by Paul Koberstein — January 16, 2016 — Portland Tribune —
The Oregon Forest Resources Institute, a state agency created by the Legislature in 1991, lists one of its chief goals as providing “objective information about responsible forest management.”
But critics say its materials seem more like propaganda.
“I would call it greenwashing,” says Mary Scurlock, coordinator of the Oregon Stream Protection Coalition, comprising 23 conservation and fishing groups.
Mike Cloughesy, Oregon Forest Resources Institute’s director of forestry, says many of its educational products are aimed at sixth-graders, not the general public, and therefore might lack the nuance an older audience would expect.
However, this writers’ review of the 29 educational videos posted to OFRI’s website, oregonforests.org, which bills itself as “a site for all Oregonians,” found none that were balanced with viewpoints other than those of industry. OFRI maintains a separate website just for kids, learnforests.org.
The institute is funded by a tax paid by timber companies. It is controlled by a 13-member board of directors, 10 of whom must own timberland or work for a forest products company.
One board member represents the public and is jointly appointed by the Senate president and the speaker of the House of Representatives. By law, the public representative “may not be a member of or significantly affiliated with any organization” known to support or promote environmental or conservation issues.
Until recently, the board chair was Calli Daly, government affairs manager for Georgia-Pacific, a timber company owned by Koch Industries. That’s owned by Charles and David Koch, who have donated millions of dollars to organizations trying to weaken environmental laws and deny climate change. Daly’s term on the board expires in January.
One of the videos on OFRI’s website deals with climate change. Titled “Carbon Capture,” it blames various human activities like driving and using electricity for releasing greenhouse gases that are causing global temperatures to rise, but fails to acknowledge that forestry practices also are releasing greenhouse gases.
Recently, a report from Geos Institute, an Ashland-based group, identified clear-cutting and the use of forest chemicals and fertilizers as the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon. In addition, the report concluded that logging, as practiced in Oregon, causes landscapes to become more susceptible to wildfires, landslides, floods and warm waters that kill salmon.
Cloughesy countered that in the short term, forestry can cause an increase in greenhouse gases, but replanting after logging reduces carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He acknowledged, however, that this perspective is not mentioned in the “Carbon Capture” video. “That’s a fair point,” he says.
OFRI videos place the Oregon timber industry’s overall environmental record in mostly a positive light. Its video, “The Oregon Way: Protecting Fish Habitat,” acknowledges that 1960-era clear cuts in a coastal forest caused “tremendous increases in stream temperatures and effects on the cutthroat trout population.” Nearby, where only patches of trees were cut, “we didn’t see those large changes in temperature and shifts in the fish population,” the video says.
Since that time, it notes that Oregon has enacted forestry regulations that “have made Oregon one of the premier areas for protecting water quality and fish habitat.”
But data released by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality suggests some of those regulations do not go far enough to protect fish. The DEQ reports that 7,732 river miles in the Coast Range are impaired because temperatures are too high for salmon. Statewide, it reports that 67.4 percent of all river miles in Oregon, and 96.7 percent of lake acreage, violate water-quality standards, mainly the result of poor farming or logging activities.
In November the Oregon Board of Forestry agreed, and took action to reduce temperatures in streams near logging sites.
A different view on timber industry
The messages in the Oregon Forest Resources Institute’s videos stand in stark contrast with the content of a new video produced by Pacific Rivers, a Portland-based environmental group. “Behind the Emerald Curtain” exposes harmful practices occurring on Oregon’s private timberlands, showing streams that have been logged without buffers, landslides caused by logging on steep slopes, and pesticides sprayed from the air that have drifted into homes.
“Behind the Emerald Curtain” has received two awards and been accepted by several film festivals, including the national Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada.
A public screening is scheduled at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24, at the Mazamas Lodge, 527 S.E. 43rd Ave., Portland.