Arriving early at the fire station in Rogue River to set up for the FireBright Teacher Workshop, we were surprised (and a little nervous) to find the room occupied by personnel in white coats administering to a large number of people lying on beds. We appreciated the generosity of the Rogue River Fire Department letting us use the room, so we were happy to wait until the Red Cross blood drive ended to set up for our workshop.
After that, things went as planned and together with the Oregon Natural Resources Education Program, the Oregon State University Extension Service, Oregon Department of Forestry and the Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative, OFRI’s K-12 education program hosted a successful summer teacher workshop on fire this past June.
Sixteen educators from high schools and community colleges around the state participated and took advantage of the opportunity to learn about wildfire topics that included, ecology, causes of wildfire, the era of “megafires,” and natural resource careers. They toured the Garner Complex, site of the 2018 wildfire, and were taken to OSU’s Collins Demonstration Forest near Gold Hill. While at the two sites, they learned about the tools of the firefighting trade, fire incident command systems, and forest resiliency to fire through management and mitigation strategies. The intent of the tour was to show the participants how to incorporate and apply knowledge of wildfire related to Oregon forests, forest practices and community resources into their classroom curriculum.
The tour served as professional development for the teachers to learn about a high school curriculum called FireBright. Created by OSU Extension, the Oregon Department of Forestry, Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative and Keep Oregon Green, the aim of the curriculum is to give students an understanding of fire in our forests and how it impacts communities. It also has a strong career and community engagement element, and gives students the understanding of the skills that are needed if they choose to pursue a wildfire-related career.
The curriculum consists of five modules or units. Among the topics the modules cover are an overview of contemporary wildfire issues, including the threat of megafires (extreme fires that devastate large areas) and how they impact forest health and communities. Another module helps students understand the ecological and historical basis for the current challenge of addressing the longer, more intense fire seasons the West is experiencing due to climate change and other factors. This includes highlighting the causes of wildfire and mitigation strategies.
Lastly, the curriculum looks at wildfire from the perspective of the community and provides students with the knowledge and tools to help their community prepare for wildfire. It also examines natural resource and wildland firefighting career pathways.
OFRI has been a partner throughout the process, designing and implanting phases of this curriculum, and there is a plan to offer a similar teacher workshop in conjunction with the FireBright modules in eastern Oregon next summer.
One of the reasons we’ve supported the curriculum and hosted this workshop is because, even though it was developed for southern Oregon, it is applicable to other areas of the state. Not only is it well written and aligned with educational standards, but the topics it covers, such as megafires and their impact on forest health, community wildfire preparedness and mitigation strategies, and the impacts of longer fire seasons, are not unique to southern Oregon unfortunately. Students from across Oregon would find value in its lessons too.
Director of K-12 Education Programs
There are more than 70,000 forestland owners in Oregon. These landowners all have unique goals for their forestland and strategies to reach those goals.
Through our public surveys, we’ve learned that many Oregonians don’t understand how many different forest landowners there are across the state, or the variety of management styles they use. In other words, they know there are forests managed for timber production in Oregon, and they know there are also forest reserves that protect sensitive wildlife habitat or valued recreation sites. But they may not be aware that most Oregon forest landowners fall somewhere in between these two ends of the spectrum, or that landowners often manage their forests for multiple uses such as timber, wildlife habitat, recreation and carbon storage.
For the past year, I’ve had the privilege to have traveled the state, listening to forestland owners tell their management stories as part of a new OFRI video series called Different Forests. Different Goals. The educational video series is intended to introduce Oregonians to a wide variety of forestland owners managing forests in all corners of the state, and detail how their management strategies vary from each other. Together, these videos show a range of seven forestland objectives being achieved in different ways, including:
When looking at these management strategies, each forestland owner profiled in the video series is distinct from one another, but also from adjacent forestland owners. In a couple cases, the landowners and their neighbors started with very similar plots, but chose different goals and management strategies, resulting in side-by-side properties that look different and provide different benefits. Together, the collection of these differences gives the larger forested landscape its variety.
