Sustaining Forest Environment - Oregon Forest Protection
Oregon’s Forest Protection Rules
Environmental Protections from Oregon Laws
Water Quality from Oregon Forests
Protecting Salmon and Watersheds
Wildlife in Managed Forests
Oregon’s Working Forests
Federal Threat to the Environment
Oregon’s Forest Protection Rules
The state’s laws governing forest resource protection and land use ensure the viability
of Oregon’s private forests into the future—by setting a package of best practices
to which all forest operations and landowners must adhere. While it is Oregon law
that forest landowners are encouraged to grow and harvest trees, laws and regulations
have evolved over the past 70 years to accomplish important environmental protections
during forest management.
These Oregon laws and rules have helped the state achieve a balance between environmental
benefits and sustainable harvest on private and state forestlands. Federal forestlands,
although ascribing to Oregon’s laws, are governed by separate federal laws, rules
and plans that often strike a disparate set of environmental consequences.
Oregon has strict laws for protecting forests. Some have been in place since 1941.
These laws have been developed and updated as an ongoing collaboration between landowners,
scientists, operators, state agencies, and the state legislature. Protection laws
help ensure that all Oregon forests operate under a common set of guidelines and
practices, which helps assure that forestlands are sustained for future generations.
There are two types of Oregon laws that protect the growing and harvesting operations
on forestland: a) forest practices and related laws; and b) land use law. Forest
laws encourage private landowners to economically grow and harvest forest trees,
land use laws encourage landowners to keep forestland in forests, and property owners
retain the opportunity to convert forestland to a non-forest use, under conditions.
Oregon was the first state to enact comprehensive laws and rules governing forest
practices and protecting forest resources, including water, fish, wildlife, soil,
air, and forest land use. With strong support from forest sector leaders, the Oregon
Legislature enacted the Oregon Forest Practices Act & Rules in 1971 (OFPA). Applying
to all state and private forestlands, the OFPA and its accompanying rules have been
updated about two dozen times since 1971 to reflect new science, operating technology,
and changing public policy. Most OFPA upgrades have targeted improved protection
for water quality and habitat enhancement. Notwithstanding the OFPA, there are other
state laws that affect forest operations (fire, fire use, water, chemicals, safety,
labor, transportation, trespass, etc.), which perform in conjunction with OFPA.
In 1973, the Oregon adopted the Oregon Land Use Act, which required all counties
to adopt comprehensive land use plans that would assure forestland and farmland
would be conserved across the rural Oregon landscape. The land use law’s purpose
was to protect the landowner’s property value so that viable forestry and farming
remained sustainable land uses in the Oregon economy. The land use law has been
periodically updated to reflect improved land use policies.
The purpose of these two laws is to sustain forested land for forest uses—and to
assure that forest landowners protect the environment, while having economically-viable
options to conduct forest management. Conserving forestland attributes protects
it as a fiscal value for the landowner and the state economy, an outdoor recreational
outlet for Oregonian’s quality of life, and a natural resource for abundant habitats,
and clean water & air.
Environmental Protections from Oregon Laws
Forest protection laws help ensure that all Oregon forests operate under a common
set of guidelines and practices to help assure that forestlands are sustained in
a forested condition for future generations, that forest management remains an economically
viable endeavor, and to assure basic environmental protections occur during operations.
Although there is high compliance reported surrounding forestry operations, many
Oregon forest landowners choose to provide additional environmental protections,
which are above & beyond these state standards.
The following is a summary of the Oregon-required environmental protections occurring
during forest management operations, as a result of Oregon forest-related laws,
including the OFPA, Land Use law, federal environmental laws, and other applicable
statute and regulation.
Planning. Landowners and operators must notify and complete necessary paperwork
at a local Oregon Department of Forestry office, at least 15 days before starting
a forest management operation. This formal “Notification” allows time for appropriate
discussions and verifications before activities begin. The notification filing for
timber harvesting also initiates the required forest products harvest tax. Additionally,
some activities and/or locations do require extra paperwork, written plans, permitting,
or licensing, such as operating power-driven machinery, prescribed burning, chemical
application, or changing forestland use to non-forest use.
Operations. The OFPA and forest regulations apply to any of the following activities
that are part of the commercial growing and harvesting of forest trees over a rotation-cycle
exceeding 12 years: timber harvesting, road construction/maintenance, tree cutting,
slash treatment, burning, reforestation, operating power-driven machinery, pre-commercial
thinning, chemical-petroleum product-fertilizer use, or changing forestland use
to a non-forest use.
