What's happening in the forest sector?

Salamander hide-and-seek
03.23.2022

What wildlife species live in Oregon? How do we know? Generally speaking, wildlife surveys are a way to help answer questions about wild animals by making observations in the field. Those questions can be as simple as “Does a certain species live here?” or much more complex. Sometimes we’re just looking to learn more about a place by seeing what animals are around. Other times we’re keeping track of species that may be in danger of going extinct. By adding to our knowledge we can make more informed decisions. 

From butterflies to birds to blue whales, there’s value in knowing about wildlife, and the work is almost as diverse as the life forms we monitor. This is certainly one of the things that attracted me to wildlife work. Just as I appreciate biodiversity, I also appreciate a little diversity in my work. While I haven’t gone looking for blue whales (yet), I have spent the last few years as a wildlife technician in the Pacific Northwest looking for owls, other birds of prey and, occasionally, amphibians. 

When I’m not in the field, I’m going over the data and working with a team on a variety of wildlife projects and publications. Apart from my job, I’ve been fortunate enough to help survey sea turtles in Greece, otters in India, nesting waterfowl in Alaska and butterflies in southern Oregon. It’s a lot of fun.

forest seen from truck window

 

It’s always satisfying to find what you’re looking for during a wildlife survey, but there really is no guarantee. You may know the odds, whether they’re for or against locating any of the critters in question, but you just won’t know until you get out there and do the work. You’re up early (or late, in the case of nocturnal surveys), you’ve read papers and protocols, the habitat is there… but try as you might, sometimes you get “skunked.” Wild animals have lives of their own, after all, and they likely won’t regret it if they never get the chance to meet you. It can leave a surveyor feeling a bit defeated. So it goes! And so it went on a recent attempt to find an interesting amphibian in the headwater streams of Oregon’s north coast, the elusive Columbia torrent salamander (Rhyacotriton kezeri).

stream habitat

 

Torrent salamanders are a group of four species in the genus Rhyacotriton of the family Rhyacotritonidae. They’re found only in the Pacific Northwest, in Washington, Oregon and northwestern California, where they reside in and around cold, clean streams, seeps and cascades in moist, mature forests. Distribution of Columbia torrents specifically is limited to the Coast Range of northwest Oregon and southwest Washington. This group of salamanders is of conservation concern due to their limited range, low adaptability and threats to their habitat. Currently, the Columbia torrent salamander, as well as the Cascade torrent, is undergoing status reviews by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine if protections under the Endangered Species Act are warranted.

Locating good potential habitat is step one in searching for Columbia torrents. A shallow, moving, forested headwater with a rocky bottom is a good place to start looking. The wet forests of the north Oregon Coast Range are full of such streams, each unique in the way it flows and the features that make up the substrate, bank and surrounding forest. Some meander. Some run down massive rocks and cascade into pools clear as glass. Some are gravelly. Some run under fallen wood for 50 feet or more. Moss and ferns usually line the banks and top the rocks and logs sitting as islands in the current. Often it’s only flecks of direct sun that ever reach these forested streams, and they remain relatively cool and damp year-round.

Once you’ve found a promising stream, the search for torrent salamanders begins. This requires being down in, as well as along, the stream. Walking steep slopes through devil’s club, salmonberry and the surprisingly sharp needles of Sitka spruce is sometimes the only option for getting to the water. 

On a recent survey for salamanders, when I reached the stream I carefully lifted and moved rocks and other debris in the stream bed and along the banks to see if a salamander was sheltering underneath. I found myself stooping, slipping, almost crawling, and getting a little wet and muddy as I made my way up the stream. Torrent salamander surveys that take place in November and December, as mine did, can be a chilly experience, but the right clothing makes a big difference, and hiking usually generates plenty of warmth. 

Ultimately, the Columbia torrent salamander was the winner of our game of hide-and-seek. That’s not to say I found nothing out there; not even close. Exploring forested headwaters and giving your full attention will reveal a whole world of life. Banana slugs, snail-eating beetles, colorful mushrooms, crayfish and, of course, amphibians, to name just a few inhabitants of these forests. They’re all out there, and so are the torrents… somewhere.

Banana slug next to mushroom

 

Baby giant salamander in a hand

 

If you want to learn more about the Columbia torrent salamander and other amphibians in Oregon, the Oregon Forest Resources Institute has a new publication about forest amphibians you can order or download here. Other good resources include the Oregon Conservation Strategy website.

