Sustainability is at the core of Oregon’s laws regarding forest practices and land use planning. The forest practices laws, which are enforced by the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), require state and private forest landowners to protect soil, air, water and wildlife habitat for future generations. Since the Oregon Forest Practices Act became law in 1971, the Oregon Board of Forestry has regularly updated its rules to keep them current and responsive to evolving scientific knowledge and public concerns.
Occasionally, the Oregon Legislature has amended the Forest Practices Act to include specific requirements for forest operations. This was the case when the Legislature passed Senate Bill 1602 in July 2020. The new law changed certain parts of the Forest Practices Act, and two of those changes went into effect at the beginning of this year. The first change increases the size of buffers around homes, schools, water intakes and some streams that helicopters applying herbicides must avoid. The second expands a requirement that restricts logging near streams that provide habitat for certain fish species. You can read the full text of Senate Bill 1602 here.
Helicopter herbicide spray buffers
Starting Jan. 1, 2021, the Forest Practices Act mandates that helicopters spraying herbicides on forestland must leave wider buffers around school properties, dwellings and streams. A buffer is an area adjacent to a stream, school, inhabited dwelling or water intake that contains a combination of trees, shrubs, and/or other perennial plants. Trees within certain buffer zones cannot be harvested.
Under the new rules, the size of the required buffers are:
• At least 75 feet from streams with fish or domestic use
• 50 feet from other streams with surface water present
• 300 feet from a school or inhabited dwelling
• 300 feet from a qualifying water intake
Stream buffer rules expanded
A relatively new Forest Practices Act rule requiring wider buffers of trees be left unharvested around salmon, steelhead and bull trout streams now includes the Siskiyou region in southern Oregon. Previously this rule, which requires tree buffers of varying depth depending on the size of the stream inhabited by salmon, steelhead or bull trout, applied to lands west of the Cascades with the exception of the Siskiyou region.
The Board of Forestry created the salmon, steelhead and bull trout (SSBT) streams rules in 2017 to prevent an increase in stream temperature, which can negatively impact salmon, steelhead and bull trout. Not enough science was known at that time about the Siskiyou region to apply these wider buffers, also known as a Riparian Management Area (RMA).
This graphic from the OFRI publication Oregon’s Forest Protection Laws: An Illustrated Manual shows the newly revised requirement to leave a wider buffer of trees on either side of a medium-size SSBT stream in the Siskiyou region.
There are several required zones in the SSBT stream buffer, where varying degrees of timber harvest are allowed. For example, in a medium-size stream designated as an SSBT, all the trees in a “no-harvest zone,” located 0 to 20 feet from the stream’s high-water level, must be left. In the “inner zone,” located 20 to 50 feet from the high-water level, and the “outer zone,” located 50 to 80 feet from the high-water level, some trees can be harvested. Compared to a non-SSBT fish stream, the RMA is 10 feet wider, and the trees that are left unharvested need to be split between the inner and outer zone.
More information about SSBT rules can be found in Oregon’s Forest Protection Laws: An Illustrated Manual. ODF also offers informational videos about these laws. Watch the videos here.
Additional rule changes
Additional changes to the Forest Practices Act outlined in Senate Bill 1602 will become effective between July 2021 and June 2022. This includes a mandate that ODF develop an e-notification system for helicopter herbicide application to improve communication among landowners, helicopter operators, neighbors and water users. Before they spray, helicopter herbicide applicators must notify water users and neighbors who have signed up to receive notices through this system and are within one mile of the proposed work. The law provides funds for developing this new system. It will likely take about a year to complete.
Learn more about Oregon’s forest protection laws
With more than 250 enforceable rules that apply to state and private forestland, there’s a lot to take in when it comes to the Oregon Forest Practices Act. That’s why OFRI created Oregon’s Forest Protection Laws: An Illustrated Manual, currently in its third edition, as a reference for Oregon’s forest landowners to following these important state rules and best management practices aimed at protecting natural resources. You can order the manual or download it for free from the publications section of our website, OregonForests.org.
Oregon forest landowners can find additional information and resources on the state’s forest protection laws on the Partnership for Forestry Education website, KnowYourForest.org. ODF also has information on each section of the Forest Practices Act and additional videos on their website.
ODF stewardship foresters, who provide technical assistance and enforcement to ensure the state’s forest protection laws are followed, are another great resource; they’re available to contact in every corner of Oregon.
From the woods,
Senior Manager, Forestry Education
Our newest K-12 publication is a first for the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI). We recently developed a set of forestry and natural resources lessons that come in both digital and print formats. The reason? To give students, teachers and parents maximum flexibility with how, when and where the lessons are used.
The Oregon Garden Natural Resources Education Program Lessons are designed to flex with a world where it’s impossible to predict where students will be learning, whether it’s at home, at school or a combination of the two. The lessons focus on four topics – wildlife habitats, adaptations, food webs and healthy forests – that are explored in the Oregon Garden Natural Resources Education Program. The OFRI-led field program for fourth- through sixth-grade students is normally held at the Rediscovery Forest inside The Oregon Garden in Silverton, but due to schools moving to distance learning and other safety precautions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the on-site program is not currently accepting school groups.
