In 1957, a field science program called “outdoor school” was launched in Oregon that gave students in fifth or sixth grade the opportunity to move outside their school classrooms to learn while immersed in nature.
Over the decades, outdoor schools have been places for students to learn about the natural world. It’s a unique chance for kids to experience firsthand the connections among living things and biological systems, such as watersheds or riparian forests. Instead of learning these concepts from a book, students develop critical thinking skills by asking questions in the field, and then working together to investigate, measure and report their discoveries. Topics students study in outdoor schools typically include soil, water, plants, animals, habitats and natural cycles. Often, natural sciences specific to the local community and economy are highlighted as well.
In 2016, Oregon voters passed Ballot Measure 99, authorizing state lottery funds to provide all fifth- and sixth-grade students in Oregon access to a week of outdoor school. This new source of funding, which is distributed to Oregon school districts for outdoor school by the Oregon State University Extension Service Outdoor School Program, allowed outdoor schools to expand across the state, and the demand increased for high-quality educational resources and programming that helps students learn about natural environments. That’s when the opportunity arose for OFRI’s K-12 forest education program to partner with outdoor school.
In Oregon, forests are the setting and backdrop for many outdoor school programs. Knowing that forests feature prominently in many students’ outdoor school experiences, OFRI supports outdoor school in a variety of ways, including by serving as an ex officio member of the OSU Extension Outdoor School Advisory Committee. We also provide educational materials and other resources to outdoor schools and, in the Salem area, help host a non-residential outdoor school that doesn’t require students to spend the night away from home.
Using forests as a living laboratory engages students in profound ways. It not only helps connect them to classroom learning, but also gives them concrete, on-the ground experiences they can draw on throughout their lives. Direct experiences with nature through programs such as outdoor school have been shown to improve students’ overall academic performance, self-esteem and community involvement.
To support these important learning experiences, OFRI recently created a new educational resource called Investigate the Forest that’s designed specifically for outdoor school programs. The Investigate the Forest journal pages were developed to guide students in learning about Oregon’s forests while they explore the outdoors. The journal pages offer hands-on, student-centered ways to study the forest or other natural environments just outside their door. The journal pages may be used before, during or after attending an outdoor school program, to enhance students’ understanding of Oregon’s forests and how they’re a vital resource.
You can download the full journal or individual pages covering topics such as tree identification, wildlife habitat and wildfire prevention from the new outdoor school resources page on our forest education website for K-12 educators, LearnForests.org.
OFRI is also a partner in the non-residential outdoor school program called PAWS (plants, animals, water and soil). PAWS Outdoor School is organized by a coalition of agencies and organizations dedicated to environmental education and offers unique, top-quality outdoor school experiences. PAWS provides a multi-day outdoor school experience at various sites throughout Marion County. Over the course of four days, students rotate through different field sites, which include The Oregon Garden, Oregon 4-H Center, Minto-Brown Island Park and Keizer Rapids Park. Salem-Keizer elementary schools attend the program in the fall, and schools from other districts attend in the spring.
From its beginning in 1957, outdoor school has come a long way. During the 2018-19 school year (the year before COVID-19 impacted K-12 education), 37,965 students (81% of eligible fifth- and sixth-grade students) attended outdoor school. This means that during that school year, Oregon’s fifth- and sixth-graders cumulatively spent 148,887 days outside. For many of these students, it was their first chance to experience the wealth of natural resources in our state. OFRI is proud to partner with this important program that makes such an impact on young Oregonians.
Director of K-12 Education Programs
Last summer, the Secretary of State Oregon Audits Division released its findings and recommendations from their performance audit of the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI), as requested by Gov. Kate Brown in August 2020. We last addressed the audit on the OFRI Blog shortly after the full audit report was released in July 2021, in a post that described how OFRI intended to implement the audit’s operational recommendations.
Now we’d like to update the status of implementing those recommendations. The audit identified four recommendations (recommendations 2-5) to improve our performance and operations, and in our response to the audit we agreed to all of them. As OFRI’s acting executive director, I’ve been tasked with leading the charge in addressing these recommendations, and below I describe how we’re implementing each recommendation.
