What's happening in the forest sector?

Holy Solar Eclipse! If only we had a wildfire funding bill!

The recent death of 88-year-old Adam West, the actor who popularized the comic book superhero Batman on 1960s television, brought to mind his sidekick Robin’s penchant for exclaiming the obvious. But I had no idea he uttered 367 “Holy…” exclamations during the three-year TV series.

One of his outcries was “Holy Conflagration!” which is what we in Oregon could see this Aug. 21 when a total solar eclipse passes over the state during the height of fire season. According to state officials, Oregon can expect anywhere from 500,000 to 1.5 million visitors during the days leading up to and after the eclipse. That’s going to magnify the risk of human-caused wildfire, the leading cause – at 83 percent – of all fires in Oregon in 2016.

Keep Oregon Green, the statewide organization that works to increase awareness of Oregon’s wildfire risk, will be working overtime to educate the public about wildfire prevention. Recognizing the extreme risk to the state’s forest resources, the OFRI board of directors recently voted to send $10,000 to KOG to help with its public education efforts.

Education is great, and we need it, but what would really help is if Congress passed a wildfire disaster funding bill. It’s a well-known fact that the increasing cost of fire suppression is deteriorating the Forest Service and U.S. Department of Interior’s ability to more effectively manage the nation’s forests for fire resiliency. Since 1995, for example, the Forest Service’s fire suppression budget has increased from about 15 percent to more than 50 percent of the agency’s overall budget. And when those levels don’t meet fire suppression needs, the agencies must “borrow” funds to fight wildfires from other budgets, including those earmarked for forest restoration and fire prevention.

Enter the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2017, reintroduced June 8 by U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho.

“Simply put, the current system is broken,” Schrader says. “Because we do no project management to help protect our forests, we end up paying much more to fight costly carbon-producing wildfires that again devastate our ability to do the critical forest management on our public lands in the first place. Our bill will work to fix this root problem by reducing fuel loads, improving forest health, saving  taxpayers money, and providing jobs in our struggling rural communities.”

Passage of Schrader’s bill in this Congress won’t help mitigate the increased wildfire risk when thousands of visitors come to Oregon in 2017, but Holy Solar Eclipse! I hope it passes before the next one passes over North America – in 2024!

For the forest,

Paul Barnum

Executive Director

Give students what they deserve: wood schools

“Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a $790 million construction bond that would modernize four schools and fund…“

So began the article on OregonLive about the results from last month’s statewide election. That $790 million was the record-sized Portland Public Schools bond that will go toward rebuilding two schools (Lincoln High School and Kellogg Middle School) and upgrading several others. And it passed by a two-to-one margin, indicating voters think highly of the need for suitable school buildings.

The PPS bond may have been the biggest, but it wasn’t the only one voters passed. Nine other school districts in the state passed similar (albeit much smaller) bonds earmarked for school construction. Notable among those were Bend-La Pine ($268 million), Lake Oswego ($187 million) and Greater Albany ($159 million) school districts. Even the tiny Jefferson School District, with fewer than 900 students, passed a $14.4 million bond for a new middle school and elementary school gymnasium. Combined with the $1.4 billion in bonding passed by nine districts last November, this gives Oregon nearly $3 billion over the next few years to build and improve schools across 19 school districts.

With money in hand, these districts can set about planning and building the schools in which we’ll be educating the next several generations of Oregon schoolchildren.

I, for one, think they ought to be planning those schools in wood. And why not?

Wood products are our most sustainable building material by far. They come from a renewable resource and require far less energy to produce than other traditional materials like steel and concrete, and the buildings we create with them serve as gigantic carbon storage units. Half the dry weight of wood is carbon sequestered from the atmosphere while the trees were growing. Harvested trees are replaced to the tune of 40 million seedlings planted in Oregon each year, ensuring that the carbon storage cycle continues into the future. Here in Oregon, wood is one of our most abundant resources. In less than 10 minutes, Oregon timberlands grow enough wood to build each one of the schools we’ll be replacing with this bond money.

Not that we need any more good reasons to choose wood, but consider that wood construction is often the most cost-effective way to build schools. With innovative wood products like cross-laminated timber (CLT), it’s also often the fastest way to build.

Wood products manufacturing is one of Oregon’s enduring legacy industries. The plants that produce our lumber, plywood and CLT have for decades (going on two centuries in fact) given economic vitality to dozens of rural communities since the earliest pioneers trekked across the Oregon Trail.

Maybe the most important reason to use wood for our schools is that it results in better learning environments where students can excel. Countless studies have shown that students are more relaxed and better able to concentrate when surrounded by warm, natural materials like wood. And that translates to better learning outcomes.

So, let’s give the next generations of Oregonians what they deserve — better, modern schools built with wood.

Timm Locke

Director of Forest Products 



Cascades Academy of Central Oregon

Hennebery Eddy Architects, Inc.

