Oregon Forests Mismanaged Without Management
By Aiden Stephan
Winter Lake High School Coquille, Oregon
“Healthy forests provide the vital environmental services communities rely on. They maintain ecosystem functions and give the environmental, social, and economic benefits that people value”(oregon.gov, 2018). Everyone agrees that a healthy forest is essential, but there is great debate about what exactly a healthy forest is and on how to go about protecting, maintaining and-or cultivating Oregon forest lands. This reveals one of the most developed and disputed philosophies in the state of Oregon. What defines a healthy forest? Does economy have to be sacrificed for sustainability and conservation? Or can they coexist or even aid each other? Oregon forests are mismanaged without management and well managed forests have the ability to fulfill many different objectives from sustainability and conservation, to generation of alternative power, to recreation and economic profit.
According to the article, “Forest Health from Different Perspectives,” by Kolb, Wagner, and Covington, “Forest health is an increasingly important concept in natural resource management. However, definition of forest health is difficult and dependent on human perspective. From a utilitarian perspective, forest health has been defined by the production of forest conditions which directly satisfy human needs and from an ecosystem-centered perspective, forest health has been defined by resilience, recurrence, persistence and biophysical processes which lead to sustainable ecological conditions” (fs.fed.us, 2018). Oregon is a state known for the large role it has played in the forest products industry over the course of many decades. The state’s climate is ideal for rapid timber growth and the rolling, expansive topography provides a home for 30.5 million acres of forest. In fact, forests ranging from Douglas Fir to Ponderosa Pine cover nearly half of Oregon (Oregon.gov, 2018). These forests have served as a home and source of income for people throughout history. Well known tribes such as the Modocs, Umpquas, and Nez Perce all once lived in or near these woodlands and many depended upon them for shelter, building materials, trade items, and food. As history progressed, the people changed, but the importance of timber’s role in supporting the people of Oregon has not.
From the opening of the first saw mill on the Willamette River by John McLoughlin in 1829, to Oregon’s statehood in 1859, to large burns like the Tillamook Burn in 1933, to the Wilderness Act of 1964, to the Oregon Forest Practices Act of 1971, the use and management of Oregon’s abundant natural resources has been the focus of many disputes, policy wars, and misunderstandings. As harvest and forest usage increased overtime, in both the private and public sectors, so did the efforts of those regulating or even opposing it, and although a relative balance has been achieved, many issues with roots in events sometimes over a century old still give cause for extensive debate. These debates vary in intensity and relativity, but most can be traced to one key factor: the set of practices, laws, philosophies and regulations coined “active forest management.”
Active forest management is the practice of human intervention in the natural development of land to increase timber yields, restore areas previously devastated by non-sustainable practices, and reduce hazards, such as excessive fire danger, under-utilized resources and forest overgrowth presented by an untouched ecosystem. Active forest management may utilize a variety of techniques that include but are not limited to; thinning, selective and clear cut logging, targeted spraying of fertilizer and pesticides, restoration, replanting (up to as much as 400 new seedling trees per acre), use of heavy equipment, road building and conservation efforts. Additionally, many landowners and companies rely upon independent, third-party verification to ensure sustainable forest management practices. To learn more about the techniques used and some of their benefits as well as shortcomings, I interviewed three people with jobs related to the regulation of Oregon forest lands: Chandra LeGue – Western Field Manager with Oregon Wild, Rex Storm – Forest Policy Manager with Associated Oregon Loggers and Seth Barnes – Director of Forest Policy at Oregon Forests and Industries Council (OFIC).
Chandra LeGue at OregonWild.org works to protect old growth forests, limit public access and educate the public on the potential hazards of poor and improper forest management techniques. She claims that Oregon forests are best left untouched by humans, “Do not take for granted the beautiful state we live in. We must keep Oregon as it is and make sure future generations have a clean, untouched state with pristine watersheds and virgin forests for all to enjoy” (LeGue, 2017). At Oregon Wild, they work to implement and pass more laws, legislation and restrictions on human use of forest lands. She claims that human interference in the forest ecosystem disrupts the natural balance and causes irreparable damages and the only way to protect and preserve our forests is not to interfere with them.