Forest Rule Enforcement. The Oregon Department of Forestry, Private Forest Program
employs more than 40 Stewardship Foresters, who are responsible for enforcing the
OFPA and forest regulations. These Stewardship Foresters are seasoned forestry professionals
who work from the Department’s twelve district offices, located statewide near forestlands.
The Foresters contribute to environmental protection of forest resources through
a successful program of education, engineering, and enforcement—a program that focuses
on assuring willing compliance with the ODFA and fire rules by landowners and operators.
Harvesting. The harvest and logging activities are directed by the forest rules,
to protect water resources, soils, habitat, and other reserved vegetation. The forest
practice rules recognize timber harvesting as an important forest management practice,
which protects water quality and other resources described in the following paragraphs.
Road Construction, Maintenance and Use. Strict regulations govern the location,
construction, maintenance, repair, and decommissioning of forest roads on state
and private forestland. Additionally, the use of forest roads during operations
demand adherence to rules aimed to prevent muddy water delivery from the road into
nearby streams or water. When a road is not in use, it must be kept in a stable
condition. The forest practice rules recognize the necessity for well-designed and
managed roads, which protect water quality.
Reforestation. Landowners must successfully reforest forestlands after regeneration
harvesting removes the forest canopy. Landowners must complete replanting within
two years after harvest, if the post-harvest tree density is below rule standards
for the site. And within six years after harvest, enough healthy young trees must
be well-distributed and “free-to-grow” into a new forest. About 40 million new trees
are planted each year in Oregon’s forests. Reforestation success rate generally
exceeds 95% on private land.
Water Protection. Forest practice rules require tree retention along many streams,
wetlands, and lakes. Vegetation and/or tree retention “buffers”, called Riparian
Management Areas, are required along many waterways. Operators must protect water
quality, fish and riparian habitat, during all activities. To protect aquatic resources,
timber harvesting, machinery operation, road building, burning, and chemical uses
are restricted near streams, lakes, and wetlands.
Protection of Wildlife Habitat. Operators must time operations and retain trees
near specific wildlife sites to protect those sites and avoid excessive disturbance
of specified wildlife species. To provide nesting sites and habitat for birds and
animals, foresters and loggers must leave live trees or snags and down logs in harvest
units larger than 25 acres. Additionally, forest operations must avoid or modify
harvesting near sensitive bird nesting, roosting or watering sites.
Limits on Clearcuts. Clearcut size cannot exceed 120 acres within a single ownership,
including the combined acreage of any clearcuts within 300 feet of each other. Once
the required number of healthy planted trees are established and exceed four feet
tall, the young forest is no longer considered a clearcut.
Slash Treatment. The treatment of harvest debris, “slash” (tree limbs, tops, waste
wood, brush) after logging occurs is also directed by the forest rules—such that
these activities are conducted while protecting other reserved vegetation, trees,
soil, habitat, and water resources. Treatment may involve a dual objective of preparing
the site for successful reforestation. These treatments often involve moving slash
into piles, scattering, grinding, cutting, removal, and/or burning.
Using Fire; Burning. Controlled burning can be a valuable forest management tool
to accomplish reforestation, wildfire hazard reduction, logging slash disposal,
forest health enhancement, and habitat improvement. Burning of surplus vegetation
and woody debris has many environmental benefits, property values, and public safety
advantages. This “prescribed burning” of forest fuels is a common practice, conducted
under strict conditions that require operators to follow important steps to control
smoke and prevent escape of the controlled fire. Forest burning operations require
a permit, written plan, reporting, and prior ignition approval from the Oregon Dept.
Air Quality Protection. Oregon forestry rules require that “prescribed burning”
of forest fuels be conducted under strict conditions that require operators to follow
important steps to minimize and control the environmental impacts of the smoke from
burning. The regulations govern the management of forestry burn planning, weather
forecasts, ignition, control, and reporting—such that smoke does not impact communities
or designated air quality areas.
Fire Prevention. Preventing unwanted fire is required during all forest operations.
Wildfire is a public nuisance in Oregon, because it can cause tragic environmental
damage, property loss and public safety threats. During the state-declared summer
fire season every forest activity is subject to strict regulations that aim to prevent
fire starts and assure quick firefighting response. Forest operations require a
power-driven machinery permit.
