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Oregon: Where amazing forests grow and entertain us

There’s a lot to do outdoors this summer.

Snuggled up among the roots of a 200-year-old oak tree last week, my kids and I tapped our toes along with the film “Happy Feet” at The Oregon Garden’s outdoor amphitheater. The film’s main characters are penguins and, of course, are not native to Oregon, but the state’s forests were also part of the evening’s entertainment.

Before the movie began, we were treated to a spectacular preview: The summer sun set over the garden’s grove of majestic Oregon white oak trees. This grove began growing before Lewis and Clark first explored Oregon. In the trees we could see holes drilled by busy acorn woodpeckers storing nuts for a winter meal. When I pointed them out to the 8-year-old next to me, his comment was, “Winter! But I thought the summer just started?”

I couldn’t argue. The sun has finally arrived and it is time for outdoor entertainment.

Summer is the season of county fairs, outdoor concerts, campfires and nights of stargazing. We love our forests, rivers, lakes, wildlife and fresh air. And this time of year, we can have it all.

Tryon Creek State Natural Area outside Portland hosts the Forest Music Concert Series. Be entertained by jazz bands or Irish musicians while surrounded by a native forest. Concerts are free and take place every Saturday night through August 18.

In the mountains outside Tillamook during early August, you can hear the music of early settlers. The Tillamook Forest Center will host an open jam session August 5, celebrating the country-folk-bluegrass music of early settlers and homesteaders. Bring the family for free entertainment, or bring your instrument and be part of the entertainment.

Want to combine forests, music and movies this summer? The Collier Memorial State Park north of Klamath Falls features bluegrass, an outdoor logging museum and a pioneer village. You can camp under the ponderosa pine trees along the Williamson River, and on weekend evenings watch movies about old-time logging.

Like to view the night sky? Lunar events are tracked regularly at L.L. Stub Stewart State Park. This new park, about 30 miles west of Portland, offers 20 miles of trails for trekking through 1,673 acres of forests. The park also provides an 18-hole disc golf course for something to do before the nighttime show.

OFRI’s new website, OregonForests.org provides a Get-Outside-and-Experience section. The forest tours page links you to tours offered around the state. For instance, each Wednesday afternoon in Corvallis, you can get on a bus and enjoy an insightful tour by Starker Forests.

Let the outdoors be your entertainment this summer, just as my kids and I did when we went to The Oregon Garden to play in the sand and look for squirrels in the Rediscovery Forest. Catch the next movie; there’s one each Thursday through August 23. And there are plenty of seats among the oak trees.

Julie Woodward
OFRI Forest Education Program Manager

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

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