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Forest Land Protection Program
Forest Land Protection Program
Hardwood tree
For more than three decades, Oregon has maintained strong protections for forest land. Statewide Planning Goal 4 – Forest Lands – calls for forest land to be conserved primarily for commercial timber production but also other forest uses.
 
The main tool for carrying out that policy is the Statewide Planning Program. Oregon’s Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) sets standards for such planning. The cities and counties then apply them through local comprehensive plans and land use ordinances. Under this system, all counties in Oregon with forest land have adopted planning and zoning measures to protect that land. This summary answers some key questions about Oregon’s forest land and forest planning and zoning.
 
Forest Land Facts
 
How does Oregon’s Statewide Planning Program protect forest land?
The program calls for counties to:
  1. Inventory forest land
  2. Designate it in the comprehensive plan
  3. Adopt policies to protect it
  4. Zone it for forest use
 Oregon’s land use program places major emphasis on maintaining commercial forestry. Forest zoning limits development that could conflict with forestry practices. It keeps forest lands from being divided into parcels too small to manage effectively for timber, habitat, recreation, watershed protection, and other purposes. Lands in these zones may be eligible for forest tax assessment through the county.
 
Is forestry important to Oregon’s economy?
Yes! Despite the downturn in the timber industry, Oregon is still the nation’s #1 producer of lumber and the forest products sector is Oregon’s second largest employer. Forestry services and wood products manufacturing together generate about $13 billion annually in sales or about 11 percent of the state’s economic output. While a variety of factors, including global competition, enhanced protections for fish and wildlife, and the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan have led to a steep decline in timber harvest in recent decades, Oregon’s forests retain enormous value for timber and other services they provide. In addition to recreation, tourism, habitat, and other uses, there is great potential for the state’s extensive forest lands to be part of a carbon credit program in which landowners could benefit from the carbon sequestration their forest lands provide.
 
What is forest land?
In broad terms, it is rural land that is being used or can be used for forest uses. Goal 4 defines forest land in part based on soil productivity for commercial forest use, as measured by the U.S. Forest Service in cubic foot site classes, and in part as land that is suitable for other, non-commercial forest uses, such as watershed protection, wildlife and fisheries habitat and recreation.
 
How much forest land is there in Oregon?
About 28 million of Oregon’s 61 million-acre land base is forest land, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry. While other parts of the country have experienced extensive forest land loss to development, Oregon retains about 92 percent of the forest cover that was present in 1850, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.
 
What are forest ownership patterns in Oregon?
Almost 60 percent of forest land in Oregon is in federal ownership, while 20 percent is in industrial ownership, and 15 percent is held by small private landowners. The rest is in state, tribal, or other public ownership. The land held by small woodlot owners is in more than 150,000 ownerships. As federal lands have become less available for timber harvesting in recent decades, the harvest of timber from private ownerships has increased significantly.
 
What is the extent of forest zoning in Oregon?
Data from the counties show about 8.2 million acres of private land in forest zones and an additional 2.2 million acres in mixed farm-forest zones in the state. In recognition of the need to accommodate other land uses, each year a few hundred acres of forest and farm-forest zoned lands are either rezoned and made available for development in rural parts of the state or included within urban growth boundaries in urbanizing areas. In addition, both forest- and non-forest-related uses are permitted in forest and farm-forest zones, subject to standards set forth in ORS Chapter 215 and LCDC’s administrative rules on forest land – OAR 660, Division 6.
 
Does Oregon’s planning program allow new dwellings on forest land?
Yes. Oregon’s laws on forest zoning provide for several ways to approve new dwellings. The main options are forest “template” dwellings in areas of existing development and “lot of record” dwellings. DLCD’s farm and forest lands specialist or a county planner can provide more details regarding the approval criteria.
 
There are now six different ways for dwellings to be approved in forest zones:
  1. As a large tract forest dwelling
  2. On a “lot-of-record” owned before 1985
  3. As a “template” dwelling near other concentrations of dwellings
  4. Temporarily, during a medical hardship of a family member
  5. To replace an existing dwelling
  6. As a caretaker dwelling for a park or fish hatchery
What threats are there to forest land?
As timber harvests have declined over the last two decades, industrial forest ownerships are increasingly coming under pressure to be developed. The resulting fragmentation of the forest land base and introduction of dwellings into forest settings can create challenges and risks for the management of adjacent forest lands for both timber and other forest uses and values. Normal forest practices such as clear-cutting and aerial spraying can generate complaints from neighbors, and fencing, pets and ATVs can adversely impact habitat values. The presence of dwellings also increases the risk of fire danger both to forests as well as to other dwellings in the forest.
 
What about fire safety?
Since one of the negative aspects of residential development on forest land is the fire risk they pose, the Oregon Legislature adopted standards for fire safety along with revised dwelling approval criteria. LCDC later adopted administrative rules that further enhance fire safety requirements. These requirements address:
  • Road access design
  • Fuel-free buffers
  • Roofing materials
  • Chimney spark arresters
  • Public or contracted fire protection
  • Water availability
  • Maximum grade of the building site
 To obtain more information, check out the Firewise website.
 
What other uses are permitted in forest zones?
The Goal 4 administrative rules permit a wide range of uses. While some uses, such as forest operations and farm use, may be allowed outright by counties, other uses require a county finding that the proposed use will not have significant adverse impacts on nearby forest land. The most common non-forest and non-farm uses approved by counties include public facilities, telecommunication facilities and mineral and aggregate operations. Other permitted uses include utility facilities, minor forest-product processing, parks and campgrounds, hunting and fishing operations, reservoirs and other uses.