In August 2020, Gov. Kate Brown requested that the Oregon Secretary of State perform a thorough performance audit of the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI). The following month, the Secretary of State Oregon Audits Division began working with OFRI to fulfill this request.
After nearly a year of gathering documents and interviewing OFRI staff, board members and stakeholders, the Audits Division released its findings and recommendations on July 21, 2021. Read the full report here.
OFRI appreciates the Secretary of State Oregon Audits Division for their work on this audit. The findings in this audit and the criticism of OFRI is certainly challenging, and has caused a period of deep reflection internally at OFRI. We agree with the operational recommendations in the audit regarding ways to improve our performance. Indeed, we’re already in the process of implementing them. However, we disagree with the audit’s conclusion that OFRI’s statute undermines its public benefit. OFRI benefits the public through the important role it serves of educating Oregonians of all ages about forests, forest management and forest products.
As we integrate the audit recommendations and develop a new strategic plan for the Institute in the coming months, we will embark on a transparent process that engages the public to ensure that OFRI’s forest education programs best serve the interests of all Oregonians while also following our statutory mandate.
As discussed in the OFRI audit report, forestry has long been important to Oregonians and the practice of forestry and the forest products industry are key components of Oregon’s cultural identity. Forests cover nearly half of Oregon, and the forest products industry continues to be important to the state’s economy, especially in rural communities. The health of our forests is critical to all Oregonians. As we face increasing threats, including from climate change and wildfires, it behooves us to work together – across industries and interests – to protect our forests.
Here are our next steps following the release of the Secretary of State’s performance audit of OFRI, including some that are already underway:
- The OFRI audit report includes recommendations for the Oregon Legislature to “improve OFRI statutes and better realize the agency’s potential public benefits.” Per OFRI’s statutory prohibition on influencing or attempting to influence legislation, we cannot comment and will look to the Legislature for direction on those recommendations.
- OFRI has budgeted to develop a new strategic plan during our 2021-22 Fiscal Year. OFRI will submit a request for proposals from contractors that have a price agreement with the state of Oregon to provide strategic planning services to state agencies. OFRI will seek to hire a strategic planning contractor with a demonstrated ability to, as the Audits Division recommends, align OFRI’s new strategic plan “with a clear mission and goals tied to specific performance measures.”
- OFRI agrees with the Audits Division’s recommendation that it can improve its communications across its educational programs and resources around its statutory mandate to support and enhance Oregon’s forest products industry. We will look for ways to increase transparency in all our communications and materials.
- We have updated our mission statement to include OFRI’s statutory mandate to support the forest products industry, and this new mission statement can be found in a prominent spot on the “About OFRI” page of our website. Moving forward, this same mission statement will appear on all new OFRI publications and other educational materials. If it is not possible to include the mission statement because of time or space constraints, audiences will be directed to visit OFRI’s website.
- OFRI regularly engages with an extensive group of forestry stakeholders, including conservation groups and academic researchers. But up until now, we have not formally documented this process. Per the Audits Division’s recommendation, OFRI has started improving our documenting standards and internal processes for developing, reviewing and disseminating quality information.
- Since OFRI produces educational materials for the general public, K-12 students and teachers and forest landowners, we will document specific standards and internal processes for developing, reviewing and disseminating quality information to each of these audiences. We’ll also plan to engage with an even broader array of stakeholders, including additional environmental groups, in our ongoing work to educate the public about Oregon’s forests, forest management and forest products.
- Another Audits Division recommendation for OFRI is to “develop a policy to provide guidance to staff and board members on ways to avoid engaging in activities prohibited by statute,” including supporting or opposing litigation or attempting to influence any legislation, rulemaking or other administrative activity. Currently, the OFRI employee and board handbooks explain this statutory prohibition. Staff are also encouraged to direct any concerns about potential conflicts with OFRI’s statutory prohibition to the executive director. If OFRI is requested to present to a committee of the Oregon Legislature, the executive director seeks guidance from the Oregon Department of Justice. To expand our guidance to staff and board members regarding ways to avoid engaging in activities prohibited by statute, we plan to request assistance from the Oregon Ethics Commission and Oregon Department of Justice to develop a formal policy.
- Lastly, OFRI plans to follow the Audits Division’s recommendation to work with Oregon’s Department of Administrative Services and Department of Justice to “conduct a comprehensive review of its statute and determine which statewide policies apply to OFRI.” After this review is completed, OFRI will document which statewide policies apply to the Institute.
The audit recommendations for OFRI are constructive and will improve the Institute’s efforts to help Oregonians better understand and appreciate the forests that serve as one of our state’s greatest resources.
In 1981, my wife, Teresa, and I moved to Oregon so I could attend graduate school at the Oregon State University College of Forestry. That was the beginning of my long career as a forestry educator in this great state, which will soon come to an end with my retirement this year.
While studying for a Master of Forestry in silviculture, I served as a teaching assistant for forest ecology and silviculture classes, working with the professors John Tappeiner and Dick Hermann. With mentors like them, I caught the bug for teaching forestry and learned that it was an area in which I excelled.
Upon graduation in 1983, I went to work as the first tribal forester for the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon. The tribe had recently had their tribal status restored and were beginning forest management on their new reservation. As the tribe’s forester, I got to write silvicultural prescriptions, manage timber sales, supervise spray and reforestation projects, and even got to write the Siletz Indian Reservation’s first forest management plan. I had the chance to supervise and train tree planting, thinning and inventory crews, and generally practice intensive silviculture in Oregon’s Coast Range. However, when a forestry extension agent position opened in Douglas County, I knew that I had to apply to try and get into forestry education full time.