Jon Cox
Wildlife Technician
Cafferata Consulting, LLC

Forest literacy version 3.0
03.22.2022

What is forest literacy? By its nature, it’s a moving target.

If literacy is defined as competence or knowledge in a specified area – in this case, forests – then time changes what we know. That means it’s not enough to write a plan for forest literacy; it has to be updated regularly to be kept current and relevant. 

More than 10 years ago, the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI) brought together a diverse group of teachers, nonformal educators and natural resource professionals to create the Oregon Forest Literacy Plan (OFLP). It identified what every Oregon student should know about the state’s forests by the end of high school. Six years ago, a similarly diverse statewide group updated the OFLP. 

OFRI is in the process of updating the Oregon Forest Literacy Plan once again. In November we convened a group of educators and natural resource professionals to review and revise the concepts presented in the plan, so it can appropriately address current approaches, issues and challenges related to our forests. 

We asked this group to identify and consider the most important changes of the past five years in the fields of forestry and education. They came up with a list that included the intensity and impact of wildfire, carbon and climate change, and increased awareness of the role of indigenous people and traditional ecological knowledge in forestry. We compiled their ideas and developed an updated version of the OFLP concepts. In January we distributed the draft concepts to a larger group of education and forestry experts, and then revised the draft concepts based on their review. 

At this stage in the revision process, we invite public comments on the draft concepts. Public review such as this is an important component of OFRI’s commitment to transparency and accountability, and we hope you’ll participate.

To view the draft concepts, please go to OregonForests.org/public-review.

If you’d like to provide feedback on the draft concepts, please submit your comments via the online survey you’ll find at that same link. As an alternative to the online survey, you can also email comments to [email protected] or mail comments to:

Public Comment
c/o Oregon Forest Resources Institute
9755 SW Barnes Rd., Suite 210
Portland, OR 97225 

All comments must be received via the survey, email or mail by 5 p.m. on April 1. Note that all comments will be reviewed and considered, and a synopsis will be made publically available on OFRI’s website

After finalizing the concepts based on the public feedback we receive, we’ll design and print the plan and distribute it with the help of our K-12 education and forestry partners. Print copies of the updated plan will also be available to order for free or download from our main website, OregonForests.org, or our K-12 forest education website, LearnForests.org

Norie Dimeo-Ediger
Director of K-12 Education Programs

How many new trees are planted in Oregon when one is harvested?
03.21.2022

You may have seen the statistic in some of Oregon Forest Resources Institute’s educational media and other places, that roughly three trees are planted for every one harvested in Oregon. You may have wondered where this figure came from, and if the ratio is universal across all forests. The short answers are 1) it’s an educated estimate of the number of trees forest landowners in Oregon plant for each one they harvest; and 2) It does vary in different forests. Let’s go a little deeper into these questions.
 
The three-to-one ratio we use in our educational media is a conservative estimate that’s at the lower end of the tree-planting-to-harvesting-ratio spectrum in Oregon. That’s because the ratio depends on both how many trees are planted per acre and how many trees are harvested per acre. Both these numbers can vary based on a number of factors, such as how far apart the trees are planted and the age of the trees when they’re harvested. 

First, it’s important to note that our tree-planting-to-harvesting-ratio estimate mostly only applies to western Oregon. The reason for that is western Oregon’s Douglas-fir dominant forests, where the most clearcutting takes place, followed by mass tree planting. Western Oregon forest landowners are also required under Oregon law to replant trees after timber harvest. 

The number of trees planted per acre varies with different sites and landowners. Planting is commonly done using 10’ x 10’ spacing, which equals 436 trees per acre (tpa). Some landowners plant a bit tighter and some plant a bit wider, but 436 tpa is a solid average to use. 
 
The number of trees harvested per acre depends on the age of the trees when they’re harvested, the site quality, and past management such as thinning. Some landowners choose to do a commercial thinning, a partial harvest where they cut down some of their trees and sell them to mills to be made into wood products; then they do a full timber harvest years later. The typical age of trees in a full timber harvest is between 50 and 70 years old. 

Here are three scenarios that illustrate the spread of ratios:
 
•    A 50-year-old patch (a “stand,” in forester terms) of Douglas-fir trees with no commercial thinning has about 150 tpa at harvest. So 436 divided by 150 equals 2.9, or nearly three trees planted for each one harvested.

•    A stand of 70-year-old trees with no commercial thinning has about 110 tpa at harvest. If you divide 436 by 110 that equals 3.96, or nearly four trees planted for each one harvested.