Rex Storm with the Associated Oregon Loggers argues in direct opposition to LeGue, that the only way to protect and preserve our Oregon forests, is through forest management practices that include controlled burns, thinning, selective and clear cut timber harvests, replanting and using herbicides and pesticides to control invasive plant and animal species. He states, “The Association of Oregon Loggers helps to manage forests so as to ensure resources are being used in a sustainable manner and that they may be harvested and used for decades to come. It is important that Oregon be self sufficient and although it may be offensive to some people, we consider forests to be a renewable crop. From this perspective, it is imperative that the lands be used in such a manner that the harvests can take place again and again. It is also important that other factors be carefully considered and thrive uncompromised. These include wildlife, fresh water, hydroelectric power, quarries, forest crops, and many others.
One important factor to consider when contemplating this take on handling resources is if Oregon forest product production was reduced, the demand would need to be met by other means. This might result in having to import materials from countries employing less effective or no natural asset sustainability practices” (Storm, 2017). He feels that the greatest threat to Oregon forests is a misinformed public given control over forest management policies without being first accurately educated. He makes two valid points. In his first point he illustrates how many people are misinformed about forestry practices and are determined to “save” a forest that does not need saving and secondly, he states that if Oregon is unable and or unwilling to meet its own demands for forestry products that they will need to be outsourced, possibly from other areas that are not using sound ecological practices as Oregon does. “Many would be surprised to know that Oregon forest product harvest has been nearly halved since 1983 and current output could be increased by large proportions without any negative impacts or loss of sustainability. Furthermore, there are many states in the U.S. with abundant woodlands and yet only five, including Oregon, have protection acts, rendering Oregon extremely progressive in its management and conservation efforts” (Storm, 2017).
The amount of timber harvested in Oregon is declining, as is Asian demand for Northwest logs with approximately 10% of old-growth forests still remaining uncut, virtually all of which are located on federal land (opb.org, 2018). And according to fs.fed.us, growth of trees in western Oregon exceeds the amount removed by harvest and mortality (fs.fed.us, 2018). Without management our forests face habitat endangerment, loss of diversity, threatened animal populations, overgrowth, increased fire hazards, negative economic repercussions and increased chance for disease. Seth Barnes, the Director of Forest Policy at Oregon Forest Industries Council states that, “The driving philosophy behind our company is “Protecting Oregon’s Work Force.” A large emphasis is placed upon scientifically supported stewardship and innovation and OFIC relies upon and invests heavily in science as a means for both supporting their actions as well as constantly self-checking to ensure that the practices they promote are sustainable socially, economically, and environmentally” (Barnes, 2017). Seth Barnes has observed that rural and public populations often have contrasting opinions and information about forest management and that all too often they are involved in misinformed policy and law making. He is an advocate for Oregon forestry businesses and has witnessed first-hand how a well managed forest is key to economic stability and forest preservation in Oregon. He encourages those who want to protect our forests to purchase local forestry based products and support active forest management.
Oregon’s forests are an amazing resource, multi-faceted in their uses and vast; so are the challenges, conflicts, and issues that arise around ensuring their health, safety, preservation and productivity for generations to come. It is a popular belief that our forest lands must be “protected” and that human management causes “irreversible and negative impacts” upon the forest lands. Evidence proves otherwise. Our Oregon forest lands require management which in turn provides protection, conservation and productivity. In spite of approaching the controversial issue of forest management from differing perspectives, LeGue, Storm and Barnes all share a common concern and objective; the need for and increase of, public awareness and education in regard to forest management. Each of their companies actively support and engage in increasing public education and awareness. Another organization that supplies information to the public about our forests is the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI). It was created in 1991 by Oregon Legislature, funded in part by state forest products harvest tax, to provide third party, objective information about responsible forest management and to encourage people from all sides of the issue to work together more productively (oregonforests.org, 2018).