If students are in school, teachers can order free printed copies of the lessons from OFRI that can be completed in class or assigned as homework. If students are distance learning, teachers can send them a link to the digital version to complete online.
Both versions aim to enhance students’ understanding and appreciation of Oregon’s forests. Students are invited to explore each lesson topic through informational videos and other educational content developed by OFRI, and by making direct observations outdoors in their backyard, schoolyard or neighborhood park.
While the lessons were developed so students who haven’t been able to participate in the Oregon Garden Natural Resources Education Program because of COVID can learn similar concepts in another setting, the digital and print formats allow them to be used in any school or home in the state. And when the pandemic is over and students are back in school full-time, the lessons can be used to support forestry education programs either before or after a field trip.
You can find the Oregon Garden Natural Resources Education Program Lessons on our website for K-12 forest education, LearnForests.org.
We wish you good health, good spirits and a good time learning about Oregon’s forests.
Director of K-12 Education Programs
The Labor Day fires of 2020 have been devastating for western Oregon. Thousands were evacuated, hundreds lost their homes and, tragically, some even lost their lives. It will take a long time to recover from this series of disasters. However, there are some positive stories to tell.
This clearly was not a normal fire season. State and federal resources were all fully deployed, and no more firefighters or equipment were available anywhere by Sept. 9. Rather than wringing their hands, Oregon foresters, forest owners and contractors got to work. An early estimate is that a total of more than 600 forest industry personnel were involved in the early days of fighting these fires. A total of nearly 400 pieces of equipment, including bulldozers, excavators and tank trucks from forest landowners and operators were also involved. Add to this the dozens of farmers, loggers and small woodland owners who also helped attack the fires.
I have read many stories in the news and on social media about the work of private citizens in fighting these fires alongside the professional firefighters. I live in Mount Angel, and there are two stories that strike very close to home for me.
The first is how local loggers, builders and farmers saved many homes and buildings in the Scotts Mills area east of Mount Angel from burning as part of the Santiam Fire, which is now part of the Beachie Creek Fire. This included crews fromwho provided bulldozers and excavators. These heroes worked to fortify the lines built by fire crews, and also built new fire lines. In addition to sparing homes from the flames, their actions helped save the historic Holy Rosary church in Crooked Finger
Another is how employees and contractors of Weyerhaeuser working under the direction of the Beachie Fire incident management team built many miles of fire line to keep the Beachie Creek and Riverside fires from joining, in the Dickey Prairie area southeast of Molalla. This not only saved thousands of acres of private timberland, but avoided the firestorm that was predicted if these two huge fires merged.
As a professional forester in Oregon, I’ve been proud to share the story of Oregon’sfor state and private forestlands in Oregon. However, it wasn’t until last month that I really understood what that means. Forest landowners in Oregon are required by law to provide protection from fire for their lands. Most private landowners have the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) or their local forest protective associations handle fire protection on their forest lands
According to, private landowners pay about half the cost of the base fire protection through a local , which is matched by a General Fund allocation to ODF. Landowners also pay 60% of the costs for additional aircraft, heavy equipment and firefighters during extreme fire conditions such as we had in early September. Landowners pay half the cost of the state’s catastrophic insurance policy (through Lloyd’s of London). Landowners also pay half of the first $20 million in costs to fight large fires.
These private landowners obviously have skin in the game. They scrupulously follow all fire restrictions and closures, have all the required firefighting equipment and vehicles, and aggressively put out any fire starts they see on their lands. Oregon forest landowners are proud of our system and the ODF districts and associations that fight the fires.
Then came the Labor Day storm and fires of 2020. Oregon simultaneously had five “megafires” – fires greater than 100,000 acres in size – and eight other large fires greater than 1,000 acres. All 13 of these fires either started or blew up on Sept. 7 and 8.
Oregon had nearly 1 million acres burning on just these 13 fires, likely making this the largest annual burned acreage in Oregon since records have been kept. Nearly 400,000 acres, or about 40% of the burned land, was owned by private forest landowners. Adetails ownership of the western Oregon Labor Day fires as of Sept. 15, and includes the following table, which shows ownership of fire areas by county:
The acreage of private forestland within the perimeters of these fires represents the amount of private forestland and timber volume that’s normally harvested in two to three years. This happened in a week. There is going to be a massive post-fire timber harvest on private forestlands the next two years as landowners attempt to recover the value lost in the burns before the wood deteriorates. There also is likely to be a severe shortage of tree seedlings, as landowners reforest acres that were not in their plans. An average year in Oregon sees the planting of about 40 million seedlings. We may need to plant ten times that in the next few years.
It will take a long time to recover from these fires, and as a state we’re still taking stock of the social, ecological and economic impacts. I do want to take a moment to thank firefighters for all you do for us, but also thank you to forest landowners, loggers and equipment operators for putting your bodies and equipment on the line to protect our forests and towns. This is both a very sad and a very proud time in Oregon forestry.
For the forest,
Director of Forestry