Chemical & Petroleum Use. The rules recognize that fertilizers and pesticides are
valuable management tools; and accordingly protection of soil, air and water is
required during their use or application. Use of petroleum products in forests is
also regulated. Agencies including the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture, the Oregon Dept.
of Forestry and the US Environmental Protection Agency strictly regulate chemical
application in forests.
Public Safety from Landslides. Under the umbrella of the human environment, when
harvesting and road construction is proposed on certain steep slopes located above
homes or busy roads, special restrictions apply to these operations. Operations
on over-steepened locations must be conducted under strict conditions that require
operators to follow important steps to minimize the risk of a rapidly-moving landslide
impacting public safety below the operation.
Rock Pits & Quarries. Local forestland rock pits, pit development, rock stock-piling,
and rock use for forest management purposes is within the regulations or the OFPA
law. Rock pits are required to protect water quality, soil stability, and any special
resource sites nearby. However, where forestland quarry operations involve large
quantities of commercial products sold for non-forest uses off-property, then Oregon’s
mining regulation would apply—administered by the Oregon Department of geology and
Scenic Highways. Along certain state and federal highways, designated by state law,
forest harvesting must be conducted under special conditions that require operators
to follow important steps to retain a forested appearance near those roadways. The
OFPA law requires that harvesting occur in these roadside strips in two different
stages, each separated by several years. This stage-harvest provides a canopy forest
screen of trees near the road while the roadside harvested area is promptly reforested
and young trees become established.
Forest Trespass and Timber Trespass. While most forest landowners seek to protect
their forested environment and property values from potential damage caused by uninvited
people, the OFPA does not specifically address trespass matters. There are Oregon
laws that do address trespass, posting to close properties, and strict laws regarding
theft of timber from forestlands. Forest landowners commonly close their forest
roads and post to keep trespassers away, for a number of purposes including: protecting
environmental values; to avoid wildlife harassment; prevent vandalism/dumping or
fire risks; prevent theft; limit hunting; and to protect forest roads from damage
and associated water quality problems.
Changes to Non-Forest Land Use. The OFPA forestry law does not prohibit changing
the use of forestland to another non-forest land use—such as agriculture or residential
development. Each county has a comprehensive land use plan that assures forestland
and farmland is conserved across the rural Oregon landscape. However, such changes
are subject to a forest operation Notification, in addition to extra paperwork,
written plans, permitting, other state and county regulations.
Forest Harvest Tax and Fire Assessment. Timber harvested from forestland in Oregon
is subject to the Forest Products Harvest Tax, which contributes to environmental
protection of forest resources. All of the Harvest Tax receipts go directly to fund
important forest environmental programs: Department of Forestry OFPA regulation
program and enforcement; OR State University Forest Research Lab; forest fire protection
and firefighting by the Department of Forestry; and forestry education by OR Forest
Resources Institute. Furthermore, each county tax assessor collects a special Forestland
Assessment portion of the landowner’s annual property tax bill. This Forestland
Assessment contributes to environmental protection of forest resources by funding
forest fire protection and firefighting by the Department of Forestry.
Pond Construction. Building a new forest pond requires a permit and approval from
the Oregon Water Resources Department. Pond development requires good planning,
design and construction. Forestland ponds can attract wildlife and aquatic species,
aesthetic values, and a water source for fire prevention.
Fill and Removal. For unusual projects involving the removal or filling of large
amounts of soil or rock in/near a water body (>50 cuyd.), would require a permit
and approval from the Oregon Department of State Lands. These projects are outside
the normal forest road construction earth-moving quantities.
Water Quality from Oregon Forests
Streams originating on forestlands supply water for Oregonians to drink, use in
their communities, irrigate their fields, and run industrial processes—but most
importantly forests provide clean cool water for native fish and downstream aquatic
environments. Healthy forests promote soils that provide natural filtration to keep
streams clean and water quality high. The Oregon Dept. of Environmental Quality
(DEQ) regularly measures water quality in major rivers and streams throughout the
state. Among all land uses, the highest water quality generally occurs in forested
Some 35 Oregon municipal water systems source their drinking water supply from forested
watersheds; more than 30 of those forest watersheds are actively-managed using contemporary
timber harvesting and resource protection methods.
