has surveyed forestry consultants and landowners to discover ways to make the program more attractive. They've come up with administrative rule changes that would, if adopted, make the program simpler and more lucrative for landowners.

The old program placed a deed restriction on the growing timber to make sure the landowner paid the program back out of any sales proceeds.

"There was a long-term commitment with the government. Not too many people find that attractive," Baldwin said.

The proposed rule waived the deed restriction in almost all cases, he said.

The old program penalized landowners who wanted to sell the timber to an investor by requiring the landowner to pay the trust back at the time of sale with 4.6 percent compound interest.

"It was compound interest going out in to the future. It gets very onerous," Baldwin said.

Under the proposed rules, landowners can pay the state back with a simple 4 percent interest and flip the land to a timber investor without further penalty.

In both the old and the new version, the program assumes all the risk. The landowner is released from the obligation to pay the trust back if the forest fails or burns.

Another perk: Once the forests are established, the landowners qualify for a sizable forest land property tax deferment, Baldwin said.

After the revisions, the state figures that it will have a hot investment commodity and it plans to market the program at financial symposia.

Baldwin expects that forest land owners will get the trees started and then sell them to investors at an attractive price.

And the investment has a green cachet.

"We know there's investors out there who like to have part of their assets in something with a social conscience," Baldwin said.

If the Oregon Department of Forestry approves the proposal this fall, it will take effect in January - and a half-million dollars will be immediately available to start forests on private lands. That is estimated to be enough to plant 600 acres.

The trust expects an allocation from the Legislature next year to do more - and payments from sold or cut timbers will begin to restock the fund.

"A person could get in line now and be ready to take advantage of the new rules when they take effect," Baldwin said.

ECONOMIC GAINS The Oregon Department of Forestry predicts the following gains if landowners plant about 1,000 new acres each year under the state Forest Resources Trust. The harvest would begin in 2032. Timber production: increased by 663,000 board feet Employment: increased by 10.6 jobs Small business: increased by $607,560 State tax revenues: increased by $48,605

PUBLIC HEARING Citizens are invited to testify about a move to make the Oregon Forest Resource Trust program more attractive and lucrative to large landowners. Where and when: 1:30 p.m. Oct. 23 at the Oregon Department of Forestry, 2600 State St., Building D, Salem.

For information: (503) 945-7470
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Title Annotation:Environment; The Forestry Department is trying to make tree planting attractive to landowners
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 27, 2006
Words:988
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