Oregon State University forestry officials received an earful from the public Wednesday on its May cut of old-growth trees in the university-owned McDonald Forest.
“Your speech was wonderful,” one audience member said to interim College of Forestry Dean Anthony Davis at the Benton County Clubhouse in Adair Village. “I hope you give that speech to everyone who works under you. But trust has been broken, and we really really need that trust to be rebuilt.”
“You didn’t think we were paying attention,” another participant said. “It’s going to take more than one meeting. We are all wary and ready to go. You have kicked the dog.”
Another audience member described the session as one-sided.
“We are here only to ask questions,” she said. “We need a forum where people other than the dean can give presentations. There are a lot of people in this community and in this room who have backgrounds as strong as those in the College of Forestry.”
Davis opened and closed the 90-minute session on how the university should move forward with management plans for all 10 of its research forests. His two key principles were sustainability and adapting to climate change. A respectful but passionate crowd of nearly 100 people made comments and asked questions on a range of forestry issues.
It was the first public forum the university has held on the old-growth cut, which was described in a July 21 Gazette-Times story.
Davis noted a moratorium has been in place since July 12 that aims at preventing future harvests such as the “No Vacancy” one that cleared nearly 16 acres of land in the Sulphur Springs area and took down trees more than 250 years old and at least one that was more than 400 years old.
“We cut down some trees and it was a mistake,” Davis bluntly told the audience during his opening remarks. “We set ourselves up to do this by not having enough conversations. And if we are not crystal-clear (in our planning) then it sets us up for failure."
In his closing remarks Davis said "I don’t want to have to face a future audience like this and hear that ‘you blew it.’ We can’t just send out some emails, have two public meetings and check off a box. I know that.
“I’m here because we have a shared interest in forests, and the outcome will be better if we work together and have a shared process. If we do that we’ll be in a healthy spot.”
The questions will continue when the university hosts a second public session sometime in the fall at the Memorial Union.
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And, ultimately, it was the raising of questions that was the biggest outcome of the session. The format of the question-and-answer segment called for outside consultant Steve Shields to facilitate the discussion in a manner that maximized soliciting questions in favor of providing answers.
And the questions came in a flood, and despite the format, Davis attempted to answer some.
“Harvest levels shouldn’t be driven by the budget needs of the College of Forestry,” Davis said to one of the many questions that dealt with the economics of forestry. “If the college needs to downsize, then we need to downsize it. We can’t increase the harvest to solve budget holes.”
Here is a look at audience concerns:
• How do you have a forest management plan without a habitat conservation plan?
• Are the forests properties of the college or the property of the public?
• Why does the College of Forestry burn its slash?
• Why did you cut during May, which is nesting season for “our wild cousins who live there.”
• Should user fees for the 150,000 annual recreational visitors in the McDonald and Dunn forests near Corvallis be imposed to help pay for college programs and initiatives?
One audience member objected to the use of the word “harvest.”
“It’s an industrial term,” he said. “Who owns these trees? Should it be conceptualized differently? Do trees have rights? We survive because of trees and we treat them as an industrial product."