A 2008 U.S. Forest Service study found relatively minor effects of forest timber
harvest operations on peak flows and stream channels in the Pacific Northwest. The
study compared forest harvesting and roads with other human-caused changes to streams
Protecting Salmon and Watersheds
In response to listings of salmon species under the federal Endangered Species Act,
the Oregon Legislature and governor joined with landowners and agencies in 1997
to create the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds. The “Oregon Plan” seeks to
restore salmon runs, improve water quality and achieve healthy watersheds statewide
through the joint efforts of government, landowners, and citizen volunteers.
he “Oregon Plan” is unique among state protection plans for its emphasis on landowners
and agency managers who voluntarily cooperate together to complete projects to improve
watersheds. These cooperators identify local water or fish habitat improvements—not
required by any regulation—and they engage their communities to restore watershed
Oregon’s forest landowners are the most active participant in completing Oregon
Plan projects, voluntarily improving roads, stream habitat and road fish crossings
above & beyond the requirements of forest regulations. Combined voluntary efforts
statewide amongst all private and government cooperators by 2012 had restored more
than 6,300 miles of stream banks, opened an additional 4,500 miles of streams once
blocked to fish passage, improved 9,100 miles of road conditions, and replaced 3,000
stream-crossing structures that had blocked fish.
The most amazing accomplishment of the “Oregon Plan” is that the majority of this
voluntary restoration accomplishment was achieved through the activities of private
landowners—with the largest contributor being forest landowners.
Wildlife in Managed Forests
Forests continually change. They respond to fire, windstorms and disease. They also
are affected by logging and residential development. For wildlife, any change creates
winners and losers. Some species thrive in young, open forest conditions, for instance.
Others prefer mature complex forests. Yet other species prefer the middle-aged dense
forests. The greatest diversity of forest wildlife, and their habitat, is achieved
where a forest landscape includes a combination of all three ages of forest: some
young, some middle-aged, and some mature.
Forest landowners can create and enhance wildlife habitat through active management—including
timber harvest—by keeping in mind the age, structural and compositional characteristics
of the total forest landscape. Age and structure has to do with the size and spacing
of trees, live and dead. Composition has to do with the variety of plant species.
Studies have shown the structure characteristics are more important to habitat quality
than the age of the forest.
Whether the main objective is timber harvest, recreation, aesthetic value, ecological,
or some mix, professional forest managers and landowners use a number of forest
management methods in forest harvesting to attract a rich diversity of wildlife
- Plan work to limit wildlife disturbance
- Leave wildlife trees and snags
- Leave down wood on forest floor
- Leave trees & vegetation buffers along water
- Leave some hardwood trees and shrubs
- Minimize disturbance to riparian areas
- Control invasive plants
- Manage forest roads for habitat and water quality
- Prompt reforestation and young forest diversity
- Careful burning & herbicides promoting diversity
Oregon’s Working Forests
A working forest is a forest owned and responsibly-managed over the long-term to
provide benefits to the forest owner, the environment, and to society. Working forests—which
are generally privately-owned or multiple-use public forests—are intentionally managed
for the long-term to provide continuous economic and social values to various stakeholders,
including essential goods and services, family-wage jobs, economic support to communities
and the nation, and returns to the forest landowners. While economic and social
values are foremost in working forests, environmental protection remains an important
value to protect and foster.
Active management of working forests produces a rich suite of environmental, economic
and social benefits—many benefits that are not produced so well from reserved forests
or multiple-use forests. Keeping working forests as part of the forest landscape
will continue only through the economic incentive of robust forest product markets
and effective public policy. Government forest policies should encourage the perpetuation
and active management of working forests—because these working forests provide important
diversity of management styles, income and biodiversity that is essential to healthy
forests and a healthy rural forest economy.
Working forests (private forests and public multiple-use forests) are a critical
part of our nation’s natural resource infrastructure because they are fundamental
to a strong economy, and they are an economic and social engine in rural communities
and within resource-based economies. Working forests create a clean and healthy
environment, where wood product output, recreational uses, and diverse fish & wildlife
habitat can all remain abundant and coexist quite well. More than half of America’s
freshwater supply, 53 percent, originates on forestlands—most of those are working
forests and multiple-use forestlands (both private and public forests).
Working forests help achieve national objectives for addressing climate change,
and working forests are a new domestic source of low-carbon renewable biomass energy.
Across America, the forest industry generates 80% of all renewable biomass energy,
making it the nation’s largest industrial renewable energy producer.
