Forest health is a human construct and it can best be promoted by human actions. A forest is healthy or unhealthy because we define it as such. On its own, a forest has no concept of health.
This was the premise of my closing remarks at the end of the first day of Oregon State University’s “Forest Health in Oregon: State of the State 2020” conference, held Feb. 26-27 on the university’s campus in Corvallis. Here is a summary of what I said:
The drivers of forest health in my human construct are forest condition, forest disturbance, ecological reaction and human reaction. I will discuss each of the drivers in turn:
Federal forests encompass about 60% of Oregon’s forests, or nearly 18 million acres. The Nature Conservancy estimates that over 5.6 million acres of these forests have been identified as fire-adapted forests in need of restoration. These forests are generally overstocked and ready to burn. U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis data show that federal forests account for 1.5 billion cubic feet of growth per year. This is over 50% of the total forest growth in Oregon of 2.8 billion cubic feet. Of this federal forest growth, 8% is harvested, 36% is counted as mortality and 56% is net change or additional volume on these already overcrowded federal forests. These overcrowded forests are fire-prone and prone to infestations from insects such as bark beetles. These forests are also very sensitive to drought and climate change.
Forest disturbance can be human-caused, such as logging, thinning and prescribed burning, or natural, such as wind storms and lightning-caused wildfires. Human-caused disturbances–unless it’s an accidental human-caused wildfire–can often be designed to achieve certain outcomes such as fire fuels reduction, increased fire-resiliency and managed smoke. Natural disturbances are much less objective-oriented, often leading to stand replacement fires and unwanted smoke.
“Ecological reaction” is the functional response of the ecosystem parts and process to the disturbance. A good example is the Biscuit and Chetco Bar fires, which burned in southwest Oregon with similar footprints in 2002 and 2013. These lightning-caused fires burned in overstocked forests at the dry time of the year. They appeared to be catastrophic from a human perspective. However, from an ecological perspective, they were moderate- and mixed-severity fires that reset the successional cycle and started a new forest with a clean slate.
To most people, a healthy forest is one with mostly live trees and low risk of fire. Wildfire is seen as destructive. The media often uses the word “catastrophic” when talking of wildfire. Smoke intrusion into Oregon cities is a major health issue. Human-driven forest disturbance is also often seen in a negative light. Logging and burning are perceived as bad. However with education and collaboration, people can understand that human-caused disturbance can lead to a healthy forest and can achieve social objectives.
So, back to my premise:
Forest health is a human construct. Benefits from the forest, including clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat and forest products, may be produced to a greater degree in forests with fewer diseases, damaging insects, invasive species and wildfire. Human needs are better met in such a forest, and so we deem these “healthy forests.”
Forest management by humans can improve the health of the forest. Thinning, prescribed burning and invasive species control can all promote healthier forests. Human support for active forest management can be driven by its perception as promoting forest health.
Or, in the words of an old bumper sticker I have on my bulletin board, “A healthy forest is no accident.”
Now that you have read my closing remarks, you might be interested in some of the topics that were covered at the recent forest health conference. The conference presentations are available as downloadable PDFs here. A great summary of the topics covered during the conference was recently published by the Forest Service and the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF). The publication is called Forest Health Highlights in Oregon – 2019. Download a copy here. More forest health resources are also available at the ODF forest health page.
For the forest,
Director of Forestry
I’m excited to share our newest OFRI video, Forest Team GO! It was developed for fourth- through sixth-grade students, to show them the range of careers in the forest sector and how these professionals work together to manage our forests.
The video explains the sustainable cycle of forestry while introducing students to the Forest Team, including:
- tree growers (botanists and seedling managers), who oversee the germination of seeds in nurseries
- tree planters (reforestation workers), who plant seedlings by hand all over Oregon
- foresters, who ensure trees grow healthy and fast
- forest scientists (wildlife and fish biologists, hydrologists), who ensure fish and wildlife habitat is protected and who monitor water quality to provide clean drinking water
- forest engineers, the team that takes information from the foresters and scientists and uses it to help design roads, bridges and river crossings so they can handle the trucks and equipment needed to cut the trees
- loggers, the people who harvest the trees and load them as carefully as possible so the ground isn’t damaged
You may recognize the star of this video, Lauren Grand, an Oregon State University Extension forester serving Lane County. Lauren’s passion for forestry shines through in this video, and we’re grateful for her participation. Because the audience for this video is students in fourth through sixth grades, we also relied on Lauren to add some “fun” to the production. She was up for the challenge, and in addition to running, jumping and rolling in and out of scenes, Lauren allowed us to use special effects to underscore some key points.
I also want to thank Norie Dimeo-Ediger, OFRI’s director of K-12 education programs, and Jordan Benner, OFRI’s senior manager of public outreach, for their work in the production of Forest Team GO! With Norie’s expertise in the K-12 audience and Jordan’s creative expertise, they make a great team!
We’ve already started to share Forest Team GO! with OFRI’s K-12 education partners such as Talk About Trees, Starker Forests and Port Blakely, and they’re excited to start showing the video to students who attend their forest education programs. The video will also be shown at events including the Oregon Logging Conference in Eugene.
It’s great to have a new and engaging piece of content to share the story of Oregon’s cycle of sustainable forestry – and the team of men and women who make it possible.
For the forest,
OFRI begins its 2020 educational advertising campaign this week with a handful of new television and video spots. Over the years, OFRI has made it a priority to educate Oregonians on the importance of reforestation after timber harvest. So we thought, “Let’s go film a real planting crew putting the next generation of trees in the ground.” And we did just that.
