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Forestland Protection

A forest in Gordon Creek with felled timber amid the trees. Oregon has established strong protections to ensure its forest resources remain available for timber harvest, wildlife habitat, and recreation. Statewide Planning Goal 4 and rules adopted by the Land Conservation and Development Commission promote growing and harvesting trees as the primary use of forestland. The goal and rules limit uses that are not compatible with forest practices. Plans and ordinances adopted by local governments must incorporate forest protection standards in state rules.

Frequently Asked Questions about forestland in Oregon

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Forestland includes land that is suitable for commercial forest uses. Suitability is often determined based on potential for production of tree species, expressed in cubic feet per acre per year. Other lands that include fish and wildlife habitat or promote soil and water quality may also be forestland.

Forests occupy more than 29 million acres in Oregon, a little less than half the state.

The federal government owns 60 percent of the forestland in Oregon. Private companies and persons hold about 34 percent, followed by the State of Oregon with 3 percent and Native American tribes with about 2 percent.

Oregon continues to lead the nation in production of softwood lumber and plywood. More than 61,000 forest jobs are located in Oregon. The forest sector is a major employer in many rural areas.

Oregon is a leader in developing engineered wood products such as cross-laminated timber. Engineered wood products are increasingly used as the primary material in tall buildings and are transforming architecture.

The state's mills and processing plants shipped $10.8 billion in wholesale wood and pa​per goods from 174 sites in 2016, accounting for $2.2 billion in compensation out of an estimated industry payroll of more than $3 billion. The industry accounted for over 4 percent of the state's gross domestic product of nearly $236 billion in 2017.

Oregon's forests attract tourists from around the world. Visitors contribute to local economies while enjoying recreational activities in pristine forest environments. Oregon's forests also provide significant carbon storage which can provide a stream of income to property owners through carbon markets.

The program calls for counties to:

  1. Inventory forestland;
  2. Show these lands in their comprehensive plans;
  3. Adopt policies to preserve and protect it;
  4. Zone it for forest uses.

Forest zoning limits development that could conflict with forest practices. The zoning keeps forest parcels from being divided into lots too small to manage effectively for timber, wildlife, recreation, or watershed protection. State law allows counties to grant tax breaks under certain conditions to encourage continued forest use.

Counties apply forest zoning to forestlands protected under Statewide Planning Goal 4. Forest zoning is based on local comprehensive plans, which are adopted in accordance with state requirements.

Forest zoning seeks to retain forestland for commercial forest operations and natural functions such as wildlife habitat. This is accomplished by establishing large minimum lot sizes, which are typically 80 acres. That is, a parcel smaller than 160 acres generally cannot be divided into smaller units. Large lot sizes help prevent the division of forestlands into smaller parcels which cannot sustain commercial forest activities.

Forest zoning also helps prevent the establishment of uses that are incompatible with forest operations. Forest practices such as harvesting, spraying pesticides, and burning are critical for tree stock. Widespread development of residences and other non-forestry uses may result in increased complaints about forest practices. Forest zoning helps ensure that commercial forest activities can continue to operate and expand by limiting the types and intensity of uses allowed.

Some uses that are not related to forestry can be developed in a forest zone such as campgrounds, hunting and fishing accommodations, and fire stations. It is necessary to evaluate whether these uses will significantly change or increase the cost of forest practices. Also any increase in the threat of fire hazard, fire suppression costs, or the wellbeing of firefighters needs to be considered.

Oregon law spells out the standards and processes to approve development in forest zones (ORS 215 and OAR Chapter 660, Division 6).

There are five options for establishing a dwelling in a forest zone:

  1. Large tract dwelling. If the owner has at least 160 contiguous acres west of the Cascades or 240 contiguous acres east of the Cascades.
  2. "Lot of record" dwelling. For land that has been in the same ownership since 1985.
  3. "Template" dwelling. A dwelling may be allowed if it is surrounded by a prescribed number of existing dwellings and parcels that were established before 1993.
  4. Temporary dwelling for a family member with a medical hardship.
  5. Replacement of a dwelling that currently exists.

New dwellings in a forest zone have also been authorized as a result of Ballot Measures 37 and 49.

Forest fires are a concern for forest property owners and private property development adjacent to forests. Emergency response and firefighting efforts differ according to the location and community impacts of the fire. When forest fires threaten homes, the firefighters' priority is to protect the homes and the lives of the occupants. This focuses fire response efforts on development, sometimes at the expense of productive forestland and wildlife habitat. In reaction to increased firefighting costs, increased fire risk as a result of drought, and more buildings being permitted on forestland, lawmakers passed fire safety standards for development in forestland. LCDC added rules to increase fire safety (OAR 660-006-0029 to 0040). The rules cover:

  • Fuel-free buffers
  • Road design
  • Roof materials
  • Chimney spark arresters
  • Access to fire services
  • Access to water
  • Maximum slope of building sites.

Learn more on the Firewise website.

Resource Documents

Related Links


Hilary Foote
Farm/Forest Specialist
Phone: 503-881-9249

DLCD Regional Representatives
Regional Representatives by Region