The US forest products industry, and private working forests, is among the top 10
manufacturing employers in 48 states; in Oregon the forest sector is perennially
a top-2 or top-3 traded good sector of the economy.
Fire is a natural force in the forest. But for decades, fire suppression has been
coupled with passive management of federal forests. The natural cycle of fire has
been suppressed to protect property values, forest resources and public safety.
On private forests, professional forest managers have harvested and maintained healthy
fire-resilient forest conditions. On the other hand, for the past 20 years passive
management of federal forests has allowed forests to become overcrowded, unhealthy,
and choked with dead & dying trees. As a result, federal forests—especially in drier
eastern and interior southwest Oregon—have grown uncharacteristically dense and
highly susceptible to catastrophic damages from wildfire, pests, disease, and storms.
The 18 million acres (60% of all Oregon forestlands) of federal forests are in a
dangerously unhealthy condition. This federal forest status is harmful to the environment,
to wildlife, to endangered species, to water quality, to air quality (threat of
wildfire smoke pollution), and to the surrounding communities. These forests are
at risk for large and uncharacteristic crown fires, which burn larger and hotter
and spread faster than typical surface fires. If current passive federal forest
management practices continue, conditions in the dry eastside and southwest Oregon
federal forests are expected to deteriorate further—and become an even greater threat
to Oregon’s forest environments and communities.
As of 2012, approximately 80 percent of eastern Oregon’s national forest acreage
(9.1 million acres) has high or moderate wildfire danger—or the potential for catastrophic
large wildfire losses. This problem is a known situation. Federal policymakers,
Congress, and the American public, unfortunately remain confused and misinformed
about this situation and its dire consequences; and needed federal forest policy
changes to increase the pace and intensity of federal forest management have to
date not been forthcoming.
In 2012, wildfires burned more than 150,000 acres of forest in eastern and interior
southwest Oregon, mostly on federal forestlands. Among them was the Barry Point
Fire, a clear example of the risk that has developed. At times becoming an explosive
crown fire that killed all trees, the wildfire burned about 93,000 acres along the
California-Oregon border, most of it in Oregon, and about 73 percent of it in federal
forests. Fueled by uncharacteristically-dense and overcrowded federal forests, the
Barry Point Fire spread from its national forest origin, and burned 25,000 acres
of surrounding private forestland. Wildfires do not recognize property boundaries;
and in this case, the federal wildfire destroyed the environment of 25,000 acres
of neighboring forestland.
Federal Threat to the Environment
Oregon’s federal forests comprise 60 percent of forestlands statewide (18 million
acres). Managed by the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, the
federal forests since 1990 have befallen into legal gridlock that prevents professional
forest managers from adhering to approved federal forest plans that once balanced
forest management—amongst a balance of environment, economy and society.
Since 1990, a severe decline in federal forest health and lacking fire resiliency
has been a direct result of the passive management resulting from gridlocked management.
Due to fire suppression and a lack of active management, many federal forests are
becoming unhealthy— especially in Oregon’s dryer eastern forests.
Increased active management of federal forestland could improve the overall health
of a forest ecosystem, while leading to stronger, healthier communities that make
a positive contribution to the state’s overall economy. New federal policies are
needed to improve forest health and bring jobs to rural areas.
Oregon’s forests are intended to provide many environmental values and ecosystem
diversity. The Northwest Forest Plan, in 1994 promised to strike a balance of environmental,
economic and community benefits. However, the promised balance of these three was
never achieved; the plan was never fully implemented due to litigation. Nor has
the promised balance of eastern Oregon national forest plans been achieved; those
plans were never fully implemented due to litigation.
Forest management projects and harvesting has decreased significantly, leaving the
forest ecosystems suffering a number of harmful environmental maladies, including:
escalation of catastrophic wildfires killing wildlife, habitat and polluting streams;
increased forest pest epidemics and diseases that is eliminating vast swaths of
forest canopies; unhealthy & overcrowded forests that are not resilient to wildfire,
storms, pests, disease or climate change; unmaintained forest trails and roads that
create watershed problems; and imbalanced game populations that suffer insufficient
forage in certain areas.
Federal forest management, impaired by legal gridlock conflicting laws and court
rulings, results in a situation where untouched federal forestlands grow increasingly
susceptible to fire and insect infestation, while communities of forest management
professionals and the forest industry continues to leave to find work elsewhere.