Survey documents improved knowledge among public
By MITCH LIES
With the number of housing starts one-fourth what they were five years ago and softwood lumber production lagging, it may not seem an appropriate time for the Oregon Forest Resources Institute to celebrate.
But institute executives are seeing encouraging changes in the public perception of forest management. And while its funding is only 60 percent of what it once was, the institute is celebrating its 20th anniversary with optimism.
The institute, which educates the public about forest management, unveiled several encouraging details in its recently released 2010-11 annual report. It shows an improvement in forest-management knowledge among the public.
* Research shows that 77 percent of Oregonians now are aware that state law requires private foresters to replant after timber harvest.
* Seventy-eight percent are aware that state law requires foresters protect fish and wildlife during harvest.
* Sixty-eight percent prefer wood as a building choice, an 11 percent increase over 2010 polling data.
"More and more people are seeing that it is OK, that they would prefer to use wood products over concrete and steel, because it is an environmentally preferred product," said Paul Barnum, executive director of OFRI.
OFRI, funded by a forest products harvest tax of 89 cents per 1,000 board-feet, was created in 1991 by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Barbara Roberts.
The institute is a quasi-state agency that receives no general fund tax dollars. It is overseen by a 13-member board of directors, with 11 appointed by the director of the Oregon Department of Forestry.
"As far as we know, there is not another agency like OFRI in the United States charged with educating the public about forest management practices," Barnum said.
Barnum, who worked in public relations for Weyerhaeuser for many years, took over as executive director of OFRI in 2008.
The organization works closely with the Oregon Department of Forestry in developing information and disseminating it to landowners, community leaders and the public, said Dan Postrel, a communications officer for the department.
Postrel said Barnum is continuing to deliver on its mission, despite a dramatic drop in lumber production during the last few years that has resulted in a steady decline in the institute's funding. The institute's funding has declined from a peak of just over $4 million in the mid-2000s to $2.4 million last year.
The institute last year reached more than 150,000 students through forestry education programs. It reached more than 2,400 of Oregon's 62,500 family forest land owners through OFRI-sponsored training sessions. And the institute made more than 44 million impressions through television, Internet ads, radio sponsorship, billboards and field signs at Portland Timbers professional soccer matches.
The Timbers, founded in 2009, played its first Major League Soccer game in March of this year.
"To me, one of the more exciting things this past year has been our Portland Timbers sponsorship," Barnum said. "When we saw all of those billboards go up in the Portland area of people carrying chain saws, cross-cut saws and double-bladed axes, it occurred to me, what is not to like about this relationship?
"Their mascot is a logger, for heaven's sake," Barnum said. "And when the Timbers score a goal, he rips out his chain saw and carves a wood cookie about 2 inches think, and then he holds it over his head and parades it around the stadium."
OFRI advertises extensively at Jeld-Wen Field, home of the Timbers, runs ads on Timber vision and advertises on the team's concourse.
"What that does is it demonstrates to Portlanders -- and it is primarily a young audience (which OFRI is trying to reach) -- that we share their values with regard to the Portland timbers and forest management," Barnum said.
For the future, Barnum identified lax federal forest management as one issue the institute would like addressed.
"There is very little harvest now coming off our federal forests, which are 60 percent of Oregon's forests," Barnum said. "That has led to conditions where forests are insect ravaged and in very poor health."
By increasing harvest of federal forests, the U.S. Forest Service could help boost rural economies, improve forest health and reduce the chances of fire spreading from federal forests to adjacent private forestland, Barnum said.
"We have heard from private landowners who say abutting the federal forests is like living next to an absentee landlord," Barnum said. "You're taking care of your lands, but your neighbor, which happens to be the (U.S.) Forest Service, is not able to take care of its lands."
A second issue of concern involves a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that could change rules regulating forest water quality. Under the ruling, forest water runoff is regulated as a point-source pollution, requiring landowners to obtain National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits.
"That would be a very expensive proposition for an industry that is already quite beleaguered, and it is probably unnecessary, given the state of the forest practices laws, not only in Oregon, but in other states," Barnum said.
EPA in the past classified runoff from silviculture activities as nonpoint source.
Oregon Forest Resources Institute: www.oregonforests.org