What's happening in the forest sector?

Gimme shelter

The three basic elements required for animal survival are food, water and shelter. Like us, wild critters need protection from the elements, and a place that provides a bit of safety and security in an otherwise tough world. 

The truth is, wild animals are more often than not living their lives on a razor’s edge. Whether carnivore or herbivore, if the daily requirements of those three basic survival elements are not met – even just once or twice – it can be game over. All this sobering information is intended to highlight the importance of animals having access to quality habitat on a given landscape. Fortunately for both wildlife and landowners, supplementing habitat in the form of pile structures is simple, and it’s one of the top management tools available, according to the Woodland Fish and Wildlife Group

A habitat pile is often referred to as a “brush pile,” although there’s ideally a bit more technique involved than just piling brush. It’s a structure made of woody material that’s designed and built to provide effective and long-lasting refuge for wildlife in a place where the natural habitat features they’d normally use may be lacking. Habitat piles can be as basic as piled brush, piled stumps or piled logging debris (“slash”) that’s retained, but there are a couple suggested pile designs that allow just about anyone to provide their resident wildlife with a high-quality structure to rest, roost, nest and nap for years.


A "wild and messy" forest with plenty of natural down wood habitat


It’s important to state that there is no single correct way to make a habitat pile; here we’ll follow the guidelines suggested by the Northwest Natural Resource Group. The first design is for a habitat pile that somewhat resembles a messy log cabin once it’s completed, and its function is similar as well. Aim for a structure that’s about 10 feet wide and 6 feet tall. This pile will be a safe haven for any brush or wood-loving species. Chipmunks, rabbits, weasels, elk, deer, bears, coyotes, grouse, towhees, thrushes, woodpeckers, snakes, lizards or just about any critter in the woods can make use of one of these structures.

Starting with the largest-diameter logs or limbs (4” across or larger), build the base of the structure by laying wood pieces on the ground parallel to one another, with gaps between them. Gaps allow wildlife to enter and exit. Next, take another set of similar pieces and lay them on top of the base, perpendicular to those first logs. Repeat that pattern until the structure has close to six feet of height to it, then top it off with a roof of smaller limbs and brush at least 18” deep. Remember to think “log cabin.” 
The resulting habitat pile will have a sturdy build with lots of interior space and a brushy roof to keep it cozy inside. Try to build at least two or three of these structures per acre, spacing them out about a hundred feet from each other. Place them near water and food sources, or where a little extra warming or shade might be beneficial.


A habitat pile built in the "log cabin" style with logs stacked on top of each other and sticks piled on top.


Keep in mind that these structures are flammable, so don’t place them close to anything valuable in case of a fire. Also, keep an eye out for pest activity, though it’s unlikely these piles will have a major impact on pests. In this article the Washington State Department of Natural Resources recommends not piling green Douglas-fir or ponderosa pine, especially larger pieces, between January and August, to avoid potential issues with bark beetles. As long as these safety tips are heeded, there’s no real wrong way to build this pile. Use what you’ve got! Pallets could work as a base, or even stones. Try a triangular frame instead of a square, if you’re short on logs.


Different species of wildlife captured in front of the habitat pile, including a bear, coyote, deer and elk.


The second suggested design is meant to simulate a large log lying on the ground. Large down wood is important to ground-dwelling animals that need moisture, such as amphibians, mollusks and arthropods. Plants and fungi thrive on them, exploiting the nutrients as they decay. These log surrogates are simple structures that use smaller logs brought together to help fill the gap left by the absence of large natural logs.


A large natural down log next to a surrogate log made up of smaller logs held together with sticks on either side.


Aim to create a log structure that’s at least 20 feet long and 2 feet wide. Start by building a crib to hold the individual wood pieces in place, by vertically driving in stakes or branches on both sides, positioned to accommodate your desired length and width. Once the crib is built, fill it with smaller logs stacked together. That’s it! The same safety guidelines noted above apply to surrogate logs as well as log-cabin-style piles, and you can use similar spacing on a surrogate log pile.

There you have it! Two easy structures that can be built out of on-hand material that will provide shelter to wildlife for years, or even a decade with a little maintenance. If the suggestions here aren’t doable, don’t be afraid to simply make a pile, and instead of burning brush or slash, pile it (at least the largest pieces and stumps) a safe distance from structures and just leave it. For tips on what to set aside from slash piles, see this publication from OFRI about managing logging slash piles. The critters will thank you… in their own way, of course.

For more information on habitat piles and other management tools for wildlife habitat, see this article by Northwest Natural Resource Group, as well as this publication about managing wildlife leave trees and this publication about enhancing wildlife habitat on managed forests, both from OFRI.

