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Farm & Forest Lands

The statewide land use planning program in Oregon works to protect working landscapes in two ways. The statewide planning goals work to limit conversion of farm and forest land to other uses and to limit conflicts for these resource industries. To limit conversion, the program requires an urban growth boundary (or UGB) around each city in the state and urban uses must to be contained within the boundary. To limit conflicts, counties are required to apply strict zoning to farm and forest lands that permit only uses that will sustainably coexist with the farming and forestry activities around them.

Oregon's farms and forests are working lands, and are sometimes referred to as "resource lands." When planners and others talk about "preserving" these areas, they are referring to preservation of the land for continued use as a commercial farm or forest. Preserving these areas for resource use also benefits wildlife habitat conservation, recreation opportunities, and protection of the scenery Oregon is so well known for.

Preserving Oregon farmland protects a key economic engine in our state. Farming and related industries, like food processing and equipment sales, are major employers and a chief source of export in Oregon. State-level guidance and requirements for county planning and zoning of farmland can be found in four places: Statewide Planning Goal 3 - Agricultural Lands, Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) Chapter 197 - Comprehensive Land Use Planning, ORS Chapter 215 - County Planning, Zoning and Housing Codes, and Oregon Administrative Rules (OAR) chapter 660, division 33 - Agricultural Land. A local government writing or revising a comprehensive plan needs to refer to these state regulations to develop a plan that protects farms and complies with law and rule.

Agritourism is a newer industry related to farming in Oregon. Agritourism includes any activity, on or off-farm that creates extra income for working farmers and ranchers by connecting their resources and products with visitors.

Oregon is known for its trees. In total forest land acreage, Oregon is bested only by Alaska. While not as dominant as it once was, the forest industry is still a major employer and contributes significantly to the state's economy. A county's comprehensive plan and land use regulations must include a forest protection plan that complies with statewide planning goals and laws. Statewide Planning Goal 4 – Forest Lands, along with ORS Chapter 197 and Chapter 215, and OAR chapter 660, division 6 – Forest Lands, provide guidance and requirements for local governments. The Forest Practices Act, a law carried out by the Oregon Department of Forestry, sets standards for all commercial activities involving the establishment, management, or harvesting of trees in Oregon.

Some counties find that a portion of their land does not have the qualities that make it farm or forest land. These areas are often designated as "non-resource land" on the county comprehensive plan. Non-resource land is rural land that is not subject to Statewide Planning Goal 3 (Agricultural Lands) or Goal 4 (Forest Lands). Non-resource land can have great value to an area, despite the name: as habitat, as a buffer between commercial forest or farming activities and urbanized areas, as a place for limited rural residential development, or for its recreation value.

The Farm and Forest Modernization Program is a multi-year effort to address concerns about how the farm and forest conservation program is implemented.

DLCD has experts and planners on staff who assist county planning departments and property owners related to farm and forest land protection. Sometimes, common requests for assistance become formalized into programs that can be used to help a larger number of people and planning departments.

  • The Agricultural Soils Assessment program is a tool for use by property owners who wish to challenge the soil type designated for their property by using a soil professional to perform a test.
  • The Multi-County Code Update project evolved as it became clear that some counties had trouble updating local codes at the pace of legislative changes, allowing farm and forest zoning in those counties to become dated. Providing flexible model codes for counties to adapt as necessary, this tool allows counties to stay current in their zoning code. The program, which is funded through May 2019, offers consultant assistance to local governments, and relieves local planning offices from hiring the additional staff that would be required to perform this work.
  • A Transfer of Development Rights program is a tool that can be adopted by local governments. It creates market incentives for property owners and developers to preserve natural areas and open spaces, while increasing development rights in more densely populated places.