I’m Jim Paul, the new executive director of the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI). Established by the Oregon Legislature over three decades ago, OFRI’s fundamental mandate is to support Oregon’s forest products sector and foster the wise stewardship of natural resources for the benefit of Oregonians. With almost half of Oregon covered in forestland, this is a critical sector that can directly touch nearly every Oregonian.
At the time OFRI was founded in 1991, Oregon recognized that forestry encompasses one of the largest economic sectors in the state. Today it contributes an estimated 61,500 jobs to Oregon’s economy, more than $8 billion in state gross domestic product (GDP) and more than $18 billion in base economic output. This equates to almost 3% of total state employment, 3.7% of state GDP and 4.7% of total state output – that’s nearly $1 of every $20 generated in Oregon. There are also more than 62,000 Oregonians who own more than 10 acres of forestland, and that number roughly doubles when you include owners of smaller forestlands.
Notwithstanding all of these important economic and social factors, this vital sector depends on responsible stewardship of the nearly 30 million acres of forestland in Oregon. Forest stewardship is a topic that has seen a lot of attention and vigorous public debate in recent decades in the face of some turbulent times for forestry in Oregon. At the core of this debate is a familiar concept that can be expressed in a single word: sustainability.
When we talk about the sustainability of our forests, what does that mean? For me, it means ensuring that environmental values such as clean water and air, wildlife habitat and carbon storage – to name just a few – are protected to meet the public’s expectations now and into the future. It means our forests are providing the recreational opportunities and open space Oregonians value so much. And that our forests are producing the wood and paper products that Oregonians enjoy and count on in their daily lives.
Sustainability also includes recognizing the interdependence of these values – a three-legged stool supported by the environmental, social and economic benefits our forests provide. If Oregon is going to remain successful in sustaining healthy and vigorous forests, we need to strive to meet all the expectations and needs Oregonians have when it comes to our forests.
To achieve sustainability requires collaboration across many different interests statewide, and a common understanding of the fundamental facts about our forests. It also requires open and honest public engagement, with easy access to information so a healthy public debate can occur – one that values and considers diverse perspectives. This is essential to ensuring the public policy decisions made by our natural resource leaders are ultimately in the best interests of all Oregonians, and the sustainability of all our forestlands.
OFRI is in a unique position to provide leadership through forest education, with a dual mandate of supporting what’s in the best interest of both the public and the forestry sector in Oregon. A purpose that does not put one interest over the other, but instead leans into that sweet spot where benefits can be realized for all. A real-time example of this is the education and outreach OFRI has provided regarding the Private Forest Accord, a collaborative agreement between the forest industry and conservation groups that charts a new path forward in determining the future of many of Oregon’s private forest practices regulations.
No other organization in Oregon is positioned as OFRI is: charged with a singular focus on advancing the common interests between the forestry sector and Oregonians. And as a state entity, OFRI is directed and entrusted to carry out its work from a professional, balanced and nonpartisan perspective. These principles, centered on finding common ground in resolving challenging natural resource issues, are ones I’ve carried with me throughout much of my public service career in forestry and land management, and I’ll continue with them as the executive director of OFRI. I look forward to advancing OFRI in the essential leadership role it has been tasked with to keep this state’s forest sector strong, and to work hard to ensure the wise stewardship of Oregon’s forests for generations to come.
Since March, OFRI has been focusing our educational efforts on explaining the coming changes in forest laws, regulations and practices that stem from the Private Forest Accord (PFA), an agreement between timber companies and environmental groups to make changes to the Oregon Forest Practices Act (OFPA).
We’ve already created materials for small forest landowners, an audience we know is paying attention. But we’re also focusing on the general public. This audience may have noticed some headlines back when the PFA negotiations were publically announced two years ago, or when new legislation proposed by the PFA was signed into law earlier this year – but overall the public appears to be largely uninformed about the changes, and how they’ll shape the future of forestry in Oregon.
Our first big effort is a set of new educational videos going out to the general public. In July, OFRI assembled a team to create these videos, which highlight how a variety of Oregonians who care about the forests have found common ground to expand streamside habitat protections for fish and aquatic wildlife. A camera crew filmed both recreational actors and real forestry professionals, playing in the forest as well as working in and along streams in Oregon’s Coast Range. Watch the 30-second video here.
To film the video, several forestry professionals who work for timber companies in Oregon joined us in the forest. Jenniffer Bakke, a wildlife biologist from Manulife, joined us in the stream to gather water samples and catch a few invertebrates. David Dougherty, a forester from GreenWood Resources, guided us through the underbrush to flag some trees in the protected streamside habitat zone. And Rachel Kennard, a forest engineering specialist from Weyerhaeuser, climbed through a culvert with our camera crew to gather some measurements.
All three lent great expertise to the project, and all represent businesses that signed the PFA agreement and participated in the negotiations that led to the recent OFPA changes.
In August we released the new video through a digital public outreach campaign. Unlike most years, OFRI is splitting our educational media campaign between two seasons. We plan to run our introductory video this fall, followed by a larger campaign next spring, which will add new videos to the lineup. All the videos in the campaign encourage viewers to visit OregonForestLaws.org.
With these changes coming to Oregon forest laws and regulations, OFRI also thought it was the right time to completely rebuild OregonForestLaws.org. The website is geared toward the general public. It offers an overview of the Oregon laws that regulate forestry practices such as logging, road-building, and using chemicals in the forest to control unwanted vegetation. Each site section summarizes current laws and regulations, to help Oregonians gain a base-level knowledge of the measures that protect clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, and more elements on Oregon’s timber-producing forests. There are specific callouts that highlight the changes in forest laws and regulations that came from the PFA’s work.
