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,
Stories about old growth preservation and battles over forestry on public lands often make the news. However, the really big news in Oregon forestry is the wood-production yields private landowners are achieving on their lands. Just as significant are the efficient methods Oregon mill owners are using to manufacture the building materials we all need as the country emerges from recession.
In a recent article in Oregon Humanities, Green Revolution historian and agriculture expert Robert Paarlberg writes that we can't feed the world by just using organic farming; we also need to use high-yield practices such as nitrogen fertilization, genetic improvement and irrigation. Similarly, Paarlberg says this about forestry: "If you don't invest in developing improved trees, managing forests, even fertilizing forests the way some companies do, and replanting those forests in a sustainable way, our need for timber and for pulp is going to lead to the destruction of natural forests."
Forestry’s Green Revolution is taking place on Oregon’s large private timberlands, or those consisting of more than 5,000 acres. Companies owning these lands use the latest high-yield forestry techniques – including tree improvement, improved nursery and reforestation practices, weed control, and fertilization – to produce the lion's share of our forest products. According to OFRI’s freshly released Oregon Forest Facts and Figures 2013, large private landowners have about 19 percent of Oregon's forestland, but produce about two-thirds of our annual timber harvest.
In addition to managing some of the world's most highly productive forestland with an emphasis on wood production, these private foresters rely on the latest research from Oregon State University's College of Forestry, one of the world's premier forestry research colleges. Most Oregon timber companies are members of OSU Forestry Research Cooperatives, which include the Center for Intensive Planted-Forest Silviculture, the Northwest Tree Improvement Co-op, the Hardwood Silviculture Co-op, the Vegetation Management Research Co-op, the Swiss Needle Cast Co-op and the Watersheds Research Co-op.
These member-funded and member-directed research cooperatives play an important role in forestry’s Green Revolution in Oregon. More information is available at the OSU College of Forestry website.
In Oregon, we should be proud of our private forest landowners and the way they manage our forests to produce the wood products we need as a society and the jobs we need as a state. We should also be proud of the research that is making this possible.
May the forest be with you.
Director of Forestry