What's happening in the forest sector?

40 million seedlings? Are they all Doug-fir?

If you’ve been watching much TV or spending time on social media during your stay-at-home, social-distancing time, you may have had the pleasure of seeing one or more of OFRI’s educational ads. We’ve been focusing on reforestation after timber harvest, and frequently tout the fact that every year Oregon forest landowners plant 40 million seedlings. Many people believe this fact at face value, but some have questions.

The two most common questions are:

•    How is it possible to plant 40 million trees every year? 
•    Are they all Douglas-fir, like you show in the ads?

To answer the first question, 40 million seedlings may seem like a lot, but a good tree planter plants 1,000 to 1,200 seedlings per day. Planting season is generally from Dec. 1 to March 31, which is about 88 work days. If each tree planter plants 1,000 trees per day for 88 days, that’s 88,000 trees per tree planter per year. It would thus take 455 tree planters about 88 days to plant 40 million trees. That seems pretty doable – but it isn’t easy work. Most of the work of tree planting takes place in cold and rainy weather, on steep and rugged terrain. My hat goes off to the tree planters who put each seedling in the ground by hand. 

To answer the second question, not all of the 40 million trees planted in Oregon’s forests each year are Douglas-fir. Doug-fir is the most common tree planted in Oregon, however. That’s because as a native tree species it is well adapted to most of the sites where planting is done. Another reason is that most planting is done after logging on private lands. Oregon’s forest protection laws require private landowners to replant trees after harvesting timber. Most timber harvest involves logging Douglas-fir trees, which often end up at mills that use them to make lumber or plywood. A primary tenet of Oregon’s law requiring reforestation is to replant the same species that were removed in most cases, unless there’s a good reason not to.

Some situations where Douglas-fir is not the best species to plant are in areas that have diseases such as laminated root rot or Swiss needle cast. Both these diseases are common in western Oregon, and both either primarily or exclusively attack Douglas-fir. On the north Oregon coast, where Swiss needle cast is most common and can severely limit Douglas-fir growth, reforestation typically involves planting western hemlock, Sitka spruce and western redcedar. In the Coast Range and the Cascades, the most common root disease is laminated root rot. This disease kills all the Douglas-fir trees in pockets that are a quarter-acre or larger. Reforestation of laminated root rot pockets generally involves planting western redcedar, which is resistant to the disease, or red alder, which is immune.

Even where Douglas-fir is the preferred species to plant, many forest landowners enjoy having a mix of species in their forests and often mix in other conifers. A mixed-species stand of trees may be more resistant to diseases and insects, which usually favor one species over another. Forests with a mix of tree species may also attract a larger variety of wildlife. Western redcedar is commonly planted along streams and even in the understory of thinned Douglas-fir stands. Folks who are trying to develop multi-story stands usually plant shade-tolerant conifers such as western hemlock, grand fir and western redcedar beneath an overstory of Douglas-fir. That’s because Doug-fir is not shade-tolerant and doesn’t do well as an understory tree.

In addition to the sites in western Oregon where Douglas-fir is the predominant species, there’s also some timber harvest – and thus, tree planting – in southwestern Oregon. The forests in southwestern Oregon are fairly complex and often have a mix of four or five species of conifer, including ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, incense cedar, western white pine, Jeffrey pine and white fir. These forests are generally planted with a mix of species after logging. In recent years, drought has led to poor survival of some species, and ponderosa pine and incense cedar have been favored over Douglas-fir and white fir.

East of the Cascades, many of the forests are primarily ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine or a mix of conifers. These forests are often selectively logged, and no tree planting is usually required. In fact, many of these forests have too many trees. Tree planting on Oregon’s east side is primarily done after wildfire if most of the trees in an area are killed. In those cases, a mix of species is planted that mirrors the mix present before the fire.

