Established in 1905 by President Teddy Roosevelt, the U.S. Forest Service set aside initial forest reserves of 60 million acres. By the time he left office in 1909, he had designated 230 million acres of public lands and waters for conservation purposes, including national forests, parks, monuments and wildlife refuges.
In Oregon, the federal government manages more than 18 million acres (an area nearly equal to that of South Carolina). Of that amount, 8.7 million acres are considered “reserved,” meaning they are managed primarily for non-economic values such as mature habitat and aesthetics. The other 9.6 million acres of federal forestland are classified as unreserved or multi-resource. For decades these forests produced nearly 5 billion board feet of lumber each year. Since 1989, timber harvest on federal land has declined by 90 percent due to a shift in management emphasis and environmental litigation. Lack of management of these forests has produced some undesired consequences and remains a major issue.
Nearly 40 percent of federal forestland in Oregon is now classified at high-risk of uncharacteristically intense fire due to dense, unnaturally overcrowded and dying trees. This is especially true of federal forests east of the Cascades.
Collaborative efforts involving federal and state agencies, the forest sector, the conservation community and private forest landowners are resulting in innovative forest management solutions that are helping to restore the health of our federal forestland.
Read more in OFRI’s The 2012 Forest Report.
From the beginning of statehood, Oregon leaders recognized that the mineral and timber resources in state forests represented an ongoing source of funding for schools, particularly in rural communities. When Oregon was admitted to the Union in 1859, 6 percent of the state land — approximately 3.4 million acres — was dedicated “for the use of schools.” This provision was an excellent way for a developing state, with lots of land but little money, to fund education.
Today, through a program known as the Common School Fund, 700,000 acres remain for this purpose and still support schools with mineral and timber resources. As of December 2010, the amount of the fund was valued at $1.1 billion and more than $50 million was given to public schools.
Unlike the federal government, the State of Oregon includes significant timber harvest in its forest management plans. The Oregon Department of Forestry manages about 848,000 acres of forestland spread over six large state forests and a few smaller forest tracts. These forests are used for recreation, timber production and forest education, while they protect sensitive wildlife habitat.