So, in many ways, no two stories were alike. But what I also found is that they were all quite similar. All of the landowners we interviewed for the videos care deeply for their forests. They all acknowledged that their way wasn’t the only way. They could have chosen different goals and reached them with success, but the goals and management styles they chose were the right decisions for them. They all put in the work, and tried to make their lands better than they found them. They also relied on a community of experts, neighbors, professionals, educational materials and more to achieve their goals.
That was refreshing. Too often we hear voices supplying opinions about the “right way” to manage forestland – for carbon, for fire, for sustainable wood products – with an assumption that there is one correct “prescription,” or set of forest management activities aimed to achieve specific goals. The landowners I talked to didn’t feel that way; I didn’t hear them talk about how other landowners should be managing their forests. They were excited to tell their stories, and I greatly appreciated the invitation to tour their lands and witness their enthusiasm.
Senior Manager of Public Outreach
In 1957, a field science program called “outdoor school” was launched in Oregon that gave students in fifth or sixth grade the opportunity to move outside their school classrooms to learn while immersed in nature.
Over the decades, outdoor schools have been places for students to learn about the natural world. It’s a unique chance for kids to experience firsthand the connections among living things and biological systems, such as watersheds or riparian forests. Instead of learning these concepts from a book, students develop critical thinking skills by asking questions in the field, and then working together to investigate, measure and report their discoveries. Topics students study in outdoor schools typically include soil, water, plants, animals, habitats and natural cycles. Often, natural sciences specific to the local community and economy are highlighted as well.
In 2016, Oregon voters passed Ballot Measure 99, authorizing state lottery funds to provide all fifth- and sixth-grade students in Oregon access to a week of outdoor school. This new source of funding, which is distributed to Oregon school districts for outdoor school by the Oregon State University Extension Service Outdoor School Program, allowed outdoor schools to expand across the state, and the demand increased for high-quality educational resources and programming that helps students learn about natural environments. That’s when the opportunity arose for OFRI’s K-12 forest education program to partner with outdoor school.
In Oregon, forests are the setting and backdrop for many outdoor school programs. Knowing that forests feature prominently in many students’ outdoor school experiences, OFRI supports outdoor school in a variety of ways, including by serving as an ex officio member of the OSU Extension Outdoor School Advisory Committee. We also provide educational materials and other resources to outdoor schools and, in the Salem area, help host a non-residential outdoor school that doesn’t require students to spend the night away from home.
Using forests as a living laboratory engages students in profound ways. It not only helps connect them to classroom learning, but also gives them concrete, on-the ground experiences they can draw on throughout their lives. Direct experiences with nature through programs such as outdoor school have been shown to improve students’ overall academic performance, self-esteem and community involvement.
To support these important learning experiences, OFRI recently created a new educational resource called Investigate the Forest that’s designed specifically for outdoor school programs. The Investigate the Forest journal pages were developed to guide students in learning about Oregon’s forests while they explore the outdoors. The journal pages offer hands-on, student-centered ways to study the forest or other natural environments just outside their door. The journal pages may be used before, during or after attending an outdoor school program, to enhance students’ understanding of Oregon’s forests and how they’re a vital resource.
You can download the full journal or individual pages covering topics such as tree identification, wildlife habitat and wildfire prevention from the new outdoor school resources page on our forest education website for K-12 educators, LearnForests.org.
OFRI is also a partner in the non-residential outdoor school program called PAWS (plants, animals, water and soil). PAWS Outdoor School is organized by a coalition of agencies and organizations dedicated to environmental education and offers unique, top-quality outdoor school experiences. PAWS provides a multi-day outdoor school experience at various sites throughout Marion County. Over the course of four days, students rotate through different field sites, which include The Oregon Garden, Oregon 4-H Center, Minto-Brown Island Park and Keizer Rapids Park. Salem-Keizer elementary schools attend the program in the fall, and schools from other districts attend in the spring.
From its beginning in 1957, outdoor school has come a long way. During the 2018-19 school year (the year before COVID-19 impacted K-12 education), 37,965 students (81% of eligible fifth- and sixth-grade students) attended outdoor school. This means that during that school year, Oregon’s fifth- and sixth-graders cumulatively spent 148,887 days outside. For many of these students, it was their first chance to experience the wealth of natural resources in our state. OFRI is proud to partner with this important program that makes such an impact on young Oregonians.
