Local leaders in forestry community and industry give perspectives on Forest Management
Conversations about Oregon’s forests often lead to raised eyebrows and often end in frustration. How do we properly care for our forests in a sustainable, profitable way? After a disaster like last fall’s Archie Creek fire, this forest management discourse has become more difficult.
After all, Oregon’s forests are the backbone of its communities, especially Douglas County’s community.
In spite of this importance, different perspectives seem to be at war with Oregon’s forest management, both in principle and in logistical application.
“Whenever you look at an issue related to forest management, it is always essential to look at who owns or manages the land and what are the objectives,” Jake Winn, deputy forest supervisor of the Umpqua National Forest for the USDA Forest Service, says. “Seneca Jones or Lone Rock Resources, they have a much more limited set of management objectives. They are producing timber and timber revenue in a way that is sustainable over the long-term.”
This is where controversy and discourse collide.
Winn proposes the idea that sustainable forest management, because of its broad nature, has much more to do with the perspective of who the land is sustainable for, in what way and why. He explains that if forest management by definition is working with and in the forest to accomplish a certain set of objectives, there are simply different goals for different forest owners from private industry to small woodland owners to federal properties.
This difference of opinion, then, is largely the result of these different objectives, which can be complimentary or contrary.
The Mainstream examined these different perspectives to find commonalities and differences.
Private companies in the forest products and timber industries have the main goals of sustainable production, fire prevention and protection for the next generation.
Toby Luther, president and CEO of Lone Rock Resources, explained that his company’s commitment to sustainability and its efforts to replant, especially after wildfires, are in line with the long-term goals of the company and the impact Lone Rock aims to have on the community.
“Our expectation is that we are going to hold it long term and manage it for the next generation so that there are more trees for them than there was for us,” Luther says.
Active management also provides opportunities for community involvement and employment.
“Active management provides a lot of jobs. You look at our forest products industry and still probably 25% or more of that is the GDP for Douglas County and 5% to 6% GDP of the state.” Luther says. “It is super important to have a sustainable natural resource for our community. It produces a lot of jobs.”
This management also provides care to the forests themselves.
“It provides habitat for all kinds of species of animals and clean drinking water,” Luther says. “The science will show you that managed forests provide more clean drinking water than not.”
Government managed lands, state or federal, differ in their management. These lands are considered public with more complex management processes to consider and other priorities.
Winn explained the distinction between the priorities of the U.S. Forest Service, specifically the local federal lands of the Umpqua National Forest, compared to private ownership and private industry: “Those owners have very different objectives than the U.S. Forest Service. Our objectives are for sustainable multiple use, and that includes timber harvest, habitat improvement for wildlife, making forest resilient to wildfire, providing recreation opportunities and more. Our mandate is to manage the forests for a wide variety of public interests and public goods. So, we do that in consultation with the public.”
The more fundamental and tangible products to come out of active and sustainable management of these forest lands include wood, fire resilience and improved habitat.
Wood for local mills from federal and state managed properties helps provide economic stability. According to Winn, a percentage of about 25% to 50% of all timber sales receipts for lands owned by the Bureau of Land Management and by the U.S. Forest Service go to the counties.
“It is an important part of our local community,” Winn says. Particularly because “Douglas County is about 50% federal lands and 50% non-federal lands, those being private and state lands. What happens on federal lands influences the economics and well-being of the community.”
For this reason, forest management for these lands looks to fire prevention and future sustainable resilience.
Thinning and clearing forests is paramount for preventing additional fire fuel. Managers can then replant trees and other plant life to create landscapes with a greater ability to resist and withstand wildfire. Finally, management also works to improve habitat through projects like their recent Calf-Copeland efforts which benefit trees, plant life and wildlife. This project involves moving in more fire-resistant tree species to our local forests.
The main difficulty results from the arduous process creating, approving and implementing these projects.
“The NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process and environmental analysis is slow, labor-intensive and requires public input,” Winn says. “It can take two to six years from start of planning to determination. We often have to balance divergent or differing views or have to balance controversy.”
A similar situation arises for legislation surrounding forest policy.
However, the state and federal agencies have been seeking improvements in recent years which are now being implemented. The Oregon Legislature has made various updates in addition to BLM’s recent legislation. Many of these efforts were supported by both forest products companies and environmentalist groups, according to the Statesman Journal.
“Because there are multiple interest groups, not everyone is always happy with everything we do, but that is part of the healthy debate that surrounds public land management,” Winn says. “It can be controversial to some and great to others. There is a healthy debate, as there should be, on how we should best manage our forest lands. As employees of the forest service, our job is to look at the science that supports what we do and look at the public input.”
Kyle Reed is the fire prevention specialist and public information officer with the Douglas Forest Protective Association and has fought fires since he was a teenager. He explains that fire prevention is one of the key factors in any good forest management plan.
