The Labor Day fires of 2020 have been devastating for western Oregon. Thousands were evacuated, hundreds lost their homes and, tragically, some even lost their lives. It will take a long time to recover from this series of disasters. However, there are some positive stories to tell.
This clearly was not a normal fire season. State and federal resources were all fully deployed, and no more firefighters or equipment were available anywhere by Sept. 9. Rather than wringing their hands, Oregon foresters, forest owners and contractors got to work. An early estimate is that a total of more than 600 forest industry personnel were involved in the early days of fighting these fires. A total of nearly 400 pieces of equipment, including bulldozers, excavators and tank trucks from forest landowners and operators were also involved. Add to this the dozens of farmers, loggers and small woodland owners who also helped attack the fires.
I have read many stories in the news and on social media about the work of private citizens in fighting these fires alongside the professional firefighters. I live in Mount Angel, and there are two stories that strike very close to home for me.
The first is how local loggers, builders and farmers saved many homes and buildings in the Scotts Mills area east of Mount Angel from burning as part of the Santiam Fire, which is now part of the Beachie Creek Fire. This included crews fromwho provided bulldozers and excavators. These heroes worked to fortify the lines built by fire crews, and also built new fire lines. In addition to sparing homes from the flames, their actions helped save the historic Holy Rosary church in Crooked Finger
Another is how employees and contractors of Weyerhaeuser working under the direction of the Beachie Fire incident management team built many miles of fire line to keep the Beachie Creek and Riverside fires from joining, in the Dickey Prairie area southeast of Molalla. This not only saved thousands of acres of private timberland, but avoided the firestorm that was predicted if these two huge fires merged.
As a professional forester in Oregon, I’ve been proud to share the story of Oregon’sfor state and private forestlands in Oregon. However, it wasn’t until last month that I really understood what that means. Forest landowners in Oregon are required by law to provide protection from fire for their lands. Most private landowners have the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) or their local forest protective associations handle fire protection on their forest lands
According to, private landowners pay about half the cost of the base fire protection through a local , which is matched by a General Fund allocation to ODF. Landowners also pay 60% of the costs for additional aircraft, heavy equipment and firefighters during extreme fire conditions such as we had in early September. Landowners pay half the cost of the state’s catastrophic insurance policy (through Lloyd’s of London). Landowners also pay half of the first $20 million in costs to fight large fires.
These private landowners obviously have skin in the game. They scrupulously follow all fire restrictions and closures, have all the required firefighting equipment and vehicles, and aggressively put out any fire starts they see on their lands. Oregon forest landowners are proud of our system and the ODF districts and associations that fight the fires.
Then came the Labor Day storm and fires of 2020. Oregon simultaneously had five “megafires” – fires greater than 100,000 acres in size – and eight other large fires greater than 1,000 acres. All 13 of these fires either started or blew up on Sept. 7 and 8.
Oregon had nearly 1 million acres burning on just these 13 fires, likely making this the largest annual burned acreage in Oregon since records have been kept. Nearly 400,000 acres, or about 40% of the burned land, was owned by private forest landowners. Adetails ownership of the western Oregon Labor Day fires as of Sept. 15, and includes the following table, which shows ownership of fire areas by county:
The acreage of private forestland within the perimeters of these fires represents the amount of private forestland and timber volume that’s normally harvested in two to three years. This happened in a week. There is going to be a massive post-fire timber harvest on private forestlands the next two years as landowners attempt to recover the value lost in the burns before the wood deteriorates. There also is likely to be a severe shortage of tree seedlings, as landowners reforest acres that were not in their plans. An average year in Oregon sees the planting of about 40 million seedlings. We may need to plant ten times that in the next few years.
It will take a long time to recover from these fires, and as a state we’re still taking stock of the social, ecological and economic impacts. I do want to take a moment to thank firefighters for all you do for us, but also thank you to forest landowners, loggers and equipment operators for putting your bodies and equipment on the line to protect our forests and towns. This is both a very sad and a very proud time in Oregon forestry.
For the forest,
Director of Forestry
Forests are amazing! They help filter water, supply oxygen, modulate temperatures and rainfall, provide habitat for a diverse array of animal and plant species, and store atmospheric carbon. They supply the renewable resources for producing lumber, paper and heat, along with jobs that support families and communities.
