Oregon Cities

Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek moves forward with forestry board picks despite backlash

Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek in Portland last month. Kotek has decided to nominate two men to the Oregon Forestry Board, after initially scrapping those plans because of push back from environmental groups.

Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek in Portland last month. Kotek has decided to nominate two men to the Oregon Forestry Board, after initially scrapping those plans because of push back from environmental groups.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Gov. Tina Kotek is pressing forward with a pair of nominations to the board that oversees Oregon forest policy, after abruptly backing off the plan earlier this month amid pressure from environmental groups.

A Senate committee will consider on Wednesday whether to appoint conservationist Bob Van Dyk and Heath Curtiss, an attorney for a timber company, to the seven-member Board of Forestry, where they would fill out the terms of two departing members.

But because of the last-minute change of plans by Kotek, the Senate Committee on Rules and Executive Appointments will need to agree to suspend its normal rules to consider the two men, since they were not on an initial list of appointees for state boards that Kotek released earlier this month.

In response to questions about the change of course, a spokesperson for the governor said Friday that Kotek “takes the appointment process seriously and is satisfied that these appointments would best serve the public interest.”

The last-minute maneuver is a symptom of the political gamesmanship that now typifies appointments to the forestry board.

The volunteer board plays a major role in how much logging can take place in forests around the state, making it a focus of both timber industry members and environmental groups looking to protect habitat for threatened species. Both of those coalitions pay close attention to the balance of the board, which under state law can include up to three members with financial ties to logging.

Kotek’s nominations would keep the current balance intact. Van Dyk, who spent a dozen years at the Portland-based Wild Salmon Center, would serve out the remaining term of environmental attorney Chandra Ferrari, who now works in Kotek’s office. Curtiss, general counsel for Hampton Lumber, would serve out the term of Hampton board member Karla Chambers.

Under its current makeup, the board recently passed a contentious plan to scale back logging in state-owned forests.

Van Dyk and Curtiss also have a history of working together. Both men played key roles in negotiating a 2021 deal between timber and environmental interests, known as the “private forest accord,” that avoided a costly ballot fight between the two sides.

Despite all that, some environmental groups have railed against Kotek’s decision to install Curtiss on the board, arguing that a former timber lobbyist like Curtiss has no place deciding state forest policy. Eight groups, including Oregon Wild and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, sent the governor a pointed letter earlier this month demanding she scrap Curtiss’s nomination.

But after backing off in response to the concerns, Kotek has now decided to move forward.

Curtiss said in an email to OPB on Friday that he knew the governor’s office was still completing “due diligence” on this nomination, and that he learned his name would be put forward last Thursday. He’d earlier said that Kotek has been criticized “because rural counties and residents feel that a few urban-based environmental interest groups have outsized influence…”

Van Dyk, meanwhile, spread the news of his appointment in an email to allies over the weekend.

“There has been some controversy about the appointments, which will be no surprise to those of you who follow Oregon forest policy,” he wrote. “Now, apparently after more discussion and consideration, the Governor is putting us forward. I think that confirmation is likely at this point, though one never knows.”

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Heath Curtiss is general counsel for Hampton Lumber, and a former lobbyist.

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