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Family forest owners take good care of land

My View • Article gave wrong impression; private forests are doing fine
by: Jeffrey Basinger, Tree farmer Tony Morrow, the subject of a recent Tribune story, walks up a steep hill on his Clatskanie property, where he’s trying to restore land ravaged by past clearcutting and invasive species.

Last month's Sustainable Life story, 'Tree farmers encounter new eco-challenges' (Oct. 14), could leave the reader wondering, 'Why be a family forestland owner?' The story gloomily recounts that harvested lands sometimes aren't replanted; that the timber sometimes is harvested and the land sold for development.

Fortunately, this isn't the norm in Oregon. And it won't be the case in the future for many good reasons. Our state's systems of land conservation and forestry regulation still work quite well despite a struggling economy. Oregon's land-use laws are intact, and for decades have conserved forestlands for the values Oregonians hold most dear: clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, wood products and perhaps the most important reason - just because they are there.

The story implies that the Forest Practices Act administered by the Oregon Department of Forestry is unenforced. It would have the reader believe that lacking adequate oversight by the Oregon Department of Forestry, landowners won't replant trees after harvest and will stop caring for their lands.

Those conclusions are unfounded when you consider that Oregon's small and large woodland owners are among those most concerned about the dwindling numbers of the Oregon Department of Forestry's stewardship foresters.

Especially for small woodland owners, the stewardship forester is often the first and last stop whenever a private landowner wants to do something on his or her land. Detailed plans are developed, filed and reviewed. Stewardship foresters advise landowners on where to find qualified service providers and sources for seedling trees.

The relationship between the private forest landowner and the stewardship forester provides landowners assurance that they are operating lawfully as they harvest or thin their trees, perform road maintenance, apply pesticides and do the dozens of other things they must do to keep their forestland healthy and productive.

Despite state budget cuts, the sky is not falling on Oregon's private forests for at least three reasons:

• First, compliance with the Oregon Forest Practices Act and its requirement for reforestation after harvest is very high. The law is the law. Foresters trained in best management practices are not suddenly going to abandon them just because ODF's oversight function has been pared back.

• Secondly, the story ignores the self-interest that all forest landowners have in keeping their lands planted and growing trees. Sound management is a strongly held ethic throughout Oregon, one that permeates both the agricultural (farms) and silvicultural (forests) communities.

• And lastly, many private forests are certified to third-party standards of sustainability, such as the American Tree Farm System, which require replanting and other high standards as a condition of certification.

Western Oregon is one of the best places in the world to buy forestland and grow trees. Our mild climate, deep soils and abundant rainfall make tree growing a good investment. However, landowners can't just put in some Douglas firs 'green-side-up,' stand back and expect to reap the benefits in a few years. Forests plantations take careful management.

The same factors that allow conifers such as Douglas fir, hemlock and spruce to grow well also foster brush, weeds and hardwood trees such as big leaf maple (a native species, not an invasive as stated in the article). Successful family forest landowners have learned how to control competing vegetation and animals that feed on seedlings until the forest is established. In fact, the Oregon Forest Practices Rules require that trees not only be planted within two years of timber harvest, but that enough planted and volunteer trees be 'free to grow' at age 6 to form a healthy new forest.

Forest landowners have access to other resources, too. The Oregon Tree Farm System, the Oregon Small Woodlands Association, the Association of Consulting Foresters, the Oregon Forest Resources Institute and Oregon State University Forestry Extension programs, such as the Master Woodland Managers and the Women Owning Woodlands Network, are among the many professional resources that help families manage their forests for health and sustainability.

An amenity that many Portlanders may take for granted is the lush green forest that encircles the metro area. That forest is mostly privately owned family forestland. More than 70,000 Oregon families own forestland of between 10 acres and 5,000 acres throughout the state. Often over multiple generations, those families have provided a long and strong tradition of caring for forests. To some, the forests are a solace and retreat, but many families also want to have a sustainable economic relationship with their forests and so treat them as working forests.

Now that the election is over, it's time Oregonians cast their votes for Oregon's forests by making sure that there are sufficient resources and infrastructure at all levels - private as well as county and state government - to help family forest landowners manage their lands as forests in perpetuity.

Mike Cloughesy is Director of Forestry at the Oregon Forest Resources Institute. He lives in Newberg.