October 21, 2001 11:00 pm

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

CORVALLIS Most Oregonians prefer balanced forest management for all forest lands, public and private, but many dont know what would prove that a forest is being properly managed, according to a survey by an Oregon polling company.

Davis, Hibbitts & McCaig last week presented the preliminary results of a survey conducted in late September and early this month. The presentation was delivered to a group of forest managers and state forestry officials meeting last week at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

The team found that Oregonians top concerns are water quality and the potential loss of forests to development. Of those polled, 91 percent said they are concerned about water quality protection, compared with 78 percent who said their top concerns are forest management.

Respondents were divided on the existing quality of water in Oregon forests, with 34 percent saying water quality is getting worse and 39 percent saying the quality is stable. Most of those who believe water quality is worsening said contamination is coming from human and animal waste and industrial pollution.

The survey asked about techniques that are most effective in reducing the risk of wildfire. Most 36 percent said that clearing dead wood, underbrush and debris would be most effective. Another 16 percent preferred controlled burning, while only 12 percent said thinning trees is most effective.

When asked to rank the importance of thinning and wildfire, 88 percent agreed strongly or somewhat that it can be necessary to thin trees from crowded forests to reduce fire risk and improve forest health. Another 83 percent agreed strongly or somewhat that the use of controlled fire is sometimes necessary to eliminate excess fuel on the forest floor.

More than two-thirds of those surveyed said it is important to Oregons forests to be managed to collect and store carbon to help reduce global warming. Standing living and dead trees hold and collect carbon from the atmosphere. When trees are cut and milled there is a loss of carbon, according to scientists.

Half of those surveyed said restrictions should be placed on U.S. consumers to reduce the demand for wood and paper products, but 57 percent said they prefer to buy wood and paper products that come from trees grown and harvested in Oregon.

A slight majority of those questioned said federal and private forest lands are being properly managed to meet the environmental, social and economic needs of present and future generations. Forty-one percent said federal forests are being properly managed, but nearly as many, 39 percent, said federal lands are not well managed. The numbers for management of private forests were similar, with 48 percent saying they are well managed and 32 percent saying they are not.

One-fifth of those surveyed did not know how to prove forests are being well managed, but 19 percent said replanting trees after a cut could be one proof, and another 13 percent said that a halt in clearcutting could be another.

Two-thirds of the respondents said private forest owners should provide the same level of habitat protection as do farmers and homeowners, and another 22 percent, said forest owners should provide greater protection.

The cost of increasing wildlife habitat has been estimated at $10 million, and most respondents said about a third of that should be paid by the public.