Jon Cox

Wildlife Technician

Cafferata Consulting, LLC

Photos by Cafferata Consulting, LLC

The other “Fish to Fry”

When you Google the term “fish to fry,” you’re rewarded with multiple recipes for creating the perfect fried-fish dinner, plus the idiom “other fish to fry,” defined as other matters to deal with.

It’s harder to find a description of Fish Eggs to Fry, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (ODFW) amazing program, often simply called “Fish to Fry,” that gives students in classrooms from kindergarten through high school a way to observe the biology of salmon, steelhead or trout – and participate in these species’ life cycle – in a hands-on way. Through ODFW’s Salmon and Trout Enhancement Program (STEP), Fish Eggs to Fry brings salmon or trout eggs into more than 700 Oregon classrooms each year for students to observe, raise and then release while learning about some of our state’s most iconic species.  

Last month, teachers from Lane County gathered at Hendricks Park in Eugene to attend a workshop put on by Oregon Natural Resources Education Program in partnership with OFRI and ODFW, to learn how to participate in the Fish Eggs to Fry program and how to support student learning with related curriculum resources.  

At the workshop, STEP biologists from ODFW provided some expert advice on salmon and trout species in Oregon, including their life cycles and habitat needs. They discussed the economic and environmental importance of salmon and the challenges they face in the wild. Teachers also received OFRI K-12 publications to support their teaching about forests, fish and wildlife.

Teachers doing workshop

After hearing about the biology of the fish, teachers learned the process for setting up their classroom aquarium and getting the eggs. Once they receive the eggs, it’s important that students monitor the temperature of the water in the aquarium and also make sure it stays clean.

Data sheets are available so students can take daily temperature readings and calculate how long it will be until the fish are mature. With the classroom aquarium, students learn about the life history of the fish as they observe the eggs hatching and transforming into “sac fry” before becoming tiny salmon. The class then takes a field trip to a local creek, stream or river to learn about fish habitat and set free the one-inch-long fish they helped raise. 

Teachers gave the workshop high marks, and indicated that they learned a lot of information they could apply to their classroom.  All the teachers who attended the workshop planned to get fish eggs and participate in the program.

Fish, especially salmon and steelhead, are synonymous with Oregon. It’s nice to know that OFRI is playing a part in helping students learn about these important species that spend crucial parts of their life cycles in Oregon forests. 

Norie Dimeo-Ediger
Director of K-12 Education Programs 


OFRI's unique purpose of advancing common interests between forestry, all Oregonians

I’m Jim Paul, the new executive director of the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI). Established by the Oregon Legislature over three decades ago, OFRI’s fundamental mandate is to support Oregon’s forest products sector and foster the wise stewardship of natural resources for the benefit of Oregonians. With almost half of Oregon covered in forestland, this is a critical sector that can directly touch nearly every Oregonian.   

At the time OFRI was founded in 1991, Oregon recognized that forestry encompasses one of the largest economic sectors in the state. Today it contributes an estimated 61,500 jobs to Oregon’s economy, more than $8 billion in state gross domestic product (GDP) and more than $18 billion in base economic output. This equates to almost 3% of total state employment, 3.7% of state GDP and 4.7% of total state output – that’s nearly $1 of every $20 generated in Oregon. There are also more than 62,000 Oregonians who own more than 10 acres of forestland, and that number roughly doubles when you include owners of smaller forestlands.

Notwithstanding all of these important economic and social factors, this vital sector depends on responsible stewardship of the nearly 30 million acres of forestland in Oregon. Forest stewardship is a topic that has seen a lot of attention and vigorous public debate in recent decades in the face of some turbulent times for forestry in Oregon. At the core of this debate is a familiar concept that can be expressed in a single word: sustainability. 

When we talk about the sustainability of our forests, what does that mean? For me, it means ensuring that environmental values such as clean water and air, wildlife habitat and carbon storage – to name just a few – are protected to meet the public’s expectations now and into the future. It means our forests are providing the recreational opportunities and open space Oregonians value so much. And that our forests are producing the wood and paper products that Oregonians enjoy and count on in their daily lives. 

Sustainability also includes recognizing the interdependence of these values – a three-legged stool supported by the environmental, social and economic benefits our forests provide. If Oregon is going to remain successful in sustaining healthy and vigorous forests, we need to strive to meet all the expectations and needs Oregonians have when it comes to our forests.

To achieve sustainability requires collaboration across many different interests statewide, and a common understanding of the fundamental facts about our forests. It also requires open and honest public engagement, with easy access to information so a healthy public debate can occur – one that values and considers diverse perspectives. This is essential to ensuring the public policy decisions made by our natural resource leaders are ultimately in the best interests of all Oregonians, and the sustainability of all our forestlands. 

