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Background on Strategy C
Maintain and enhance the productive capacity of Oregon's forests to improve the economic well-being of Oregon's communities.

Why is it important to maintain and enhance the productive capacity of Oregon's forests for economic purposes?
 
The economic productivity of Oregon's forests contributes to a diversified Oregon economy that can better weather downturns in the national economy. Economic productivity of forestlands provides incentives to maintain the forestland base, which in turn provides a host of values other than economic ones. Most of the economic activity generated by Oregon's forests occurs in rural areas, where it is most needed. This economic activity is vital to rural communities, which are an essential component in the richness of Oregon's character.
 
Maintaining the productive capacity of Oregon's forests means maintaining the amount of forestland and making sure harvest rates for timber and non-wood products do not exceed growth rates. Maintaining and enhancing the timber economy and developing the economic potential for non-wood forest products and recreation could diversify Oregon's economy and add to the growth contributed by Oregon's high-technology and other sectors. It could also encourage forest landowners to invest in management practices that ensure a large and sustainable stream of forest products and other forest values from their lands. Such investments help them both to become competitive in global markets and to maintain their land in forest uses.
 
What do we know about the productive capacity of forests?
To maintain the productive capacity of our forests, we must know how much forestland exists, the management practices of public and private landowners, and how fast timber and non-wood resources are growing and being harvested. We also need to know the economic and social dynamics behind shifts of forestland into and out of forest use. We need to be able to identify and quantify the influences of natural and human-caused disturbances, forest management activities, and other land uses on the productive capacity of Oregon's forests.
In the past, we have not had adequate information to measure how well the productive capacity of our forests was being maintained. However, recent inventory and assessment work has provided information about land-use change, land available for timber production, merchantable and non-merchantable growing stock available for timber production, the sustainable level of wood products removal, and whether forests are being restocked with site-appropriate tree species. We do not have comprehensive information about the availability and sustainable removal of non-wood forest products.
 
Are we maintaining the size and productivity of the forestland base?
Since 1990, relatively little forestland in Oregon has been converted to non-forest uses. Because of their remote locations and the laws and policies affecting them, Oregon's federal forestlands-about 57 percent of the state's total -are not threatened with development. However, potential conversion of private lands that make up 38 percent of Oregon's forest land base has been an enduring policy concern. Forestland developed for other uses will produce less timber, fish and wildlife habitat, and other traditional forest values on a sustainable basis. The Oregon legislature passed the Land Conservation and Development Act in 1973 to limit the loss of the most productive of these lands.
 
Despite rapid economic and population growth since then, conversion of forest lands to other uses has declined dramatically (Figure 7). Overall, a large majority of western Oregon's private forestland zoned for forest uses is free of the effects of population or development. However, in some areas development is occurring within forested lands (Figure 8). With Oregon's population expected to grow by a million people over the next 20 years, we will need to ensure that future development of forestland is carefully managed.
 
Are statewide timber growth and harvest in balance?
In general, the timber growth rate exceeds the harvest rate in Oregon, but there are exceptions with some owners and in some geographic areas. Since 1990, timber harvest levels have dropped in Oregon, primarily due to reductions in harvests from federal lands, and the statewide total is less than half of historic levels. The 2001 timber harvest in Oregon was 3.44 billion board feet, far below the state's maximum potential to produce wood on forestlands not congressionally withdrawn for other uses, and it is below estimates of a sustainable harvest level under current laws and forest policies (Figure 9).
 
By any measure, harvest levels over the last decade have been at or below sustainable levels except on certain industrial ownerships in eastern Oregon. According to a forthcoming study on harvest potential of private timberlands in eastern Oregon, "Past harvests [on these eastern Oregon lands] have steadily reduced the industrial inventory base, shifting the concentrations of both numbers of trees and volume into the smaller diameter classes. The result has been lower aggregate growth and reduced long-term harvest potential." The study projects that industrial harvest potential in eastern Oregon will fall by as much as 50 percent over the next 50 years.14 In western Oregon and other forestlands in eastern Oregon, growth rates continue to exceed harvest rates.
 
Although harvest levels have been sustainable statewide, average final harvest age has dropped to 50 years or less in western Oregon, and in eastern Oregon the average diameter of harvested trees is decreasing. Conifers normally put on growth rapidly until they are well past 60 years old, but global forces in wood and financial markets are driving landowners to harvest before trees' growth rate has peaked. The higher returns from alternative investments and the lack of financial incentives for harvesting larger trees is resulting in lower harvest ages. If private forestland owners waited a few more years to harvest their trees, they would get a better yield in the long run. Longer rotations would mean fewer entries into forests for commercial harvesting, which might increase some other forest values, while decreasing others. Short rotations with high average growth rates are sometimes possible and desirable, but they require highly intensive forest management.
 
In general, Oregon's forests are adequately stocked. Under the Oregon Forest Practices Act, forestland retained in forest use must be reforested promptly and successfully after timber harvesting. Compliance with the reforestation requirement is very high. Stocking with inappropriate tree species may be a problem in some areas as a result of planting practices in the past, before much was known about matching species with sites. In addition, exclusion of fire in some forests has favored natural regeneration of species that are less well suited to the site than those favored under natural fire regimes (see Strategy F).
 
Is the harvest of nontimber forest products sustainable?
Non-wood forest products such as wild edible mushrooms, floral greens, Christmas greens, ornamentals, and medicinal plants play an important role in the lives and livelihoods of many Oregonians. In spite of the importance of these products to individuals and local economies, we are only beginning to gather information statewide about the availability, growth, removal, and sustainability of nontimber forest products in Oregon.
 
What are the key interactions of this strategy with other strategies?
Maintaining and enhancing the productive capacity of Oregon's forests will directly affect the success of other forest policies. Here are some examples of these interactions:
  • Avoiding losses of forestland and managing human population pressures on remaining forestland can help to minimize the fragmentation of wildlife habitat.
  • Maintaining sustainable levels of timber and other commodity outputs in Oregon could decrease commodity production pressures elsewhere in the world, where there may be comparatively more serious environmental impacts.
  • Forest health problems, catastrophic fire, non-native pests, and pollution impair the productive capacity of forest ecosystems and lower sustainable resource outputs.
  • Livestock grazing combined with timber management may be essential for keeping less productive private forestlands economically viable.
  • Unless private landowners can derive value from managing forestlands, they may convert their lands to a non-forest use.
  • Conversion of forestland to other land uses reduces the amount of forested watersheds; soil and water resources are usually more difficult to protect on lands in non-forest uses.
  • The productive capacity of forests affects how much carbon dioxide can be removed from the atmosphere and stored in forest vegetation.
What are potential indicators to measure progress toward accomplishing this Strategy?
1. Area of forestland available for timber production
 
2. Growing stock of both merchantable and non-merchantable timber
 
3. Annual removal of wood products compared to the volume determined to be sustainable
 
4. Annual removal of nontimber forest products compared to the level determined to be sustainable