What's happening in the forest sector?

OregonForests.org: Now it's your turn

Thank you for your support and feedback about OFRI’s new website. It’s certainly come a long way, thanks in large part to our development partner, DHX Advertising. Together we’ve worked to create a site that is both visually interesting and informative about Oregon’s abundant forestlands. There is a lot to learn and play with on the site, so if you haven’t taken the time to explore, by all means do so.

There’s more to come, too.

Our ongoing mission for OregonForests.org is to make it more interactive, more interesting and, above all, more significant for Oregonians. We have a number of features we are planning to expand. And, what better way to accomplish that than to involve you in the process?

Here are a few examples:

Learning centers:
We will expand our links to forest learning centers located within the state’s 13 separate forest types. These are usually structure-based buildings or kiosks that provide forest interpretation, and it is likely there are some great ones that we’ve missed. If you know of any, drop us a note and we’ll look into it.

Urban forests:
Similarly, there are many urban forests throughout the state. If you have an important urban forest in your community, we’d love to hear about it, because they may be the most frequent exposure Oregonians have with forests.

Ask a forester:
Do you have a question about forests or forestry? Ask it, even if it’s a basic one. The more questions we cover, the richer and more useful this website becomes for you. If you have a question, chances are 10 others are wondering about the same thing.

These are just a few of the areas where we are seeking input. If any suggestions or additions come to mind while you’re exploring the website, we invite you to let us know. The more we can involve Oregonians with what we really think is “your” website, the more helpful and informative it will become.

Thank you.

Jordan Benner
Public Outreach Program Manager

Restoring Forests Requires Collaboration

by Michael Tevlin, OFRI writer and story expert

The pall of smoke yellowed the sky along the Front Range of the Rockies. We could see it from our west-facing windows as our jet approached Denver from the north. It was the last week of June, and my wife and I were flying to Colorado for vacation. We’d heard about the fires, but their reality hit much closer to home as our plane descended. 

The High Park fire, as it was known, west of Fort Collins, eventually would destroy 259 homes and consume more than 87,000 acres of forest. At the time, it was already the most destructive forest fire in the state’s history in terms of property damage.

Like a forest burning out of control, that dubious record would stand less than a week. Three days later, at our campground in the beautiful Maroon Bells area near Aspen, our campsite neighbors told us about another fire, this one near their home in Colorado Springs. They were abruptly ending their vacation and heading home, as news of the Waldo Canyon fire had spread and families were being evacuated. We can only hope theirs was not one of the nearly 350 homes destroyed.

Devastating fires understandably generate sympathy and grab headlines. But intense and large wildfires in the forests of the West are becoming the norm rather than the exception. Scientists and policy experts have been warning us about this for years. It’s become a question not of if, but of when and where the next one will occur.

While I was in Aspen, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies sponsored a symposium on Forests at Risk. I was able to attend the symposium’s afternoon session, and I took away two main points. One, the problem is huge. Two, we can fix this thing.

Most stakeholders in the room generally agreed on both the problem and what needs to be done. A major theme was the use of collaboration as a landscape restoration strategy in an era of federal fiscal restraint.

Harris Sherman, under secretary for natural resources and environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, presented a keynote (on video from Denver, where he was coordinating the federal fire response) on the US Forest Service’s push to accelerate restoration through public-private partnerships. The key, he said, was to “connect the dots” between forests and their beneficiaries, including water providers, electric utilities, insurance companies, corporations, adjacent landowners and recreational users. 

His point makes sense: It’s a lot cheaper to restore forests proactively than it is to deal with the aftermath of catastrophic wildfire. And the federal government can’t do it alone.

The Oregon Forest Resources Institute offers terrific resources to understand these critical issues. In particular, check out the OFRI special reports “Federal Forestland in Oregon” and “Fire in Oregon’s Forests.” Both of these, as well as many other publications, fact sheets, videos and DVDs, can be downloaded or ordered at the Learning Resources section of the OFRI website. Most are free.

The Colorado fires: Is anyone paying attention?