Finally, as every reforestation forester will tell you, just because you only plant one species doesn’t mean you’ll only have one species in your new forest. Shade-tolerant species such as grand fir, western hemlock and western redcedar commonly seed in naturally after logging, and become part of the next forest regardless of what species is planted. Hardwood trees and shrubs not only seed into freshly logged areas, but also sprout from the roots or stumps of parent plants. The forester’s next job after planting and getting trees to survive to be teenagers is often to thin the stand to reduce overcrowding. Thinning is a great opportunity to balance the species mix of a forest.

So, to end where I started:
•    YES – 40 million trees are planted in Oregon forests every year. 
•    NO – they are not all Douglas-fir.

For the forest,

Mike Cloughesy
Director of Forestry


A healthy forest is no accident

Forest health is a human construct and it can best be promoted by human actions. A forest is healthy or unhealthy because we define it as such. On its own, a forest has no concept of health.

This was the premise of my closing remarks at the end of the first day of Oregon State University’s “Forest Health in Oregon: State of the State 2020” conference, held Feb. 26-27 on the university’s campus in Corvallis. Here is a summary of what I said:

The drivers of forest health in my human construct are forest condition, forest disturbance, ecological reaction and human reaction. I will discuss each of the drivers in turn:

Forest condition

Federal forests encompass about 60% of Oregon’s forests, or nearly 18 million acres. The Nature Conservancy estimates that over 5.6 million acres of these forests have been identified as fire-adapted forests in need of restoration. These forests are generally overstocked and ready to burn. U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis data show that federal forests account for 1.5 billion cubic feet of growth per year. This is over 50% of the total forest growth in Oregon of 2.8 billion cubic feet. Of this federal forest growth, 8% is harvested, 36% is counted as mortality and 56% is net change or additional volume on these already overcrowded federal forests. These overcrowded forests are fire-prone and prone to infestations from insects such as bark beetles. These forests are also very sensitive to drought and climate change.

Forest disturbance

Forest disturbance can be human-caused, such as logging, thinning and prescribed burning, or natural, such as wind storms and lightning-caused wildfires. Human-caused disturbances–unless it’s an accidental human-caused wildfire–can often be designed to achieve certain outcomes such as fire fuels reduction, increased fire-resiliency and managed smoke. Natural disturbances are much less objective-oriented, often leading to stand replacement fires and unwanted smoke.

Ecological reaction

“Ecological reaction” is the functional response of the ecosystem parts and process to the disturbance. A good example is the Biscuit and Chetco Bar fires, which burned in southwest Oregon with similar footprints in 2002 and 2013. These lightning-caused fires burned in overstocked forests at the dry time of the year. They appeared to be catastrophic from a human perspective. However, from an ecological perspective, they were moderate- and mixed-severity fires that reset the successional cycle and started a new forest with a clean slate.

Human reaction

To most people, a healthy forest is one with mostly live trees and low risk of fire. Wildfire is seen as destructive. The media often uses the word “catastrophic” when talking of wildfire. Smoke intrusion into Oregon cities is a major health issue. Human-driven forest disturbance is also often seen in a negative light. Logging and burning are perceived as bad. However with education and collaboration, people can understand that human-caused disturbance can lead to a healthy forest and can achieve social objectives.

So, back to my premise:

Forest health is a human construct. Benefits from the forest, including clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat and forest products, may be produced to a greater degree in forests with fewer diseases, damaging insects, invasive species and wildfire. Human needs are better met in such a forest, and so we deem these “healthy forests.”

Forest management by humans can improve the health of the forest. Thinning, prescribed burning and invasive species control can all promote healthier forests. Human support for active forest management can be driven by its perception as promoting forest health.

Or, in the words of an old bumper sticker I have on my bulletin board, “A healthy forest is no accident.”

Now that you have read my closing remarks, you might be interested in some of the topics that were covered at the recent forest health conference. The conference presentations are available as downloadable PDFs here. A great summary of the topics covered during the conference was recently published by the Forest Service and the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF). The publication is called Forest Health Highlights in Oregon – 2019. Download a copy here. More forest health resources are also available at the ODF forest health page.

For the forest,

Mike Cloughesy
Director of Forestry

New K-12 video highlights Oregon’s “Forest Team”

I’m excited to share our newest OFRI video, Forest Team GO! It was developed for fourth- through sixth-grade students, to show them the range of careers in the forest sector and how these professionals work together to manage our forests.