Please note that the audit also identified one recommendation for the Oregon Legislature (recommendation 1) that I won’t address, because it wasn’t directed to the Institute.
Here are the Secretary of State’s recommendations for OFRI, and how we’re working to implement each one.
Audit recommendation 2: Develop policy to provide guidance in avoiding prohibited activities
• OFRI asked the Oregon Department of Justice and the Oregon Ethics Commission for assistance in identifying and developing specific internal policies and processes to provide guidance to OFRI staff and board on ways to avoid engaging in activities prohibited by statute, and under what circumstances the agency will seek legal or ethical advice going forward.
• We provided ethics training, led by the Oregon Ethics Commission, to our board and staff in April 2022.
• We’re currently writing a policy to provide guidance to staff and board on ways to avoid engaging in statutorily prohibited activities. The policy should be developed and adopted by January 2023.
Audit recommendation 3: Improve internal controls
• The Institute selected a primary mission statement that’s consistent with its statutory mandate; the statement was approved by the OFRI Board in April 2021:
“The Oregon Forest Resources Institute supports and enhances Oregon’s forest products industry by advancing public understanding of forests, forest management and forest products.”
• We’ve posted this mission statement in appropriate places, including all our websites, all new OFRI publications and all educational media.
• We developed a draft Quality Information Policy, which will be formally adopted by the OFRI board in July 2022 after public review. This policy identifies agency standards and processes for developing, reviewing and disseminating quality information.
• We’re developing desk guides for each position and program, outlining the roles and responsibilities of each staff member, including the quality information processes that apply to them. The desk guides are targeted for completion by July 2022.
• We’re also embarking on a strategic planning effort after we hire a permanent executive director, a position that we’re currently seeking to fill. An updated OFRI strategic plan is targeted for completion by June 30, 2023.
Audit recommendation 4: Improve transparency and broaden stakeholder involvement
• We have posted the new OFRI mission statement on our website OregonForests.org, under the “About OFRI” tab.
• We also posted OFRI’s 2017 Strategic Plan on our website under the “About OFRI” tab. The 2022 Strategic Plan will be posted there once it is completed.
• We’ve developed the OFRI Stakeholder Checklist, which identifies how a broad range of stakeholders are identified, recruited and engaged in OFRI projects. This checklist works in concert with OFRI’s Quality Information Policy to engage a broad range of stakeholders in Project Steering Committees (PSCs). PSCs work with OFRI staff to develop educational materials and provide subject-matter expertise and target-audience perspective.
• Concurrently, we’ve developed the OFRI Public Review Process, which will be formally adopted by the OFRI Board in July 2022 after public review. The process is designed to better engage members of the public in developing OFRI educational materials, strategic plans and other initiatives.
• We’re communicating OFRI’s statutory mandate in all public messaging efforts, by posting our mission statement in appropriate places such as all new OFRI publications and all educational media.
Audit recommendation 5: Review statute to determine statewide policies that apply to OFRI
• We are conducting a comprehensive review of the OFRI statute and original intent of OFRI, to understand which statewide policies apply to OFRI.
• OFRI has requested that the Oregon Department of Administrative Services provide a list of statewide policies that apply to the Institute.
• We reached out to the Oregon Department of Justice for advice and guidance.
• We’re currently writing a policy to summarize how statewide policies apply to OFRI. We expect the policy to be completed and adopted in January 2023.
I believe OFRI is making a good-faith effort to implement the recommendations of the 2021 Secretary of State’s performance audit of OFRI. We’ve come a long way in completing our response. I’m always open to questions and comments as we implement the recommendations and move beyond the audit. Please contact me at [email protected].
For the forest,
Acting Executive Director
It’s a beautiful sunny February day that’s cold but clear, and I’m at a wetland in Washington County. No big deal, right? The only difference today: I’m not on land looking at the water…I’m in the water. Nearly neck-deep water! I’m wearing chest waders, so I stay dry, but the cold still takes my breath away.
I’m distracted by the feeling of being deep in water and yet not wet, but I’m trying hard to concentrate on scanning the area near the reeds and branches ahead of me, to look for amphibian egg masses.