Our film crew met the planting team one beautiful morning in August up on the coast range to plant a few hundred seedlings. When you see the spots, the lighting is perfect. The weather is perfect. The crew is climbing a gentle hillside and we see them from multiple angles. It looks like a great day to plant trees.
Honestly, it wasn’t. It was the middle of August. It was hot and sunny. Anyone who has ever tried to establish new seedlings knows that most of those seedlings are goners. But we filmed in August because long days make it easier to organize a video shoot, and a real tree planting crew is just too busy during planting season to plant a single acre over and over for just the right camera angle.
In reality, tree planting in Oregon’s forests doesn’t take place during a beautiful August morning. It takes place in the dreary gloom of February to take advantage of seedling dormancy and the cool, wet weather conditions that promote good root development.
Previously, I had gone out with another planting crew during the early spring tree planting season in very different conditions. By different, I mean nasty. It was cold. It was rainy. They were planting on ground that was making them work for every foothold they could get. I went out to take photos and video of this crew in action.
It was hard work – and all I had to do was carry a camera and try to keep up. Yet, even though they each carried two weighty sacks full of trees as they climbed up slope after slope, the tree planters were moving fast and leaving me behind. I kept up as best I could and took photos and video when I could. Along the way, I stumbled a bunch, fell down a couple of times and had to take a breather more times that I’d like to admit.
The experience certainly gave me admiration for tree planting crews. At OFRI, we help Oregonians understand that 40 million trees are planted every year. They probably aren’t aware that all those trees are planted in the worst weather, over the toughest terrain and by hand – every single one of them.
Following a tree planting crew for a day was a cool trip, literally. And one that my knees and hips will remember for a very, very long time.
Senior Public Outreach Manager
Forester Friday features an Oregon forester with an interesting or unique contribution to the forestry field. This series is meant to highlight and recognize these stories.
“Some days I get to wear my analyst cap and dig into the inventory to answer a question for my client and my curious mind. And sometimes I get to wear my hardhat and talk to loggers and watch heavy equipment actively managing the forest! I also love the peace and beauty I get to experience with me, my dog and my truck out in the woods alone,” says Edith Dooley, a forester with the forestry and natural resources consulting company Mason, Bruce & Girard.
Edith, who is one of two foresters who manage the Avery Family Forest, a family-owned tree farm certified through the American Tree Farm System, is this week’s Forester Friday profile.
Edith has worked in this position for two years, and has spent five years with Mason, Bruce & Girard. Her daily job duties include a mix of both field work and office work. Some of these duties are timber cruising (the process of measuring areas of the forest to determine characteristics such as average tree sizes, in preparation for a timber harvest), building and maintaining hiking trails, and planning timber harvests and commercial thinning logging operations.
In addition to work experience, education has played an important role in Edith’s career. She discovered forestry in graduate school when she was studying the disturbance ecology of whitebark pine and mountain pine beetle at the W.A. Franke College of Forestry & Conservation at the University of Montana.
For this profile, Edith answered a series of questions about her career in forestry via email. Here are some of her responses.
What is your favorite part about your job?
My favorite part of my job is its diversity and autonomy. Managing this forest for my client, for my employer, for the local community, and for the forest and the land itself is a huge responsibility that requires constant vigilance for a wide range of aspects, including technical duties and social relationships. Essentially my client and employer trust me to keep on top of all this, and that entrusted responsibility allows me an awesome sense of ownership that I have not experienced to this degree in any other job I have held.
What drove you or why did you decide to work in forestry?
I knew I wanted a career in natural resources since my childhood camping in national parks with my family. I was even a National Park Service ranger for Halloween when I was 10! I focused on forestry because of the availability and objectives of the jobs available. I really love mycology, but I realized that no one was going to pay me to know about mushrooms. For my undergrad thesis, I wrote about animal behavior studied through bird song. I loved doing the fieldwork, but I became disillusioned with the realization that even if I discovered something striking about how humans were affecting the natural world in a negative way, that knowledge didn’t do anything to fix the problem. I realized I am a do-er. I like to have a good idea and be able to enact it efficiently, and then enjoy seeing the fruits of my labor. This is why working in private industry is a good fit for me, because things move fast, and the market and my employer reward smart, efficient and cutting-edge work.
What is something you want people to know about your job, and/or the impact of your job?
I want people to know that traditional, long-rotation forestry designed to grow the healthiest, most productive forest with the highest value logs, is alive and well in Oregon! I feel blessed that my client has selected a long-rotation management philosophy, where the time trees spend growing between timber harvests is longer than in typical industrial forestry. That means I get to manage for timber, thereby supporting local supply chains and economies, and manage for climate change by sequestering carbon in the trees while that stand grows to its biological rotation age. I believe that we can manage our forests to support the forest products economy and culture, and the climate.
What is your favorite outdoor activity in Oregon? Any particular place you like to do this activity?
I love skiing and rock climbing. I ski at Hoodoo, which is a hidden gem in the Cascades. Their motto is “Steeper, Deeper, Cheaper” and it’s true, but ssshhh…. don’t tell the Portland crowds! I have also started backcountry skiing. Recently, I have gotten hooked on roped rock climbing, and am looking forward to lots of established routes around Sweet Home.
Edith is just one of many Oregon foresters who help protect forests and keep them healthy and safe for future generations.
If you know an Oregon forester with an interesting or unique story we should share, email OFRI Social Media Intern Autumn Barber at firstname.lastname@example.org.