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Opportunities on the Oregon Coast

Posted by Hannah Meganck on June 16, 2017

Maintaining working forestlands through community forestry

Arch-Cape-from-Onion-Peak

By Stephanie Campbell, Community Forest Fellow and Ben Dair, Conservation Finance Fellow

Here in the Pacific Northwest, our forestlands are a regional treasure--beloved landscapes carpeted with feathery ferns and towering trees covered in soft, verdant mosses. These lush forests have nourished countless generations with sustenance, recreation, and inspiration, yet increasing population, development, and climate-related disturbances are making the task of managing and sustaining forests in the Pacific Northwest ever more challenging and costly. 

In response to the mounting pressures on our forestlands, the Northwest Community Forest Coalition (NWCFC)--facilitated and coordinated by the Forest Program at Sustainable Northwest--provides outreach, planning, and technical assistance to support communities pursuing acquisition and management of local forestlands. These community forests are working forests owned and managed by a local government or by a community-based organization on behalf of a community. Securing forest tenure and improving forest governance through community forestry is essential to stemming forest loss, fragmentation, and degradation. Currently, a need and opportunity exists on the Oregon Coast, where management practices and development pressures pose risks to drinking water source areas, salmon habitat, and public access to forests.

Coastal Oregon has seen significant economic and demographic changes in recent decades. The majority of these coastal communities have historically relied upon local timber to maintain a healthy economy, but have increasingly planned for economic growth connected to summer and weekend tourism activity. Tourism creates new opportunities, but also results in periodic swells of demand on infrastructure and water supply. Forested watersheds are broadly recognized as vital “green infrastructure” that regulates both the quality and quantity of water. 

Fifty coastal communities in Oregon rely on drinking water from small- to medium-sized drinking water source areas that are at risk. In a recent report, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality discussed the high priority that should be placed on coastal watersheds for restoration and protection as extreme weather events worsen with climate change. Intense storms will have a disproportionate impact on coastal watersheds--leading to increased turbidity levels, higher costs for municipal treatment, and greater health risks to public health.

In the face of challenges related to forest practices and development pressures, Sustainable Northwest and the Northwest Community Forest Coalition are actively working to ensure nearby forestland will continue to be stewarded for a host of public values into the future. Securing community control of coastal drinking-watersheds provides an opportunity to support the restoration of forest ecosystems, improve public health, and ensure public access and cultural use of forests. Ongoing community engagement and interest in local control of working timberlands offers a timely opportunity to acquire these properties for management as community forests.

Shark Creek, the drinking water source for Arch Cape
Shark Creek, the drinking water source for Arch Cape. Photo credit: Ben Dair

Arch Cape Pilot Project

Sustainable Northwest and the Northwest Community Forest Coalition have recently taken the first steps toward supporting the growing potential of community forests through a pilot project in the unincorporated town of Arch Cape in Clatsop County. The community’s Domestic Water Supply District manages a water treatment plant and storage facility for the benefit of 150 permanent and 900 seasonal residents. Sustainable Northwest recently executed a Memorandum of Understanding to support the Water Supply District in pursuing acquisition and management of the Asbury and Shark Creeks, an approximately 1250-acre drinking water source area. The creation of a community forest will result in improved forest management practices, public access, and local capture of economic activities associated with land management.

For more information about this project contact Andrew Spaeth, Forest Program Director at Sustainable Northwest, by emailing aspaeth@sustainablenorthwest.org or calling (503) 221-6911