Because forests are important in so many ways, it’s critical that K-12 students understand how they work and how we’re all connected to them ecologically, economically and socially, especially in Oregon, where nearly half the state is forested.
But for many educators, determining what information and skills to teach and at what grade level can be a daunting task. Fortunately, the Oregon Forest Literacy Plan exists as a tool to help educators prioritize the way they teach important forestry concepts, by offering a framework for educating Oregon’s K-12 students about forests.
The Oregon Forest Literacy Plan was created in 2011 by a group of stakeholders that included K-12 classroom and forestry program educators, community college and university faculty, and private and public forest sector representatives. Convened by the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, the group identified what every student should know about Oregon’s forests by the end of high school. The plan was extensively revised and updated in 2016, again by educators and forestry professionals.
The goal of the plan is to help students become “forest literate,” meaning that they:
• appreciate the importance of forests
• understand concepts related to the forests of Oregon
• can communicate about forests in a meaningful way
• are able to make informed and responsible decisions about Oregon’s forests and forest resources
The Oregon Forest Literacy Plan has been distributed to thousands of teachers, and is used by OFRI education partners to identify priority topics and themes for programs. It also served as an outline for OFRI’s high school forestry curriculum, Inside Oregon’s Forests.
Oregon was one of the first states to create a forest literacy plan. As a result, OFRI has been a leader in providing guidance and encouragement in the development of similar plans in other states and even on the other side of the world. The Oregon Forest Literacy Plan has been used as a template by Georgia, Washington and Texas, and as far away as Tasmania. Now, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative is working on an international forest literacy plan using the Oregon one as a model.
It’s humbling to see so many others use the forest literacy plan OFRI helped develop, as a template for their own plans. It’s also exciting, because it means more students here and abroad are learning about the importance of forests and all the amazing things they do.
Director of K-12 Education Programs
In Oregon forestry, 2010 was a troubled year. The housing bubble had burst, the timber market was down, state budgets were way down, and organizations that provided education to forest landowners were understaffed and struggling to do their job. In response, the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI) and our forestry education partners, including the, the , the , the , , the and a host of other organizations, came together to form the (PFE), and successfully applied for a grant from the to provide educational programming for Oregon forest landowners.
The Partnership developed a; established a forest landowner website, ; created a forest landowner database; sponsored classes and tours; and generally upped the game for forest landowner education in Oregon. We also developed a strategic plan and identified our audience as family forest landowners, natural resource professionals, and loggers and other forest operators.
Since its founding 10 years ago, the Partnership has grown to include 16 member organizations. We now hold an annual members meeting to discuss our individual and joint projects, and produce a biennial resource guide for Oregon forest landowners called.
We recently released the 2020 version of. Spearheaded by OFRI’s Julie Woodward and the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Ryan Gordon, the guide provides an excellent overview of the many technical, financial and educational resources available to Oregon’s family forest landowners across the state.
In its tenth year, the Partnership is facing an unusual challenge: how to deliver landowner education during a pandemic. With COVID-19 forcing partners to cancel in-person educational events, OFRI and other members of the PFE hosted a webinar series called this spring and summer. The webinars featured experts who’d planned to present at the canceled 2020 , OSU Extension’s largest annual educational event for forest landowners. These experts covered topics such as managing for forest health, writing a forest management plan, planting trees, dealing with forest pests, restoring watersheds and conserving forest wildlife habitat.
Through the end of July, we’ve produced 28 Tree School Online webinars, which were attended by 1,900 people. An additional 2,860 have since watched video recordings of the webinars, for an impressive total of 4,760 participants. The webinars will start up again on Sept. 15, and be held every first and third Tuesday starting at 3:30 p.m. through June 15, 2021. Information is available at . A big thank-you goes to the Oregon Department of Forestry and the Forest Service, which both provided a grant to fund these webinars.
Finally, we recently developed a logo for the Partnership to appear on our new resource guide, webpage and webinars. The logo reflects a collaborative process, as shown by the circle of “arms” that form a tree in the logo’s negative space. The embracing circle also represents support, help and learning, which is the focus of the Partnership.
Happy anniversary to the Partnership for Forestry Education. May you long continue to educate Oregon’s forest landowners, managers and operators.
For the forest,
Director of Forestry