Hiking isn’t just for the sunny days of summer. As an Oregon parent enduring a long, wet winter with two high-energy kids, hitting the trails simply can’t wait for the next 60-degree day. Fortunately, around the Portland metro area, there is no shortage of great urban and semi-urban forest adventures awaiting us.
Although getting the kids into their rain gear and out of the house can sometimes resemble a failing hostage negotiation, the trepidation usually ends once we stomp in our first mud hole.
Tryon Creek is a favorite of ours. It’s a moderate walk to the creek from the visitor’s center. It’s got decent water in the winter, so we head down there for some leaf boat races.
Reed Canyon is a hidden Portland gem. I lived in my home for seven years before I learned of this sanctuary not more than two miles from my front door. It’s an easy trail, about a mile and a half, surrounding a reservoir and filled with waterfowl. They’ve got a small population of returning salmon and even a resident otter.
The Audubon Society is also a frequent destination. We check out the birds in the hospital, and say hello to residents Hazel (a northern spotted owl) and Ruby (a turkey vulture) on the way to hiking the loop. We’ve poked more slugs and rotten logs along those trails than anywhere else in Oregon.
The benefit of frequenting urban forests like these is that my kids and I begin to appreciate what distinct seasons have to offer the same plot of forestland. Mushrooms in one season give way to wildflowers in the next. A spawning salmon may seem more majestic than a banana slug, but try telling that to a 6-year-old with a stick.
Urban forests are all around us – get those little ones out there. These natural treasures are muddy, they’re cold, they’re wet, and they’re open year ‘round. What’s not to love?
Public Outreach Program Manager and Oregon parent.
My wife and I recently returned from a vacation in Southeast Asia. Along with friends, we spent two weeks traveling in the backcountry of Laos; we found it interesting to see the rivers, mountains and forests of that country. Laos is landlocked, and one border is arrayed along the Mekong River, which during the winter months looks about the size of the Columbia. We were told its water volume swells by several times during the rainy season.
The Mekong is everything to the people who live on its banks – not the least factor of which is that it contributes to the vast irrigated farmland where 80 percent of Laotians live. In the lowlands you also see mile after mile of brush fields, where tropical forests once were and where rice and other crops will not grow. Remnants of these tropical forests are protected in preserves, although the temptation to remove valuable trees must be great, because our guide pointed out places where some had been stolen.
Much of the land is in small private ownership of an acre or two. Quite often you see small plantations of teak trees planted neatly in straight rows, managed for wood production. Our guide said that in 25 to 30 years these trees can be harvested – that they represent what one generation of landowner could do to help the next, which is a concept familiar to many Oregon forest landowning families. Some logs may be sold, but just as likely, he said, they will be used to build a home, because this durable wood is favored for construction in this tropical climate.
But the Mekong and its tropical lowlands aren’t the only features of Laos. The uplands and higher mountains have distinct cultures and forests. As we traveled to a high plateau area, we abruptly began to see pine trees intermingled in areas growing bananas and pineapples. Eventually, as we climbed higher the landscape opened up, and it was quite different from the lowlands. It was noticeably cooler, although people still farm rice there. We stayed at a small lodge located in a pure pine forest, and we felt at home walking trails through the pine-needle duff. The old lodge buildings were built from knotty pine, with foundations of stone. Fireplaces burned familiar-smelling wood. Some of the forest shrubs had red foliage. They turned out to be poinsettia, which, while probably not native, grow into very large shrubs, contrasting the green forest with bright red understory.
For my wife and me, Laos will no longer just be a spot on the map now that we’ve visited the country and seen its forests. Lush and tropical along the river – but not very far away, drier with open pine forests. We didn’t know you could see it all within one day, and it was quite an eye-opener.
Director of Communications
OFRI’s main website, OregonForests.org, is chock-full of great information for the public at large, but not so great if you are a K-12 teacher looking for forestry education materials to use with students. Now in its second year, LearnForests.org is set up especially for teachers.
K-12 students are a priority audience for OFRI and one that has very specific needs.
Before designing our new K-12 website, we asked teachers what they wanted. For most of them it came down to time – essentially, the need to find and sort information quickly and easily.
We kept that in mind when we set up LearnForests.org. It saves teachers time by compiling forest-education information in one easy-to-use website.
LearnForests.org, based on OFRI’s Oregon Forest Literacy Program, helps teachers develop classroom- and field-based lessons about forests and natural resources. It also includes examples of service-learning projects that connect to Oregon forests.
The website has a three-step filtering tool, allowing teachers to search for materials by grade, standard and topic. After the filters are selected, the website sorts the data and produces a list of concepts correlated to Oregon education standards. It also builds a custom list of related resources: field programs, in-class programs, teacher workshops, publications, service-learning guides and related links.
By pressing just three buttons, teachers get everything they need to teach forest topics, all on one Web page. If you know a teacher, have them try it at LearnForests.org!
Director of K-12 Education Programs
A pair of reports released earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture adds urgency to calls by Oregon’s political leaders to step up the pace and scale of forest restoration. View the U.S. Forest Service summary here.
Based on a compilation of more than 1,000 studies on climate change, the department foresees a potential doubling of the area burned by wildfires over the next 25 years. Moreover, the reports warn that insect infestations could produce more damage than fires.
It’s an ominous but predictable warning.
Even if climate stayed constant, the American West would still face the prospect of more wildfires and insect outbreaks. That’s because a century of fire suppression, as well as a lack of active forest management on federal land the past two decades, has created millions of acres of unnaturally dense forest stands at risk of uncharacteristically severe wildfire.
OFRI knows this subject well. Our 2010 report, Federal Forestland in Oregon – Coming to Terms with Active Forest Management of Federal Forestland documented the establishment of national forests in Oregon, described the events that led to their current state, and identified the severe fire risk facing the more than 11 million acres of dry national forests east of the Cascades and in the southern interior.
In 2012, OFRI collaborated with statewide partners to publish a new study, National Forest Health Restoration: An Economic Assessment of Forest Restoration on Oregon’s Eastside National Forests. That report answers the question posed by Gov. John Kitzhaber and legislative leaders: “If Oregon were to double the average number of acres treated annually to benefit and restore forest ecosystem health on Oregon’s dry-side national forestlands, then what would that cost and what would be the economic benefit?”
The answer? Every $1 million spent on restoration will generate $5.7 million in economic returns. Plus we can potentially avoid the fires predicted by the Department of Agriculture report, protecting our precious clean air and water, and stopping the sacrifice of wildlife.
Rep. Greg Walden, whose district covers eastern Oregon, stated in OFRI’s 2010 report, “… You don’t solve a problem by ignoring it. Federal forest health has been ignored long enough by government policy for us to take stock of the results: staggering unemployment in rural Oregon, catastrophic wildfire, massive bug kill and threatened habitat and watersheds.”
Solving the federal forest crisis may require help from the state. The governor’s budget proposes $4 million of lottery-backed bond proceeds to fund the implementation of forest collaborative projects to restore forest health and increase timber supply to mills in central and eastern Oregon. It’s a proposal that deserves serious discussion, especially in light of this new Department of Agriculture report on climate change.
In a companion summary to the 2012 national forest health restoration assessment, Gov. Kitzhaber had this to say: “Doubling restoration activities can have a positive, lasting impact on the health of dry-side forests and rural communities. Now is the time to act.”
For the forest,