Oregon forests, which cover over 47% of the land in the state of Oregon, fall into three different categories of ownership. With over 17 million acres of forested lands in Western Oregon, “52 percent of western Oregon forest land is managed by the Forest Service, BLM, and other federal agencies; about 41 percent is privately owned; and the remaining 7 percent is managed by the Oregon Department of Forestry and other non-federal public agencies” (fs.fed.us, 2018). Though all of these lands fall under the protection of the Oregon Forestry Practices Act, each manages their land with differing objectives, policies and regulations (oregonforests.org, 2018). “Today, almost 90 percent of non-federal and 95 percent of federal land in western Oregon remains in forest and agricultural uses, with about 80% of all land remaining forested. Oregon’s loss of forest land between 1974 and 2014 was less than half the loss seen in neighboring Washington State over the same time period” (Oregon.gov, 2018). This conservation has taken place because of Oregon’s land-use and forest-practices laws and the cooperation of forest
landowners, businesses, and conservationists through investing in Oregon’s forest lands to produce vibrant forests utilizing sustainable forest management techniques that maintain, protect, and restore forest health.
Timber harvests are an essential aspect of Oregon’s economy and how the forest lands are managed has a substantial impact on both people and the environment. Oregon forests produce lumber and wood products like plywood, engineered wood products, alternative electrical energy like Seneca Sustainable Biomass Facility outside of Eugene, and paper products. They are even used in making ice cream, toothpaste, alternative automobile fuel and artificial bones. They produce oxygen, provide carbon banking, reduce greenhouse gases, and provide critical habitat for numerous plants and animal species. Many rural communities in Oregon depend upon our forest lands to provide employment from transportation, harvest, habitat preservation and restoration, supportive industries and governmental agencies to the process and production of lumber and wood products. Companies and forestry related businesses are closely governed by the Oregon Forest Practices Act to responsibly manage Oregon’s forest lands. They are required to notify the Dept. of Forestry and outline conservation and harvest plans, and they use up-to-date equipment, including balloon-type tires, longer reach cranes, cable harvesting, and helicopters to minimize their impact upon the land. Management produces a balanced forest ecosystem and animal habitat with varied growth and diversity which in turn builds a forest’s immunity to disease, fire and overgrowth. Through a commitment to careful and responsible forest management techniques, Oregon has not only maintained the forest ecosystems but has increased both their sustainability and productivity as well as achieved a strong balance between conservation and economic demand for forest products and employment.
It is our responsibility as citizens of Oregon to make informed decisions regarding forest management and to support forest management techniques to ensure that future generations have access to the same benefits that we do. Did you know that buying Oregon forest products supports conservation efforts, saves resources by buying local and supports Oregon’s forest industry economy that provides income for thousands of Oregon families? Did you know that Oregon forest products range from pine boughs, to mushrooms, to lumber, to engineered wood products, to electricity to fish and game animals? Did you know that Wood from Oregon forest land regulated by the state’s forest protection laws can count toward the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for green building projects? We must work together to support Oregon Forest Industries: buy Oregon forest products and support active forest management policies. Oregon’s forests are an invaluable, renewable, and sustainable resource. Properly managed forests supply us with renewable and recyclable resources, that include lumber, plant products, food, and much more and they are a part of thousands of products that we use and consume each day. Though every person I interviewed offered a variety of perspectives, job positions and opinions, they all shared one common goal: keep Oregon’s lands healthy and prosperous into the future. Therefore, it is vital that those involved in Oregon forest policy and forest management seek to recognize their common goals and strive to achieve greater unity in their actions and efforts across our state. We, as the public, as landowners, as business and industry, and legislature must continue to work together closely to align in our goals for forest management to ensure that Oregon’s heritage of pristine and productive forests are here for many more generations to come.