OFRI is in a unique position to provide leadership through forest education, with a dual mandate of supporting what’s in the best interest of both the public and the forestry sector in Oregon. A purpose that does not put one interest over the other, but instead leans into that sweet spot where benefits can be realized for all. A real-time example of this is the education and outreach OFRI has provided regarding the Private Forest Accord, a collaborative agreement between the forest industry and conservation groups that charts a new path forward in determining the future of many of Oregon’s private forest practices regulations.

No other organization in Oregon is positioned as OFRI is: charged with a singular focus on advancing the common interests between the forestry sector and Oregonians. And as a state entity, OFRI is directed and entrusted to carry out its work from a professional, balanced and nonpartisan perspective. These principles, centered on finding common ground in resolving challenging natural resource issues, are ones I’ve carried with me throughout much of my public service career in forestry and land management, and I’ll continue with them as the executive director of OFRI. I look forward to advancing OFRI in the essential leadership role it has been tasked with to keep this state’s forest sector strong, and to work hard to ensure the wise stewardship of Oregon’s forests for generations to come. 

Jim Paul 

Executive Director 

New videos and website highlight changes to forest laws and regulations

Since March, OFRI has been focusing our educational efforts on explaining the coming changes in forest laws, regulations and practices that stem from the Private Forest Accord (PFA), an agreement between timber companies and environmental groups to make changes to the Oregon Forest Practices Act (OFPA).

We’ve already created materials for small forest landowners, an audience we know is paying attention. But we’re also focusing on the general public. This audience may have noticed some headlines back when the PFA negotiations were publically announced two years ago, or when new legislation proposed by the PFA was signed into law earlier this year – but overall the public appears to be largely uninformed about the changes, and how they’ll shape the future of forestry in Oregon.

Educational videos

Our first big effort is a set of new educational videos going out to the general public. In July, OFRI assembled a team to create these videos, which highlight how a variety of Oregonians who care about the forests have found common ground to expand streamside habitat protections for fish and aquatic wildlife. A camera crew filmed both recreational actors and real forestry professionals, playing in the forest as well as working in and along streams in Oregon’s Coast Range. Watch the 30-second video here.             

Forester standing next to tree with flag on it

To film the video, several forestry professionals who work for timber companies in Oregon joined us in the forest. Jenniffer Bakke, a wildlife biologist from Manulife, joined us in the stream to gather water samples and catch a few invertebrates. David Dougherty, a forester from GreenWood Resources, guided us through the underbrush to flag some trees in the protected streamside habitat zone. And Rachel Kennard, a forest engineering specialist from Weyerhaeuser, climbed through a culvert with our camera crew to gather some measurements.

All three lent great expertise to the project, and all represent businesses that signed the PFA agreement and participated in the negotiations that led to the recent OFPA changes.

Forest engineer standing in a culvert

In August we released the new video through a digital public outreach campaign. Unlike most years, OFRI is splitting our educational media campaign between two seasons. We plan to run our introductory video this fall, followed by a larger campaign next spring, which will add new videos to the lineup. All the videos in the campaign encourage viewers to visit OregonForestLaws.org.

Screen capture of OregonForestLaws.org website

Educational website

With these changes coming to Oregon forest laws and regulations, OFRI also thought it was the right time to completely rebuild OregonForestLaws.org. The website is geared toward the general public. It offers an overview of the Oregon laws that regulate forestry practices such as logging, road-building, and using chemicals in the forest to control unwanted vegetation. Each site section summarizes current laws and regulations, to help Oregonians gain a base-level knowledge of the measures that protect clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, and more elements on Oregon’s timber-producing forests. There are specific callouts that highlight the changes in forest laws and regulations that came from the PFA’s work.

Users can dig deeper if they want, including  reading the full PFA report, OFRI’s Oregon’s Forest Protection Laws – An Illustrated Manual, or even lists of endangered or threatened species protected under federal and state law. The site also lets visitors ask a forester questions about Oregon forest laws and regulations. We collect the questions and ask our staff foresters or partnering foresters to craft answers that will clearly explain current laws and regulations. We really hope this feature gets used; feedback like this helps us gauge what the public is wondering about, and what level of understanding they have about contemporary forest practices.

We welcome you to share the new video and website with your colleagues and community. We know public awareness about the PFA in particular is quite low. But it was a monumental shift in Oregon’s forest practices, and OFRI is doing what we can to give these changes the attention they deserve.

Jordan Benner

Senior Manager, Public Outreach

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