Users can dig deeper if they want, including reading the full PFA report, OFRI’s Oregon’s Forest Protection Laws – An Illustrated Manual, or even lists of endangered or threatened species protected under federal and state law. The site also lets visitors ask a forester questions about Oregon forest laws and regulations. We collect the questions and ask our staff foresters or partnering foresters to craft answers that will clearly explain current laws and regulations. We really hope this feature gets used; feedback like this helps us gauge what the public is wondering about, and what level of understanding they have about contemporary forest practices.
We welcome you to share the new video and website with your colleagues and community. We know public awareness about the PFA in particular is quite low. But it was a monumental shift in Oregon’s forest practices, and OFRI is doing what we can to give these changes the attention they deserve.
Senior Manager, Public Outreach
Arriving early at the fire station in Rogue River to set up for the FireBright Teacher Workshop, we were surprised (and a little nervous) to find the room occupied by personnel in white coats administering to a large number of people lying on beds. We appreciated the generosity of the Rogue River Fire Department letting us use the room, so we were happy to wait until the Red Cross blood drive ended to set up for our workshop.
After that, things went as planned and together with the Oregon Natural Resources Education Program, the Oregon State University Extension Service, Oregon Department of Forestry and the Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative, OFRI’s K-12 education program hosted a successful summer teacher workshop on fire this past June.
Sixteen educators from high schools and community colleges around the state participated and took advantage of the opportunity to learn about wildfire topics that included, ecology, causes of wildfire, the era of “megafires,” and natural resource careers. They toured the Garner Complex, site of the 2018 wildfire, and were taken to OSU’s Collins Demonstration Forest near Gold Hill. While at the two sites, they learned about the tools of the firefighting trade, fire incident command systems, and forest resiliency to fire through management and mitigation strategies. The intent of the tour was to show the participants how to incorporate and apply knowledge of wildfire related to Oregon forests, forest practices and community resources into their classroom curriculum.
The tour served as professional development for the teachers to learn about a high school curriculum called FireBright. Created by OSU Extension, the Oregon Department of Forestry, Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative and Keep Oregon Green, the aim of the curriculum is to give students an understanding of fire in our forests and how it impacts communities. It also has a strong career and community engagement element, and gives students the understanding of the skills that are needed if they choose to pursue a wildfire-related career.
The curriculum consists of five modules or units. Among the topics the modules cover are an overview of contemporary wildfire issues, including the threat of megafires (extreme fires that devastate large areas) and how they impact forest health and communities. Another module helps students understand the ecological and historical basis for the current challenge of addressing the longer, more intense fire seasons the West is experiencing due to climate change and other factors. This includes highlighting the causes of wildfire and mitigation strategies.
Lastly, the curriculum looks at wildfire from the perspective of the community and provides students with the knowledge and tools to help their community prepare for wildfire. It also examines natural resource and wildland firefighting career pathways.
OFRI has been a partner throughout the process, designing and implanting phases of this curriculum, and there is a plan to offer a similar teacher workshop in conjunction with the FireBright modules in eastern Oregon next summer.
One of the reasons we’ve supported the curriculum and hosted this workshop is because, even though it was developed for southern Oregon, it is applicable to other areas of the state. Not only is it well written and aligned with educational standards, but the topics it covers, such as megafires and their impact on forest health, community wildfire preparedness and mitigation strategies, and the impacts of longer fire seasons, are not unique to southern Oregon unfortunately. Students from across Oregon would find value in its lessons too.
Director of K-12 Education Programs
There are more than 70,000 forestland owners in Oregon. These landowners all have unique goals for their forestland and strategies to reach those goals.
Through our public surveys, we’ve learned that many Oregonians don’t understand how many different forest landowners there are across the state, or the variety of management styles they use. In other words, they know there are forests managed for timber production in Oregon, and they know there are also forest reserves that protect sensitive wildlife habitat or valued recreation sites. But they may not be aware that most Oregon forest landowners fall somewhere in between these two ends of the spectrum, or that landowners often manage their forests for multiple uses such as timber, wildlife habitat, recreation and carbon storage.
For the past year, I’ve had the privilege to have traveled the state, listening to forestland owners tell their management stories as part of a new OFRI video series called Different Forests. Different Goals. The educational video series is intended to introduce Oregonians to a wide variety of forestland owners managing forests in all corners of the state, and detail how their management strategies vary from each other. Together, these videos show a range of seven forestland objectives being achieved in different ways, including:
• fire resiliency
• carbon storage
• certified tree farm
• songbird habitat
• forestland grazing
• threatened species habitat
• multiple uses
When looking at these management strategies, each forestland owner profiled in the video series is distinct from one another, but also from adjacent forestland owners. In a couple cases, the landowners and their neighbors started with very similar plots, but chose different goals and management strategies, resulting in side-by-side properties that look different and provide different benefits. Together, the collection of these differences gives the larger forested landscape its variety.
So, in many ways, no two stories were alike. But what I also found is that they were all quite similar. All of the landowners we interviewed for the videos care deeply for their forests. They all acknowledged that their way wasn’t the only way. They could have chosen different goals and reached them with success, but the goals and management styles they chose were the right decisions for them. They all put in the work, and tried to make their lands better than they found them. They also relied on a community of experts, neighbors, professionals, educational materials and more to achieve their goals.
That was refreshing. Too often we hear voices supplying opinions about the “right way” to manage forestland – for carbon, for fire, for sustainable wood products – with an assumption that there is one correct “prescription,” or set of forest management activities aimed to achieve specific goals. The landowners I talked to didn’t feel that way; I didn’t hear them talk about how other landowners should be managing their forests. They were excited to tell their stories, and I greatly appreciated the invitation to tour their lands and witness their enthusiasm.
Please enjoy the videos, which are available on our YouTube page, and share with anyone who might like to learn more about the many types of forest management happening around the state.
Senior Manager of Public Outreach