I worked for the Oregon State University Extension Service in Douglas County for six years before transferring to the Lane County Extension office in Eugene, where I continued by post-graduate studies at the University of Oregon. I was in Eugene for five years before moving to the Oregon State University campus in Corvallis, where I worked as the director of outreach for the College of Forestry for the next six years.
During my time at OSU, I had the opportunity to work with hundreds of woodland owners and professional foresters. I taught dozens of workshops and coordinated numerous forestry conferences. I also worked with many K-12 students and did a bunch of public education.
In 2003, I was asked to apply for a position with the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI) as the director of forestry. I had worked on several OFRI projects while at OSU Extension and was very supportive of OFRI’s mission to educate Oregonians about forestry. After 16 years of forestry extension, I was ready to play on a larger stage. It was a hard decision to walk away from a tenured full professor position, but I was ready.
Working as OFRI’s director of forestry for the past 18 years has given me a tremendous opportunity to communicate to the people of Oregon the importance of forestry: What it is, why we do it and why it matters. Being the face and voice of active forest management in the most important forestry state in the country has been an incredible opportunity. I have had the chance to teach many more classes, write several educational publications, star in a handful of informational videos, and help lead an incredible organization.
OFRI’s mission of educating Oregonians about forestry has become my personal mission. I have loved every minute of spreading the forestry gospel and believe that we have made an incredible difference through our work. I have had the opportunity to work with a team of professional communicators, educators and foresters, aided by adequate resources and tremendous forest sector support toward an end that I really believe in.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve you for the last 40 years. The time has gone way too quickly. I hope and pray that OFRI continues for a long time and continues to receive the support of the forestry community in Oregon. Thanks for the memories.
For the forest,
Director of Forestry
“I’ve been waiting a year for this,” I found myself saying as I was setting up for my first in-person forestry lesson since the start of the pandemic.
I was teaching with the Salem-Keizer Outdoor School Coalition, which was started through a partnership between the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI) and Salem Environmental Education, a nonprofit organization that provides the Salem-area community with environmental education programs that teach and motivate people to become active stewards of our environment. This coalition is made up of many Marion County agencies with educators who are experts in a variety of environmental-related subject areas.
I was in a forested park right next to an elementary school in Salem. The park’s old growth Douglas-Fir and oak trees made it the perfect setting to learn about trees, forests and natural resources. It felt good to be getting ready to teach students outdoors again. Over the last year, my position description had dramatically changed because of the pandemic and the shift to remote learning for most Oregon students. Rather than being outside with students helping them discover the natural world, I and other environmental educators were trying to present the topic of natural resources over a screen. But every environmental educator would tell you that the best way to learn about our natural world is to be out there in it, creating a shared experience, helping students step out of their comfort zones, discover something new, and take on a new perspective. All of this was hard to achieve through a computer screen.
Despite that challenge, OFRI came up with some interactive lessons that students could do virtually that also included components of getting outdoors in their backyard or a nearby park. We also had lessons that teachers could download for their students, such as our carbon lesson for middle schoolers.
As I taught that first in-person lesson in May after many months of virtual teaching, it was so nice to interact with the students face-to-face again even though we were six feet apart and wearing masks. The students were engaged and curious. They participated fully and seem to want more. One student even asked during the recess break if he could “stay and learn more.”
The teachers were happy to give this Outdoor School experience to their students. One teacher said, “This was the most content-rich Outdoor School experience I have ever participated in with students. My students gained valuable information from highly qualified professionals from different community agencies. The collaboration of these agencies, teamed with the highly qualified staff, allowed my students to gain knowledge, confidence, and a new interest in outdoor experiences. The positive comments, encouragement and career examples from the staff has created intrigue for potential future career opportunities.”
At the end of the day, I went home realizing something I hadn’t expected. I wasn’t the only one who had been waiting a whole year for this day. The students, teachers, principal and instructors all walked away with the same feeling.
Forestry education is engaging, relevant and important for Oregon students. Knowing this, Forests Today & Forever has provided programs since 1994 that help to educate students and the public about Oregon’s forests to achieve our mission of promoting forest stewardship through education.
In a typical year, we bring about 2,500 students to the woods. For many of these students, it is the first time they have walked a forest trail, breathed the fresh forest air and experienced a day away from electronics. Our field-based forestry education programs, which are supported by the Oregon Forest Resources Institute through bus transportation reimbursements, give students an opportunity to connect with the forest though direct experience. Students learn about and see firsthand the abundant resources that forests provide, from recreational opportunities to clean water to wildlife habitat to the wood products that they use every day in their homes and at school
The teachers we work with are excited about getting students outside and into nature, and they are enthusiastic about teaching about forestry. Forests Today & Forever is based in Eugene, and the 2,500 students who participate in our programs annually come from 18 local schools in 11 districts, most of which participate year after year with new classes of students.
From our perspective, what’s not to love about our programs? After all, there are many good reasons to include forestry education in schools. Here are a few that might encourage more teachers to take advantage of our program and the many other forestry education program offerings in Oregon:
· Forestry education is place-based. Forestry is central to Oregon's history, culture and economy, and educating about forestry is a comprehensive approach to help students develop a sense of place and understanding about their local community.
· Forestry education is multidisciplinary, spanning several subject areas, including science, mathematics and history. It is easily integrated into these subjects to provide a learning experience that matches the complexities of real life.
· Forestry education achieves the goals of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, helping students develop skills in these important subjects that can be applied in school and the real world.
· Forestry education is career education. It highlights a variety of career and job opportunities in forest-related fields that students might not otherwise learn about. Many of these jobs are in-demand, high-paying and accessible to students directly after high school graduation.
As we emerge from the pandemic, our Forests Today & Forever field programs are coming back into session, along with those offered by other forestry education organizations across Oregon. We are excited to welcome students back to the woods and to support teachers in meeting their teaching and learning objectives with our forestry education offerings.
Forests Today & Forever