SOCAN Comments on the ODF Vision for Oregon’s Forests

 

Alan R.P. Journet Ph.D.
Cofacilitator
Southern Oregon Climate Action Now
alan@socan.eco
541-500-2331
June 2nd 2024

 

Oregon Board of Forestry

Oregon Department of Forestry

Reference: Vision for Oregon’s Forests

Chair Kelly and members of the Oregon Board of Forestry:

I write as cofacilitator of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now, an organization of some 2,000 Southern Oregonians who are concerned about the climate crisis and encourage state action to address it. As rural and coastal Southern Oregonians, we live on the frontlines of the warming, reducing snowpack, heatwaves, drought and the increasing wildfire risk that these trends conspire to produce. Because of this, we pay close attention to what is happening in state agencies that relates to climate and wildfire.

We are particularly interested in the incredibly important role that Oregon’s forests can play in terms of contributing to the state’s natural climate solutions by sequestering carbon. It is within this context that the Vision for Oregon’s Forests was reviewed.

I was delighted to see the statement (P. 1): “Forests are an integral part of the social economic and environmental fabric of our state…” included in the purpose. It would have been better, however, if this had been followed by recognition of ‘stabilizing our climate’ as one of the listed benefits since doing so would indicate that the authors acknowledge this as a priority. Indeed, this should probably be the first item listed since without a stable climate, “Clean air and water, sustainable forest products, biodiversity, public health and safety’ will all be severely compromised. Given that reality, stabilizing climate should be the highest priority.

It is also encouraging to see (P. 1) that “Policies will be responsive and adaptable to global and local climate change while mitigating threats to ecosystems, human health and safety, and economies.” However, this should be stated as occurring within the recognition that ‘climate smart’ management will be employed (see below for further comment on this concdern).

On face value, it is encouraging to identify (P.3) a shared vision of “Complex and resilient forest ecosystems that endure and adapt.” Regrettably, however, the climate envelope studies and projections of Rehfeldt and Crookston, as depicted on the Plant Species and Climate Profile Predictions website suggest the consequences of continuing our business-as-usual behavior of accelerating fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions. These projections indicate that unless we globally divert the current climate trend, this will likely reduce the range of many ecologically and commercially important Oregon forest species and eliminate some from the state. Without elevating the role of our forests in combating climate change, our ability to maintain complex and resilient forest ecosystems seems like a challenge.

In terms of the strategies proposed (P.6) I was delighted to see “…extended rotations and increased retention of large legacy structures (live green trees, snags, and downed wood) during harvest activities.” This delight applies also, and critically, to “Encourage the development of complex, functional forests that sequester and store carbon.”

In terms of the “Priority: Addressing the Wildfire Crisis” (P. 10), it is somewhat disappointing to see the Goal as: “Prevent, suppress and mitigate wildfire to protect communities and expedite forest restoration activities that promote the adaptive capacity of Oregon’s forests.” As the subsequent narrative implicitly acknowledges, we live in a Mediterranean climate where the millennia of winter wet / summer dry seasonal cycles have generated forest communities that are fire prone, fire adapted and fire dependent. Instead of repeating the 20th Century refrain indicated in this goal of trying to prevent, suppress and mitigate wildfires, I would prefer to see a goal that focuses on ‘managing’ fire in our forests and promoting a regime that includes fire. The evidence suggests that the decades of fire suppression combined with climate transitions resulting from the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and global warming have contributed to the problem of increasing fire risk. I suggest that it would behoove ODF to acknowledge more explicitly the consequences of our Mediterranean climate and the need for managing fire to serve both forest and human community health rather than focusing on fire prevention and suppression. The subsequent list of strategies that include ‘prescribed fire’ suggests that ODF understands the need for fire in our forests though there seems to be little recognition that we should manage wildfire rather than merely and consistently prevent and suppress fire and then compensate by imposing prescribed fire often in seasons when historically it has been less prevalent.

It is gratifying to see that Climate Smart forestry is incorporated into the planning (P. 12).  However, it is a little disturbing that the basic literature on climate smart natural resource management is not included. Instead, ODF seems to have adopted its own definition of what comprises ‘climate smart’ management. Since there is a tendency for natural resource managers to claim that since they manage natural resources and they accept climate science, what they are doing must be climate smart. It would generate greater confidence if the literature listed below were referenced.

In this vein, I note that one of the basic tenets of climate smart management is recognition that future climate will be unlike past climates. Thus, seeking restoration to some prior species composition is not rational.

While I see reference to the need for public education, I would like to recommend that this be accorded greater emphasis. One of the greatest problems we have in discussing climate change and wildfire with the public is that there exists tremendous ignorance about the importance of fire in our forests and why our forests are fire adapted and fire dependent. This is compounded by a similar level of ignorance regarding climate change and how that is currently affecting fire risk and how ongoing climate change will only exacerbate the fire risk problem. The roll out of wildfire risk maps a year or so ago is a perfect example of how that level of public ignorance can lead to anger and rejection of rational proposals and arguments.

Respectfully Submitted

Alan Journet

7113 Griffin Lane
Jacksonville
OR 97530-9342

 

Suggested Examples of Climate Smart Literature:

Glick, P., B.A. Stein, and K.R. Hall. 2021. Toward a Shared Understanding of Climate-Smart Restoration on America’s National Forests: A Science Review and Synthesis. Washington, DC: National Wildlife Federation.  A 2021 update of the seminal Stein et al 2014 discussion

Schuurman, G. W., C. Hawkins Hoffman, D. N. Cole, D. J. Lawrence, J. M. Morton, D. R. Magness, A. E. Cravens, S. Covington, R. O’Malley, and N. A. Fisichelli. 2020. Resist-accept-direct (RAD)—a framework for the 21st-century natural resource manager. Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/CCRP/NRR—2020/ 2213. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Stein, B.A., P. Glick, N. Edelson, and A. Staudt (eds.) (2014). Climate-Smart Conservation: Putting Adaptation Principles into Practice. National Wildlife Federation, Washington, D.C.  One of the seminal papers that kick-started climate smart thinking.

Swanston, Christopher W.; Janowiak, Maria K.; Brandt, Leslie A.; Butler, Patricia R.; Handler, Stephen D.; Shannon, P. Danielle; Derby Lewis, Abigail; Hall, Kimberly; Fahey, Robert T.; Scott, Lydia; Kerber, Angela; Miesbauer, Jason W.; Darling, Lindsay; Parker, Linda; St. Pierre, Matt. 2016. Forest Adaptation Resources: climate change tools and approaches for land managers, 2nd ed. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-GTR-87-2. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. 161 p.

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