Thursday, September 26, 2013

Oregon's Forest Land Base is Stable, But Homes are Increasing

Oregon has lost almost none of its non-federal forest and farmland to other uses in the past four decades, but the number of homes scattered through forestland is increasing, according to a new report from the Oregon Department of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service.

The report shows that 98 percent of non-federal lands that were in farm and forest use in 1974, when Oregon’s land use planning system went into effect, remained so in 2009. However, the report did find an  increasing number of  homes in private forestland, particularly  near urban or low-density residential areas. Other research has shown that more homes in forestland decreases the chances of those lands remaining in forest uses. That, in turn, can lead to a loss of forest benefits and a rise in challenges such as fire protection.

"With an expected 37 percent population increase in Oregon over the next 30 years, this trend leads to key policy questions," said Gary Lettman, forest economist with the Oregon Department of Forestry.  "These questions range from the amount of private lands that will be converted to residential or urban use, to how those increases will affect the use and management of both public and private forestlands."

Land Use Change on Non-Federal Land in Oregon and Washington describes the changes in rates and types of land use in Oregon and Washington. Although the two states have similar climates and vegetation, they have very dissimilar land use policies – a decentralized approach in Washington, and coordinated, statewide direction in Oregon.

The Oregon Board of Forestry’s strategic plan, the Forestry Program for Oregon, lists “maintaining and increasing Oregon’s forestland base” as a key objective. Forests provide Oregonians with a multitude of economic, environmental, and social benefits. For instance, forests provide cleaner water than land in any other use. And the forest sector employs over 42,000 Oregonians and provides about $5.2 billion in yearly revenues to Oregon.

While this report specifically focuses on Oregon’s land use planning system, a suite of state and federal policies in Oregon helps forest landowners sustainably manage and retain forestlands, and makes it economically viable for them to do so. These policies include the Oregon Forest Practices Act, forestland tax deferral, and a variety of incentive programs, almost all of which are federally funded.

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