What's happening in the forest sector?

What does OFRI stand for?

In the late 1980s, forest landowners and the Oregon Legislature began to realize the forest sector needed a public agency to advocate for the importance of Oregon’s forests, forest management and forest products.

So in 1991 the Legislature created OFRI. The Institute operates under a model similar to Oregon’s 23 agricultural commodity commissions. Each of those is funded by a privilege tax, paid by growers, to support their educational and marketing activities, and each is governed by a volunteer board whose members are appointed by the director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Because OFRI deals with forestry, the Oregon State Forester appoints our board’s voting members, who represent landowners managing small, medium and large tracts of forestland in Oregon. The 13-member board also includes a member who represents forest-industry employees, as well as two non-voting members: the dean of the Oregon State University College of Forestry and a public representative appointed by the president of the Oregon Senate and the speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives.

State laws govern all of OFRI’s activities. The board meets at least quarterly. The meetings are open to the public, and there is opportunity for public comment.

Revenue to support OFRI’s educational programs comes from a portion of a timber harvest tax. The Institute does not receive state general fund money. And even through the majority of OFRI’s revenue comes from private landowners, OFRI advocates for all of Oregon’s forests – public and private.

OFRI’s mission is to advance public understanding of Oregon’s forests, forest management and forest products. Our audiences include the general public, K-12 students and teachers, forest landowners and the users of wood products in the architecture, engineering and construction community. We work closely with experts in the scientific, academic and educational communities at Oregon State University, the Oregon Department of Forestry and non-governmental organizations, to make sure the information we present is factual, current and credible.

Our work is directed by nine employees (shown in photo above) – six in Portland and three in our office at The Oregon Garden in Silverton, where we manage a 15-acre forest used for educational purposes. We rely on contractors for specialized services such as advertising, websites, publications, curriculum development, teacher professional development, etc.

OFRI’s budget is about $4 million, with roughly one-quarter of that spent on television and digital advertising. History has shown that educational advertising is the best way to reach Oregon’s growing population, especially newcomers who have little or no connection with natural-resource use.

It’s a privilege to tell the story of all of Oregon’s forests, which include public and private forestland, as well as parks, reserves and wilderness areas. It’s also a challenge – one we undertake with energy, humility and grace.

For the forest,

Paul Barnum

Executive Director 

Celebrate safe tall wood buildings

May is Building Safety Month. And why not? We have a National Corn Dog Day each year, so surely we ought to have a Building Safety Month.

According to the International Code Council (ICC), an association dedicated to developing the building codes and safety standards used in design and construction across the U.S. and internationally, Building Safety Month is a public awareness campaign, celebrated by jurisdictions worldwide for the past 38 years, to help folks understand what it takes to create safe, sustainable structures.

This year’s celebration is particularly apt because it comes barely two weeks after the ICC approved – by substantial margins – 14 proposed amendments to the International Building Code related to tall wood buildings. I attended ICC hearings held in Columbus, Ohio, to consider the code amendments, and testified in favor of them on behalf of Oregon’s Wood Products Working Group. Convened by the office of Gov. Kate Brown, the group works to expand and support the state’s advanced wood products industry.

Combined, the proposed code amendments would allow three new types of mass timber construction, including tall wood buildings of up to 18 stories. Here in Oregon, the state’s Code Review Committee has since voted to adopt the code changes approved by the ICC in Columbus into Oregon’s state building code, word for word. Assuming that recommendation makes it through the Building Codes Structures Board, it will be easier to obtain a building permit to construct a tall wood building in Oregon starting in October 2019.

These actions taken by the pre-eminent construction-code bodies are ample evidence that tall wood buildings are safe. Skeptics, though, might feel the need to see for themselves the evidence considered by the code bodies, nearly all of which addresses fire safety. To help spread the word about the safety of tall wood buildings, the Mass Timber Code Coalition, consisting of building officials, architects, engineers and a wide range of organizations including OFRI, is providing complete information on the proposed changes to the International Building Code on buildtallbuildsafe.com, including fire test results.

But mass timber building safety doesn’t stop there. Last year the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Products Lab, in conjunction with WoodWorks and the Softwood Lumber Board, led a series of live blast tests  to demonstrate the capability of cross-laminated timber (CLT) structures to resist a bomb explosion. The results have led the U.S. Department of Defense to expand the use of wood for blast-resistant construction.

Right here in Oregon, the design team for Framework, a 12-story CLT building soon to break ground in Portland’s Pearl District, has devised and tested an innovative structural system for the building. It will not only have state-of-the-art seismic safety, but also require minimal repairs following an earthquake. Post-tensioned cables will allow the structure to rock back and forth during an earthquake and then re-center itself when the shaking is done. That means that, unlike the vast majority of buildings – which are designed only to allow for occupants to safely evacuate during an earthquake – Framework will not need to be demolished and rebuilt once the initial danger has passed.

So … your corn dog likely has a wooden stick, and it certainly deserves its day, but chances are it’s not nearly as safe for you as these new wood buildings.

Timm Locke

Director of Forest Products

KnowYourForest.org is new and improved

Spring is a time for rebirth and rejuvenation, so it is fitting that KnowYourForest.org, an educational website for Oregon forest landowners, has a new look and some new content.

