While the Oregon Department of Forestry has a robust monitoring program in place, a need was identified in early 2006 to provide an independent, objective review of the implementation and effectiveness of the Northwest and Southwest Forest Management Plans. To this end, Strategic Resource Systems was commissioned to conduct a Second Party Assessment. This differs from an external audit in that the contractor has an invested interest in identifying potential weaknesses or oversights and provides recommendations to fix such inconsistencies. By comparison, a Third Party Assessment (equivalent to an external audit) identifies problems but does not make any recommendations regarding how to fix them.
To support the Oregon Board of Forestry in their ongoing oversight function of the Northwest and Southwest Forest Management Plans and the Oregon Department of Forestry in its continuing review and revision of its management and monitoring practices, the assessment was designed to:
provide an independent, objective review,
help the department find solutions to any problems identified in the review,
provide a baseline for future re-assessments or forest management, certifications, and
help the department develop its own implementation and performance monitoring systems based on its own existing initiatives.
Specifically, Strategic Resource Systems was commissioned to assess:
the clarity of the plans’ goals addressing a range of environmental, social, and economic issues,
the adequacy of the plans’ strategies and the department’s procedures for achieving the plan’s goals,
the department’s implementation of these strategies and procedures, and
whether any plan or implementation changes are warranted.
To focus on a tractable set of criteria, the 2006 assessment team used the Resource Management Goals in the respective forest management plans. These goals are of a scope and number comparable to the audit criteria embodied in forest certification standards, but are tailored specifically to the mission and conditions of the department's state forests. To provide an understanding of the Oregon Department of Forestry's forest management processes for achieving these goals, other provisions of the forest management plans (notably, their strategies) and other departmental plans and procedures were evaluated by the assessment team prior to their visit to Oregon to conduct the field assessment.
During the first full week in March, 2006, the team spent four days visiting the Forest Grove, Astoria, Tillamook, North Cascade, Western Lane, and West Oregon districts. An opening meeting was held in each district office to review the assessment process and to interview staff on their forest management procedures (and Southwest District staff was interviewed briefly by phone). After the opening meetings (and, at Forest Grove, a full team meeting with department staff at one field site), the assessment team split up to visit field sites with department staff who explained the management of each site. At each field site, management issues relevant to the resource management goals were reviewed with department land managers to determine how the site was being management to meet those goals.
The assessment team completed the field assessment by orally reviewing its findings in a two-hour meeting on Friday, March 10, 2006, with 34 departmental staff from both Salem and the field. This review provided staff with an early indication of the results of the assessment and resulted in further feedback on the assessment findings. The assessment report was presented to the Board of Forestry on April 27, 2006.
Among the findings, the study found that by using structure-based management, the Oregon Department of Forestry is moving the primarily “middle-aged” forests toward a mixture of habitats, including complex forest stands that are similar to old-growth.
In the area of recreation, according to the study, some off-highway vehicle use near streams is causing erosion and sedimentation problems. It suggested that the department seek “more cooperation with recreational users to construct and maintain facilities and control problematic users.”
The study said the access system to the forests is good and being improved, but a few roads still need major upgrades. Some roads and stream crossings are introducing sediment to streams, and the study warned that wet-weather log hauling could harm even good roads.
The study noted that by following its forest management plans, the Oregon Department of Forestry is doing a good job of protecting and diversifying fish and wildlife habitats. It said the habitat needs of northern spotted owls and marbled murrelets – two threatened species under the federal and state endangered species acts – are being addressed through surveys, habitat management, and protection, and by restricting activities.
In terms of timber, the study said the harvest levels appear to be sustainable. It did offer some suggestions for improving timber production.
Wildlife browsing on regeneration stands (replanted after clearcuts) should be more formally monitored, the report said, and more complete slash burning could reduce habitats for over-abundant rodents. It also suggested lower-density plantings that could reduce the need for precommercial (a non-timber sale activity) thinnings.
The study said better stand-level record-keeping would help to determine the effectiveness of past treatments, such as thinnings. It said additional marketing opportunities might exist for both smaller and large diameter wood.
“Stable and sustainable timber harvest levels and other management programs appear to be providing a mix of values and outputs desired by the citizens of the state,” the report stated. It also said that in addition to seeking objective information through a public opinion survey, the Oregon Department of Forestry could provide more opportunities for regular, direct, and local interaction with the public.
Forest Management Assessment Report for the Oregon Department of Forestry's Northwest and Southwest Forest Management Plans, conducted by Strategic Resource Systems, March 31, 2006 [PDF; 142 KB]