Why am I doing this? I’m participating in Metro’s amphibian egg mass survey training. Their amphibian egg mass monitoring program uses volunteers to track four native pond-breeding amphibians: the Pacific chorus frog, Northwestern salamander, long-toed salamander and Northern red-legged frog.
These four amphibians can all be found in Oregon’s forests, and you can learn more about them and their habitat needs in the Oregon Forest Resources Institute’s new Forest Amphibians publication. They also serve as indicator species, which can be used to help gauge whether regional restoration efforts are helping more native amphibians thrive. Surveying for the egg masses each winter helps scientists track their numbers, as well as the overall health of wetlands in the region.
The masses come in a variety of sizes depending on the species and the stage of development, but all are clear gelatinous globs with dots, hooked to aquatic vegetation and camouflaged to fit into their environment. This makes them very difficult to spot. Think of it like an Easter egg hunt in the water, but without the pastel-colored eggshells.
It’s my first time out, and I don’t have a clue what I’m looking for; I’m mainly trying not to fall into a hole made by a beaver.
Conventional wisdom for this group says that the first time out you’re overwhelmed. The second time out, you’re simply confused. By your third trip to monitor, you have a sense of what you’re looking for and where to find it. In addition to identifying the egg masses, there are research protocols that must be followed to standardize the data collected. For example, we used a stopwatch to determine the number of egg masses found in a running time period. During my training, I found chorus frog and long-toed salamander eggs. My most unforgettable find was a Northwestern salamander egg mass, which is about the size of a tennis ball.
The survey season is over for this year. But I’ll be back next January, wading through some of the region’s most beautiful aquatic areas, searching for and compiling data on amphibians. I’m having fun, and it’s nice to know the information I contribute helps guide restoration programs aimed to aid native amphibians that call Metro’s parks and natural areas home.
Director of K-12 Education Programs
Image credit: Martyne Reesman, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
As a forester working for Roseburg Forest Products on the west side of the state, I’m frequently asked “Why do you plant so much Douglas-fir?”
Named after Scottish botanist David Douglas, Douglas-fir grows from British Columbia to Mexico, and from the Pacific Ocean all the way east through the Rocky Mountains. It is the state tree of Oregon, and it can grow anywhere from sea level to 5,000 feet in elevation. It prefers full sunlight to really thrive. Native Americans used the wood for fuel, tools and even medicinal purposes. Today, no other tree species in the world compares for wood products.
With all of that said, my short answer to the original question is: Because that’s what belongs here! At Roseburg, the majority of the trees we harvest to make wood products and then replant are Douglas-fir.
Foresters do, however, plant other native tree species when reforesting areas where timber has been harvested in Oregon’s forests. Where I work in southern Oregon, we have many site considerations when deciding which trees to plant. Sometimes the tree species that are present prior to harvest can give us clues to what would work best. Other times, it requires a bit more “detective work,” such as figuring out what type of soil is present on the site or monitoring site conditions throughout the year.
Here are some examples of the different kinds of trees that I may consider planting after a timber harvest, based on the conditions of the site I’m planning to reforest:
- Incense-cedar is a tree that we will often select on sites where we have heavy clay soils. Imagine that red dirt that gets dry, hard and may even crack in the summer. That’s where incense-cedar can thrive. You’ll often find them growing next to our “beloved” poison oak.
- Grand fir can tolerate having its “feet wet” for part of the year – so if you have moist soils on your site, this is one that can be planted among Douglas-fir.
- Western redcedar loves having its feet wet and thrives alongside streams, springs and other wet areas.
- The ponderosa pines that we plant at lower elevations on the west side of the state are actually a little different than the ones you find to the east of the Cascades. They grow pretty well just about everywhere in the valley foothills, and can tolerate wet soils better than Douglas-fir.
- Redwood is a great option for coastal sites where Douglas-fir may suffer from ailments such as Swiss needle cast. It’s an amazingly fast grower and can even re-sprout when cut!
That’s all to say that while Roseburg plants a lot of Douglas-fir, it’s also important to plant a variety of tree species on our forestland. Each type of tree needs different conditions to survive and thrive, and not every site is ideally suited for Douglas-fir.
Lawrence Martin Jr.