The video explains the sustainable cycle of forestry while introducing students to the Forest Team, including:

-    tree growers (botanists and seedling managers), who oversee the germination of seeds in nurseries
-    tree planters (reforestation workers), who plant seedlings by hand all over Oregon
-    foresters, who ensure trees grow healthy and fast
-    forest scientists (wildlife and fish biologists, hydrologists), who ensure fish and wildlife habitat is protected and who monitor water quality to provide clean drinking water
-    forest engineers, the team that takes information from the foresters and scientists and uses it to help design roads, bridges and river crossings so they can handle the trucks and equipment needed to cut the trees 
-    loggers, the people who harvest the trees and load them as carefully as possible so the ground isn’t damaged

You may recognize the star of this video, Lauren Grand, an Oregon State University Extension forester serving Lane County. Lauren’s passion for forestry shines through in this video, and we’re grateful for her participation. Because the audience for this video is students in fourth through sixth grades, we also relied on Lauren to add some “fun” to the production. She was up for the challenge, and in addition to running, jumping and rolling in and out of scenes, Lauren allowed us to use special effects to underscore some key points. 

I also want to thank Norie Dimeo-Ediger, OFRI’s director of K-12 education programs, and Jordan Benner, OFRI’s senior manager of public outreach, for their work in the production of Forest Team GO! With Norie’s expertise in the K-12 audience and Jordan’s creative expertise, they make a great team!

We’ve already started to share Forest Team GO! with OFRI’s K-12 education partners such as Talk About Trees, Starker Forests and Port Blakely, and they’re excited to start showing the video to students who attend their forest education programs. The video will also be shown at events including the Oregon Logging Conference in Eugene. 

It’s great to have a new and engaging piece of content to share the story of Oregon’s cycle of sustainable forestry – and the team of men and women who make it possible.

For the forest,

Erin Isselmann
Executive Director

Tree planting in Oregon’s forests isn’t a walk in the park

OFRI begins its 2020 educational advertising campaign this week with a handful of new television and video spots. Over the years, OFRI has made it a priority to educate Oregonians on the importance of reforestation after timber harvest. So we thought, “Let’s go film a real planting crew putting the next generation of trees in the ground.” And we did just that.

Our film crew met the planting team one beautiful morning in August up on the coast range to plant a few hundred seedlings. When you see the spots, the lighting is perfect. The weather is perfect. The crew is climbing a gentle hillside and we see them from multiple angles. It looks like a great day to plant trees.

Honestly, it wasn’t. It was the middle of August. It was hot and sunny. Anyone who has ever tried to establish new seedlings knows that most of those seedlings are goners. But we filmed in August because long days make it easier to organize a video shoot, and a real tree planting crew is just too busy during planting season to plant a single acre over and over for just the right camera angle.

In reality, tree planting in Oregon’s forests doesn’t take place during a beautiful August morning. It takes place in the dreary gloom of February to take advantage of seedling dormancy and the cool, wet weather conditions that promote good root development.

Previously, I had gone out with another planting crew during the early spring tree planting season in very different conditions. By different, I mean nasty. It was cold. It was rainy. They were planting on ground that was making them work for every foothold they could get. I went out to take photos and video of this crew in action. 

It was hard work – and all I had to do was carry a camera and try to keep up. Yet, even though they each carried two weighty sacks full of trees as they climbed up slope after slope, the tree planters were moving fast and leaving me behind. I kept up as best I could and took photos and video when I could. Along the way, I stumbled a bunch, fell down a couple of times and had to take a breather more times that I’d like to admit.

The experience certainly gave me admiration for tree planting crews. At OFRI, we help Oregonians understand that 40 million trees are planted every year. They probably aren’t aware that all those trees are planted in the worst weather, over the toughest terrain and by hand – every single one of them. 

Following a tree planting crew for a day was a cool trip, literally. And one that my knees and hips will remember for a very, very long time.

Jordan Benner
Senior Public Outreach Manager

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