The Oregon Board of Forestry decided Thursday to allow logging on 600,000 acres of state forest land that had previously been protected, saying it will improve economic returns and boost struggling communities.
The board met in Salem to revise its forest management plan, which hasn't delivered the timber that officials expected since it was adopted in 2001. The board voted 5-2 to reduce the amount of forestland that has to be allowed to stand and develop into older growth to 30 percent to 50 percent of the landscape. The old standard was 40 percent to 60 percent.
Officials say the new plan will mean more timber and should meet 70 percent of those earlier estimates.
The affected lands include large tracts in the Tillamook and Clatsop forests, along with smaller parcels in the Santiam state forest, in the Coast Range and near Grants Pass.
Estimates for the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests show a goal of 30 percent older forests would result in an annual timber harvest of about 196 million board feet -- a 7 percent increase over the recent 5-year average harvest level, the board said.
Timber revenue is distributed to counties, schools, rural fire departments and other public services.
Conservation organizations opposed the change, saying it would threaten habitat for salmon and other at-risk species and allow more clear cutting, which can lead to erosion that clogs streams.
"There are a lot of species that require complex forest stands, and this plan reduces the number of acres that are complex," said Brian Pasko of the Sierra Club. "This board, as a whole, is so out of touch with what the public really wants to see in their public lands.
"It's not good for the economy. It's not good for tourism. It's not good for wildlife."