•    A stand that was previously commercially thinned and now has 70-year-old trees has about 75 tpa at harvest. In that case, if you divide 436 by 75 you get 5.8, or nearly six trees planted for each one harvested.

You might wonder: How does a newly planted stand go from 436 tpa to only 150 tpa when it’s mature? Is the loss from animals eating tree seedlings, other kinds of tree mortality, or thinning? In those 50 years, how did two-thirds of the original trees planted go M.I.A.? 

Great question. The reduction in tree stock is due to self-thinning or competition-induced mortality. As trees get bigger in diameter, they need more room to grow. For trees to reach 16 inches in diameter at breast height (dbh), they need to be about 20 feet apart. The smaller trees die to make room for the bigger trees. A stand of trees 20 feet apart would have about 110 trees per acre.

So there you have it. In Oregon, we plant about three trees for each tree harvested, but in some cases it could be as many as six trees planted for each harvested tree. Aren’t you glad you asked?

For the forest,

Mike Cloughesy
Acting Executive Director

 

Collaboration and Compromise: The Private Forest Accord legislative package passes in the 2022 session
03.08.2022

We are in a historic time of a paradigm shift in the collective approach to forest policy in Oregon. The forest products industry and the environmental community have often been seen as being at odds with one another. But they are invested in the same resource: Oregon forests. 

In 2020, the two groups made a concerted effort to move past their differences and create a more collaborative path forward, which has come to be known as the Private Forest Accord. The Private Forest Accord is the result of a long-term process that brought together representatives from both sides through a mediated process. The purpose was to modify the Oregon Forest Practices Act (OFPA) to identify key goals that should allow Oregon to receive federal approval of a Habitat Conservation Plan.   

A Habitat Conservation Plan and accompanying incidental take permit on private forestlands would offer assurances of protected habitat for fish and other aquatic species, and provide future regulatory stability for Oregon’s forestry and forest products sector.

Over an 18-month period, representatives from the timber industry and environmental groups took time to meet, listen to scientific experts, and dive into research and data in an effort to find common ground. In October, 2021, with the leadership of Gov. Kate Brown, representatives of the Accord signed an agreement on proposed changes to state regulations governing logging and other forest practices on private forestland. 

The group identified the goals pursued during the process as aiming to provide:
•     greater business certainty
•     greater environmental certainty
•     greater regulatory certainty
•     science-driven adaptive management processes
•     alternatives for small woodland owners

The full Private Forest Accord report was released to the public in order to provide an in-depth look at proposed changes to Oregon’s forestry laws as agreed upon by the groups. Those agreements were put before the 2022 legislative process as Senate Bills 1501, 1502 and HB 4055. 

The primary topics of those bills were identified as: 
•    Stream buffers. Updated stream buffers are 10% to 100% larger based on stream type and geography.
•    Forest roads. New standards for road design, inventory, maintenance, management, and culvert design.
•    Unstable slopes. Retaining trees in key areas as a means to reduce landslide risk, and develop new modeling. 
•    Protections of aquatic resource habitat. Expanded riparian buffers for a variety of riparian-dependent species, including salmon, steelhead, bull trout, and amphibians. (Includes additional reporting requirements for managing beaver activity.)
•    Compliance monitoring. Expands monitoring programs to evaluate whether new rules are implemented as intended. 
•    Adaptive Management Program. Creates a new stakeholder committee, which will work with an Independent Research and Science Team to advise the Board of Forestry on recommendations for ongoing rule changes ensuring that the goals of the Habitat Conservation Plan are met.
•    Mitigation and implementation costs.
•    Tax credit to compensate small forestland owners. 

There are also special accommodations for small woodland owners to address disproportional impacts they could face as a result of changes to Oregon’s forest practices regulations. Provisions for alternative practices and state funding are intended to help lessen the burden for small forest landowners, who make up about 12% of the state’s forestland and 36% of the private ownership.

There are still numerous steps to be taken, by the Private Forest Accord and the legislation associated with it, before the rules and habitat conservation plan are finalized. But the hope is that the long-term regulatory certainty and an HCP for private forestlands will better protect stream habitat for fish and other sensitive wildlife while keeping Oregon private forests forested, rather than converted for other uses. This is how we will ensure that Oregon’s forest sector can thrive into the future. 

To learn more about the Private Forest Accord and upcoming changes to Oregon’s forest practices regulations, go to OregonForests.org/private-forest-accord

Julie Woodward
Acting Director of Forestry

 

 

 

 

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