WoodWorks Wood Design Award Winner - Wood School Design

Photo credit: Josh Partee 

Oregon State University is #1 in forestry

You probably are aware that the Oregon State University baseball team has been ranked No. 1 in the country for the last nine weeks. But did you know that OSU is also has the top-ranked forestry program in North America, and the second best in the world?

The Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) released their annual rankings last month, and OSU is ranked right behind the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala. The rankings are based on publication by researchers in the top-rated scientific journals, and are basically an evaluation of university research programs. Research is very important, because it’s the engine that funds much of a college's activity.

OSU is a land-grant university, which means it has three main mission areas: teaching, research and extension. Having a top-rated research program helps attract quality faculty and graduate students. In the case of the OSU College of Forestry, having a top-rated research program is accompanied by also having top-rated teaching and extension programs.

For the past 20 years, enrollment at forestry schools has declined as forest management has changed. OSU was one of the first schools to turn that around, and has seen a steady increase in enrollment in the past few years. OSU has actually added programs, and is the only college in the west and one of the few in the country with majors in forest management, forest engineering, recreation resource management and renewable materials (wood products). OSU also has a very strong natural resources program, with a multitude of concentrations.

And when it comes to forestry extension programs, the OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension Program is unparalleled in North America. The program has 12 forestry agents who provide informal forestry education in every forested county in Oregon. The agents are supported by 12 forestry specialists in areas that include forest health, timber harvesting, business and taxes, silviculture, and watersheds. No other extension program in the country has the depth or breadth of the one led by OSU.

Of course, the state of Oregon is No. 1 in the country for the amount of timber volume our forests grow, and in the production of softwood lumber, plywood and engineered wood products. Having a top-rated forestry school should not be unexpected. So the next time you hear that OSU is No. 1, think baseball and forestry.

For the forest,

Mike Cloughesy

Director of Forestry


Mass timber requires sustainably managed forests

At the International Mass Timber Conference last month in Portland, Jason McLennan of McLennan Design, the architect who designed the Bullitt Center in Seattle and the creator of the stringent green building certification the Living Building Challenge, gave a keynote address. In his speech, he stated that he believes we are at a tipping point where wood construction will take over the commercial building industry much the way the automobile replaced the horse and buggy in the early 20th century.   But there is a catch. Jason says that for this to happen, architects need to know that forest management practices are sustainable. For general information on mass timber construction in Oregon, review recent and future blogs by Director of Forest Products Timm Locke. For a discussion of whether Oregon forests are being sustainably managed, read on.

So what is sustainable forest management, and why does it matter? The earliest definition of sustainable forest management was based on sustained yield. One widely accepted definition of sustained yield is that harvest should not exceed growth in the long term. The following figure from Oregon Forest Facts 2017-18 shows growth, harvest and mortality for the various ownership classes of Oregon forestland. When harvest plus mortality is less than total growth, we have sustained yield.

 Growth, mortality and harvest 2011-2015

Overall, Oregon timber harvest plus mortality equals about 62 percent of wood volume growth for the 2011-2015 period, according to U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis data. All ownership classes are also individually at a place where harvest plus mortality is less than total growth. For private forests, harvest plus mortality equals 86 percent of growth. For state forests, harvest plus mortality equals 76 percent of growth. And for federal forests, harvest plus mortality equals only 38 percent of growth.

At first glance, all forest ownership classes in Oregon are sustainable in terms of timber harvest, but a sustainable forest needs to be a healthy forest. Many federal forests in Oregon are overstocked with trees. When mortality is 29 percent of growth, this is not a healthy forest. When harvest plus mortality equals only 38 percent of growth, the overstocking will get worse over time, which leads to an unhealthy forest with an increased risk of severe fire and insect attack.

A more recent definition of a sustainable forest that is used by independent, third-party forest sustainability certification programs would be “a living complex system that includes a diversity of species along with a balanced production of environmental, social/cultural and economic benefits.” Forest certification systems such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), American Tree Farm System (ATFS) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) are the three forest certification systems that are commonly used in Oregon. These systems document how well forests meet the systems’ sustainability criteria.

The table below shows the acreage certified in Oregon under the various systems. SFI is the largest, and many of the large private landowners have their forestlands certified, for a total of almost 4 million acres. ATFS is the system preferred by smaller private landowners, with a total of about 800,000 acres certified. FSC is used by some small woodland owners and by conservation groups that own forestland, for a total of less than 200,000 acres in Oregon. Public lands in Oregon are typically not certified.

 Oregon acres certified by the three major forest certification systems

One conclusion I reach with this data is that Oregon forests are in good shape from a sustainability standpoint. This could be one of the reasons we are a leader in the mass timber movement – and that is definitely not “horse and buggy” thinking.

For the forest,

Mike Cloughesy

Director of Forestry


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