“For us, access is really important before a fire,” Reed says.
This access comes in the form of roads and clear access points within and around these forests. This makes it extremely disappointing when roads get decommissioned or damaged by wash out or a broken bridge, according to Reed. These kinds of issues delay response times to all areas, particularly those hard-to-reach areas that can attract lightning strikes.
“Our mission is to keep fires as small as possible with the least cost. We have a statewide goal between the associations and ODF to stop 97% of the fires before they reach 10 acres in size,” Reed says. He also says in terms of achieving this goal that “good access and fuels prevention make a big difference.”
In fact, fuels prevention is one of the main purposes of forest management and fire prevention for all landowners.
“The other thing is that we have a ton of vegetation everywhere. It is not just out in the forest. It is around town. It is around homes,” Reed says. “We are trying to convey that to homeowners and to communities: we need to be proactive and do fuel reduction work ahead of time, before the fire is on the landscape and the smoke is in the air, and we are educating people.”
The management of Oregon’s forests stands as a complex, controversial and ever-developing issue of debate. When wildfire recovery is thrown into the mix? Well, things might get heated.
Post fire, there are two main sides of management, Reed says: the timber industry attempts to rebuild by salvaging what they can and replanting and then following the resource management plans of the areas.
However, due to the limitations of certain management plans and the inactivity of certain management, there are great concerns about how well Oregon forestlands can recover from wildfire while being cleared to prevent even greater future burn damage.
“What we have seen a lot post fire is that, in those really extreme severely burned areas, not a lot takes place,” Reed says. “That is a concern when you have hundreds to thousands of snags on the landscape and fire scars. There are even hundreds of snags per acre in a lot of places. I can’t put firefighters in some of those places now if we have a fire because of these snag patches that were left standing.”
Reed recalled the Douglas Complex fire outside of Glendale in 2013, which also damaged private and public lands. Some areas were not recovered and lay buried under standing, dead trees left to deteriorate and rot over the past eight years. Any attempt to place firefighters in those damaged areas would be difficult and often too great a risk to the firefighters’ safety.
Stronger aviation components assist with combating this complication, according to Reed, but the larger issue of properly managing fire damaged acres remains.
Luther says, “One of my biggest concerns is when they (federal land managers) do not go and harvest and clean that up, they are just leaving a bunch of kindling right next to my property just waiting for another fire. We replanted and reforested, and we spent a bunch of money to get it going again. I don’t want to see it burn up again and then in 15 years see it burnt up again. That’s not palatable for us.”
Fire prevention and preparation is one of the most sensitive portions of this debate alongside concerns of environmentalists. Those in the industry who think there is more to be done are very vocal about their concerns and their desire to work together with private, federal and state lands.
Reed says, “You have two sides: one is trying to grow fiber and another with different interests. Trying to accommodate everybody makes things difficult for DFPA because we are neither a landowner nor a land manager. We really have no say on what people do on their land. We provide input when asked for— when they are reviewing resource management plans or post fire treatments— but we don’t have any say in that.”
It is the small woodland and homeowners who do have a say. Reed explained that there is no county ordinances and no state laws that require any kind of vegetation removal.
“Some cities have nuisance vegetation laws,” Reed says. “But once you get outside of town, those are few and far between.”
Although they may have a say, that does not mean that they have the resources to cut thousands of trees damaged by fire, climate changes and infestations throughout the state. This leaves dried out dead trees scaring local communities.
These owners are already looking at a different kind of management on their property compared to the larger commercial lands.
Abe Mantle, owner of J A Mantle Consulting and senior forester with The Healy Company, says, “If you own a few hundred acres, you are doing a different kind of management than someone who owns a few thousand acres. You might live on the property. It is not as important to you to (harvest timber). You might be saving the logs in this forest to pass on to your family. That will be part of your strategy.”
There are some state resources to help with this stress.
“For small landowners, there are often financial incentives put together by different government groups that help landowners do smaller land management on their properties,” Mantle says. “They can take advantage of those programs to help make their forests healthy or do reforestation. Some have funding for fire prevention. Management consultants can help with those as well as local Douglas County extension foresters.”
These resources are often only helpful to some landowners who meet certain criteria for preventing fire. However, some the Oregon Wildfire Response clean-up is helping some Oregonians remove debris without paying and money up front.
In the end, the responsibility lies in the hands of landowners and public land managers to set the precedent for caring for Oregon’s forests and preventing wildfire. This requires understanding and communication centered around their common goal: preserving Oregon’s forests.
“We can talk about this all the time, but it takes actually implementing these plans and ideas to actually do something down the road,” Reed says. “Landowners and public land management agencies, I think we have a lot of the same goals and ideas and wants, but it is trying to get there all at the same time. Getting to a place that appeases everyone at times can be hard.”
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