Director of K-12 Education Programs
Last summer, the Secretary of State Oregon Audits Division released its findings and recommendations from their performance audit of the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI), as requested by Gov. Kate Brown in August 2020. We last addressed the audit on the OFRI Blog shortly after the full audit report was released in July 2021, in a post that described how OFRI intended to implement the audit’s operational recommendations.
Now we’d like to update the status of implementing those recommendations. The audit identified four recommendations (recommendations 2-5) to improve our performance and operations, and in our response to the audit we agreed to all of them. As OFRI’s acting executive director, I’ve been tasked with leading the charge in addressing these recommendations, and below I describe how we’re implementing each recommendation.
Please note that the audit also identified one recommendation for the Oregon Legislature (recommendation 1) that I won’t address, because it wasn’t directed to the Institute.
Here are the Secretary of State’s recommendations for OFRI, and how we’re working to implement each one.
Audit recommendation 2: Develop policy to provide guidance in avoiding prohibited activities
• OFRI asked the Oregon Department of Justice and the Oregon Ethics Commission for assistance in identifying and developing specific internal policies and processes to provide guidance to OFRI staff and board on ways to avoid engaging in activities prohibited by statute, and under what circumstances the agency will seek legal or ethical advice going forward.
• We provided ethics training, led by the Oregon Ethics Commission, to our board and staff in April 2022.
• We’re currently writing a policy to provide guidance to staff and board on ways to avoid engaging in statutorily prohibited activities. The policy should be developed and adopted by January 2023.
Audit recommendation 3: Improve internal controls
• The Institute selected a primary mission statement that’s consistent with its statutory mandate; the statement was approved by the OFRI Board in April 2021:
“The Oregon Forest Resources Institute supports and enhances Oregon’s forest products industry by advancing public understanding of forests, forest management and forest products.”
• We’ve posted this mission statement in appropriate places, including all our websites, all new OFRI publications and all educational media.
• We developed a draft Quality Information Policy, which will be formally adopted by the OFRI board in July 2022 after public review. This policy identifies agency standards and processes for developing, reviewing and disseminating quality information.
• We’re developing desk guides for each position and program, outlining the roles and responsibilities of each staff member, including the quality information processes that apply to them. The desk guides are targeted for completion by July 2022.
• We’re also embarking on a strategic planning effort after we hire a permanent executive director, a position that we’re currently seeking to fill. An updated OFRI strategic plan is targeted for completion by June 30, 2023.
Audit recommendation 4: Improve transparency and broaden stakeholder involvement
• We have posted the new OFRI mission statement on our website OregonForests.org, under the “About OFRI” tab.
• We also posted OFRI’s 2017 Strategic Plan on our website under the “About OFRI” tab. The 2022 Strategic Plan will be posted there once it is completed.
• We’ve developed the OFRI Stakeholder Checklist, which identifies how a broad range of stakeholders are identified, recruited and engaged in OFRI projects. This checklist works in concert with OFRI’s Quality Information Policy to engage a broad range of stakeholders in Project Steering Committees (PSCs). PSCs work with OFRI staff to develop educational materials and provide subject-matter expertise and target-audience perspective.
• Concurrently, we’ve developed the OFRI Public Review Process, which will be formally adopted by the OFRI Board in July 2022 after public review. The process is designed to better engage members of the public in developing OFRI educational materials, strategic plans and other initiatives.
• We’re communicating OFRI’s statutory mandate in all public messaging efforts, by posting our mission statement in appropriate places such as all new OFRI publications and all educational media.
Audit recommendation 5: Review statute to determine statewide policies that apply to OFRI
• We are conducting a comprehensive review of the OFRI statute and original intent of OFRI, to understand which statewide policies apply to OFRI.
• OFRI has requested that the Oregon Department of Administrative Services provide a list of statewide policies that apply to the Institute.
• We reached out to the Oregon Department of Justice for advice and guidance.
• We’re currently writing a policy to summarize how statewide policies apply to OFRI. We expect the policy to be completed and adopted in January 2023.
I believe OFRI is making a good-faith effort to implement the recommendations of the 2021 Secretary of State’s performance audit of OFRI. We’ve come a long way in completing our response. I’m always open to questions and comments as we implement the recommendations and move beyond the audit. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the forest,
Acting Executive Director