KnowYourForest.org was created in 2012 by the Partnership for Forestry Education, a group of Oregon-based organizations that have come together to help educate the state’s forest landowners. Managed by OFRI, the site provides information from a variety of public agencies and nonprofits, including the Oregon State University Extension Service, Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon Small Woodlands Association and Oregon Tree Farm System.

This is the first significant update of KnowYourForest.org since it was unveiled. It now includes new and updated content and some new features. Among the new content is a page in the “Learning Library” on forestry business and taxes, curated by Tammy Cushing, forest business and tax extension specialist with OSU Extension. This page includes a new video in which I interview Tammy about forest business issues.

Updated content includes a redesign of the “Forest Management Planning” page in the Learning Library, curated by Lauren Grand of OSU Extension and ODF’s Thomas Whittington. This page features an updated version of the Oregon management planning template and a link to the new “Oregon Forest Management Planning” website that is also curated by Lauren and Thomas.

The site also now features a series of new videos. In addition to Tammy’s forest business and tax video, we have two new videos on OSU Silviculture Extension Specialist Steve Fitzgerald’s wildfire page in the Learning Library. The “Making Your Forestland Fire-Safe” video features Alicia Jones of OSU Extension and Kyle Reed of the Douglas Forest Protection Association. The second video, “How to make your Home and Property Fire-Safe,” features Tom Fields of ODF and Kris Babbs of Keep Oregon Green.

We also have a series of new videos on the “Forest Protection Laws” page that were developed by ODF and feature Ryan Gordon from the agency’s Private Forests Program. These shorter videos cover the Oregon Forest Practices Act’s new Salmon, Steelhead and Bull Trout (SSBT) stream buffer requirements in short, easy-to-use segments.

Finally, the opening page of KnowYourForest.org features the new third edition of Oregon's Forest Protection Laws: An Illustrated Manual and the latest update to Family Forests, a resource guide for Oregon family forest landowners. These new publications can be downloaded from the site and hard copies are available to order.

So, before you head out to work on your spring tree farm chores, check out the updated KnowYourForest.org website.

For the forest,

Mike Cloughesy

Director of Forestry

Wildfire – the crucial conversation continues

Earlier this year, OFRI published a report titled “Impacts of Oregon’s 2017 Wildfire Season.” In it, we documented the hidden costs of fire, including impacts to air quality and health, school athletics, travel and tourism, employment and the economy, transportation, and iconic Oregon economic sectors such as the state’s wine and timber industries.

By all counts, last year’s fire season was horrific. The state experienced hazardous levels of smoke, including 160 days considered “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.” As thick smoke blanketed the state, emergency room visits increased by 86 percent the first week of September. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland canceled nine performances, a direct loss of $373,000. The community of Sisters scratched its annual folk festival, losing $1.2 million in local economic impact. Cycle Oregon canceled its annual ride. For three weeks, drivers were detoured off their usual route across Interstate 84. More than 7,000 people were evacuated in order to escape fires in central Oregon, the Columbia River Gorge and southwest Oregon.

In the four-page summary of the 24-page report, we asked, “Where do we go from here?” I’m happy to report that people are stepping up.

In early March, the Oregon State University College of Forestry put on a two-day “Fire Summit,” where scientists and policymakers discussed potential solutions to combat worsening fire seasons. A report of those proceedings is expected this spring. In April, OFRI and several other sponsors hosted “Era of Megafires,” a presentation featuring U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station landscape ecologist Paul Hessburg.

This spring, our federal lawmakers also took a positive step. After six months of continuing resolutions, Congress finally passed, and the President signed, the $1.3 trillion Omnibus Appropriations Act, a plan to fund federal agencies for the remainder of 2018.

Perhaps no part of the act is more important to Oregonians than a plan to improve the way the federal government pays for wildfire suppression, as well as some much-needed forest management reforms.

The effort to change how the federal government pays for fighting wildfires dates back to 2014. That’s when it became obvious that federal firefighting costs were robbing other parts of the U.S. Forest Service’s budget originally earmarked for funding forest management, including restoration, thinning and other measures that reduce wildfire risk. The old plan clearly had failed. Wildfires continued to grow in number, size and intensity. And for many Oregonians, the 2017 “Summer of Smoke” was the last straw.

Oregon’s forests will never be “fire-free.” Nor should they be. Wildfires are part of the forest ecosystem. They remove fuels that can create conflagrations that endanger watersheds, wildlife and communities. Fires thin out smaller trees, allowing more water, sunlight and nutrients to reach the remaining trees and shrubs. They also create forest clearings favored by pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

We have to live with a certain amount of fire and smoke, but we also need to manage our national forests for forest health, fire resiliency and public safety, including creating safer conditions for wildland firefighters. Fortunately, the omnibus bill includes some common-sense reforms. These include allowing the repair and reconstruction of forest roads under a deal that allows state agencies to perform forest management activities on federal land; creating legally sufficient pathways for hazardous fuels and wildfire resiliency projects; amending what’s known as the Healthy Forest Restoration Act to allow creation of fuel breaks and firebreaks; and managing vegetation around power lines.

It’s taken more than 100 years to create the crisis in our public forests, so we can’t expect results overnight. But Congress’ action is an important first step of many more to get us on the path to healthier, more fire-resilient forests.

For the forest,

Paul Barnum

Executive Director

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