What's happening in the forest sector?

Update on OFRI response to state audit
05.11.2022

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 [email protected].

For the forest,

Mike Cloughesy
Acting Executive Director

You never forget your first amphibian egg mass
04.22.2022

It’s a beautiful sunny February day that’s cold but clear, and I’m at a wetland in Washington County. No big deal, right? The only difference today: I’m not on land looking at the water…I’m in the water. Nearly neck-deep water! I’m wearing chest waders, so I stay dry, but the cold still takes my breath away. 

I’m distracted by the feeling of being deep in water and yet not wet, but I’m trying hard to concentrate on scanning the area near the reeds and branches ahead of me, to look for amphibian egg masses.   

Why am I doing this? I’m participating in Metro’s amphibian egg mass survey training. Their amphibian egg mass monitoring program uses volunteers to track four native pond-breeding amphibians: the Pacific chorus frog, Northwestern salamander, long-toed salamander and Northern red-legged frog. 

These four amphibians can all be found in Oregon’s forests, and you can learn more about them and their habitat needs in the Oregon Forest Resources Institute’s new Forest Amphibians publication. They also serve as indicator species, which can be used to help gauge whether regional restoration efforts are helping more native amphibians thrive. Surveying for the egg masses each winter helps scientists track their numbers, as well as the overall health of wetlands in the region.

The masses come in a variety of sizes depending on the species and the stage of development, but all are clear gelatinous globs with dots, hooked to aquatic vegetation and camouflaged to fit into their environment. This makes them very difficult to spot. Think of it like an Easter egg hunt in the water, but without the pastel-colored eggshells.

It’s my first time out, and I don’t have a clue what I’m looking for; I’m mainly trying not to fall into a hole made by a beaver.

Conventional wisdom for this group says that the first time out you’re overwhelmed. The second time out, you’re simply confused. By your third trip to monitor, you have a sense of what you’re looking for and where to find it. In addition to identifying the egg masses, there are research protocols that must be followed to standardize the data collected. For example, we used a stopwatch to determine the number of egg masses found in a running time period. During my training, I found chorus frog and long-toed salamander eggs. My most unforgettable find was a Northwestern salamander egg mass, which is about the size of a tennis ball.  

The survey season is over for this year. But I’ll be back next January, wading through some of the region’s most beautiful aquatic areas, searching for and compiling data on amphibians. I’m having fun, and it’s nice to know the information I contribute helps guide restoration programs aimed to aid native amphibians that call Metro’s parks and natural areas home.  

Norie Dimeo-Ediger
Director of K-12 Education Programs

Image credit: Martyne Reesman, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

How do foresters choose what kinds of trees to plant in Oregon’s forests?
03.24.2022

As a forester working for Roseburg Forest Products on the west side of the state, I’m frequently asked “Why do you plant so much Douglas-fir?”

Named after Scottish botanist David Douglas, Douglas-fir grows from British Columbia to Mexico, and from the Pacific Ocean all the way east through the Rocky Mountains. It is the state tree of Oregon, and it can grow anywhere from sea level to 5,000 feet in elevation. It prefers full sunlight to really thrive. Native Americans used the wood for fuel, tools and even medicinal purposes. Today, no other tree species in the world compares for wood products.

With all of that said, my short answer to the original question is: Because that’s what belongs here! At Roseburg, the majority of the trees we harvest to make wood products and then replant are Douglas-fir.

Foresters do, however, plant other native tree species when reforesting areas where timber has been harvested in Oregon’s forests. Where I work in southern Oregon, we have many site considerations when deciding which trees to plant. Sometimes the tree species that are present prior to harvest can give us clues to what would work best. Other times, it requires a bit more “detective work,” such as figuring out what type of soil is present on the site or monitoring site conditions throughout the year.

Here are some examples of the different kinds of trees that I may consider planting after a timber harvest, based on the conditions of the site I’m planning to reforest:  

  • Incense-cedar is a tree that we will often select on sites where we have heavy clay soils. Imagine that red dirt that gets dry, hard and may even crack in the summer. That’s where incense-cedar can thrive. You’ll often find them growing next to our “beloved” poison oak.
  • Grand fir can tolerate having its “feet wet” for part of the year – so if you have moist soils on your site, this is one that can be planted among Douglas-fir.
  • Western redcedar loves having its feet wet and thrives alongside streams, springs and other wet areas. 
  • The ponderosa pines that we plant at lower elevations on the west side of the state are actually a little different than the ones you find to the east of the Cascades. They grow pretty well just about everywhere in the valley foothills, and can tolerate wet soils better than Douglas-fir.
  • Redwood is a great option for coastal sites where Douglas-fir may suffer from ailments such as Swiss needle cast. It’s an amazingly fast grower and can even re-sprout when cut!