The stories and photos coming out of Colorado are horrific: Eleven wildfires. Thousands forced to flee. Hundreds of thousands of acres scorched. Millions of dollars of property damaged.

The most destructive of the 11, the worst in Colorado’s history, is the Waldo Canyon Fire that charred 18,000 acres around Colorado Springs, destroying 346 homes and killing two.

Can it happen in Oregon?

This summer marks the 10th anniversary of the Biscuit Fire, which consumed a half-million acres in southwest Oregon. In the summer of 2002, major fires were already burning across Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico, and these drew firefighting resources away from the Pacific Northwest. Then on July 12 and July 15 a series of lightning storms in California and Oregon started dozens of small wildfires, five in the Siskiyou National Forest. These merged into a conflagration that took firefighters until after Christmas to fully contain.

Colorado Springs fire

Throughout the American West, millions of acres of federal forests are chock-full of excess fuels that under dry, hot and windy conditions need only an ignition source to blow up. The excess fuels are the product of more than a century of fire suppression and unsustainable harvesting and grazing policies.

For those who want more background on how we got here and what can be done, I recommend two educational videos. One is OFRI’s own “Federal Forestland in Oregon: Problems and Solutions in Dry-Side Forests.” The other is produced by a Grant County group and is titled “Saving Our Forests.”

The history of how we got here is interesting, but there’s little point in fixing blame. The more important question is, where do we go from here? OFRI’s research indicates that the majority of people want the forests managed to restore ecosystem health. In our statewide 2010 Values & Beliefs Study, 77 percent agreed somewhat or strongly that dense, overstocked forests in eastern and southwest interior Oregon should be thinned to reduce the risk of severe wildfire. That would be a terrific start.

I worry that the news is desensitizing us to disasters. What’s a wildfire compared to a tsunami, earthquake, tornado, hurricane or 500-year flood? But Oregonians better figure this out, and soon. The only thing more tragic than the destruction in Colorado would be to not learn from the past and take action to create a safer and more sustainable tomorrow.

For the forest,

Paul Barnum
Executive Director

A superstar among us

If you live in Oregon’s western “wet side” you are surrounded by a rock star of a tree, the Douglas-fir. If you live on the drier side of the Cascades, or even in the interior southwestern portion of the state: Fear not! Douglas-fir is there in large numbers too.

In the western portion of the state, thick stands of Douglas-fir dominate the forests around us, but it’s not the only tree in the woods.

Oregon has about 13 different kinds of forests that include leafy urban forests, ponderosa pine, mixed conifers, western larch and oak hardwood forests, to name a few.

But it is the towering Douglas-fir that more often inspires, reaching heights second only to redwoods. In older stands, it presides over lesser trees in perfect harmony. In managed stands that carpet the western Oregon landscape, trees exceeding 100 feet are the norm.

Douglas-fir is the emergent species after disturbance. That is its ecological role. Wildfire can destroy these forests, and wind can also topple whole stands of Douglas-fir that are not sheltered from storms that sometimes pound our coast and infiltrate our valleys. It is the emergent species because it loves the sun and, left to its own, would colonize about 80 percent of the landscape in western Oregon mountains and valleys after fire.
Early settlers recognized the structural properties of Douglas-fir, which has great strength and beautiful, warm grain. Neighborhoods throughout the West are imbued with charm because this wood is so readily adapted to many styles and forms, and because it is available.

The other day, my wife and I ate at a pizzeria housed in an old building. The joists and beams were made from what looked like 12”x16” Douglas-fir timbers that easily support this fine old structure. Later, I looked at the I-joists supporting our modern home. Certainly not the same thing, but still made of Douglas-fir and other composites because they are strong, lightweight and beautiful.

The new library near my home is made largely from wood. It is the kind of place you want to visit and linger. The reading room is magnificent in part because the structural materials are made from composited Douglas-fir.
If you want to learn more about this magnificent native species, visit OFRI’s online tree guide at OregonForests.org.

Dave Kvamme
Director of Communications, Oregon Forest Resources Institute

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