That’s all to say that while Roseburg plants a lot of Douglas-fir, it’s also important to plant a variety of tree species on our forestland. Each type of tree needs different conditions to survive and thrive, and not every site is ideally suited for Douglas-fir. 

Lawrence Martin Jr.
Forester
Roseburg 

 

Salamander hide-and-seek
03.23.2022

What wildlife species live in Oregon? How do we know? Generally speaking, wildlife surveys are a way to help answer questions about wild animals by making observations in the field. Those questions can be as simple as “Does a certain species live here?” or much more complex. Sometimes we’re just looking to learn more about a place by seeing what animals are around. Other times we’re keeping track of species that may be in danger of going extinct. By adding to our knowledge we can make more informed decisions. 

From butterflies to birds to blue whales, there’s value in knowing about wildlife, and the work is almost as diverse as the life forms we monitor. This is certainly one of the things that attracted me to wildlife work. Just as I appreciate biodiversity, I also appreciate a little diversity in my work. While I haven’t gone looking for blue whales (yet), I have spent the last few years as a wildlife technician in the Pacific Northwest looking for owls, other birds of prey and, occasionally, amphibians. 

When I’m not in the field, I’m going over the data and working with a team on a variety of wildlife projects and publications. Apart from my job, I’ve been fortunate enough to help survey sea turtles in Greece, otters in India, nesting waterfowl in Alaska and butterflies in southern Oregon. It’s a lot of fun.

forest seen from truck window

 

It’s always satisfying to find what you’re looking for during a wildlife survey, but there really is no guarantee. You may know the odds, whether they’re for or against locating any of the critters in question, but you just won’t know until you get out there and do the work. You’re up early (or late, in the case of nocturnal surveys), you’ve read papers and protocols, the habitat is there… but try as you might, sometimes you get “skunked.” Wild animals have lives of their own, after all, and they likely won’t regret it if they never get the chance to meet you. It can leave a surveyor feeling a bit defeated. So it goes! And so it went on a recent attempt to find an interesting amphibian in the headwater streams of Oregon’s north coast, the elusive Columbia torrent salamander (Rhyacotriton kezeri).

stream habitat

 

Torrent salamanders are a group of four species in the genus Rhyacotriton of the family Rhyacotritonidae. They’re found only in the Pacific Northwest, in Washington, Oregon and northwestern California, where they reside in and around cold, clean streams, seeps and cascades in moist, mature forests. Distribution of Columbia torrents specifically is limited to the Coast Range of northwest Oregon and southwest Washington. This group of salamanders is of conservation concern due to their limited range, low adaptability and threats to their habitat. Currently, the Columbia torrent salamander, as well as the Cascade torrent, is undergoing status reviews by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine if protections under the Endangered Species Act are warranted.

Locating good potential habitat is step one in searching for Columbia torrents. A shallow, moving, forested headwater with a rocky bottom is a good place to start looking. The wet forests of the north Oregon Coast Range are full of such streams, each unique in the way it flows and the features that make up the substrate, bank and surrounding forest. Some meander. Some run down massive rocks and cascade into pools clear as glass. Some are gravelly. Some run under fallen wood for 50 feet or more. Moss and ferns usually line the banks and top the rocks and logs sitting as islands in the current. Often it’s only flecks of direct sun that ever reach these forested streams, and they remain relatively cool and damp year-round.

Once you’ve found a promising stream, the search for torrent salamanders begins. This requires being down in, as well as along, the stream. Walking steep slopes through devil’s club, salmonberry and the surprisingly sharp needles of Sitka spruce is sometimes the only option for getting to the water. 

On a recent survey for salamanders, when I reached the stream I carefully lifted and moved rocks and other debris in the stream bed and along the banks to see if a salamander was sheltering underneath. I found myself stooping, slipping, almost crawling, and getting a little wet and muddy as I made my way up the stream. Torrent salamander surveys that take place in November and December, as mine did, can be a chilly experience, but the right clothing makes a big difference, and hiking usually generates plenty of warmth. 

Ultimately, the Columbia torrent salamander was the winner of our game of hide-and-seek. That’s not to say I found nothing out there; not even close. Exploring forested headwaters and giving your full attention will reveal a whole world of life. Banana slugs, snail-eating beetles, colorful mushrooms, crayfish and, of course, amphibians, to name just a few inhabitants of these forests. They’re all out there, and so are the torrents… somewhere.

Banana slug next to mushroom

 

Baby giant salamander in a hand

 

If you want to learn more about the Columbia torrent salamander and other amphibians in Oregon, the Oregon Forest Resources Institute has a new publication about forest amphibians you can order or download here. Other good resources include the Oregon Conservation Strategy website.

Jon Cox
Wildlife Technician
Cafferata Consulting, LLC

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