The Myth of Replanting: 5 Ways Oregon’s Laws Destroy Forests

Here in Oregon, a little less than half of the land is forested. Almost all of that forestland is owned either by private timber companies, the State of Oregon, or a federal agency such as the U.S. Forest Service, or the Bureau of Land Management. In Western Oregon, there are two very different sets of rules that these forestland owners follow. Most federal lands are governed by the Northwest Forest Plan; State and private lands, however, are governed by the Oregon Forest Practices Act, or the OFPA.

The OFPA has weak conservation measures that do not protect human health, wildlife, or property from the damaging effects of clearcuts. But you may have recently heard otherwise from an organization called the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, which is the name of the public relations arm of the timber industry that gets to collect the taxes paid by private timber companies in Oregon. So how do they use the this tax money? Well, they use it to mislead the people of Oregon about the state of our forests and drinking water. So, just to set the record straight, here are 5 common myths they like to use in this misinformation campaign, and the sad truths about them. 

5. The Big Whopper: Sustainable Yield 

The Myth: Oregon harvests a “Sustainable Yield” of trees.     
The Truth: Clearcutting, and Oregon’s weak logging regulations have led to over 500,000 acres of deforestation in just the last 15 years.

A new analysis from the Center for a Sustainable Economy documented the loss of 522,000 acres of forest cover in Western Oregon since 2000. The analysis, completed with GIS support from Oregon Wild, used satellite data to study forest cover trends on public and private lands. Because the rate of clearcutting on state and private lands has far exceeded forest cover gain from replanting, forest loss during this period exceeded forest gain by 45%.

“Anyone who has driven to the Oregon Coast has seen first hand the aggressive clearcutting that takes place under Oregon’s weak logging rules,” says Steve Pedery, Conservation Director for Oregon Wild. “When it comes to deforestation, we have more in common with Brazil and Indonesia than most of our citizens realize.”

Want more details on deforestation in Oregon? Click here for the deforestation report.

4. The Wordplay: Replanting "Forests"

The Myth: Clearcuts are replanted with healthy young “forests” 
The Truth: Incredibly diverse forests supporting a multitude of species are being converted into single crop agriculture, not forests--and these “crops” are being sprayed heavily with chemicals to kill all other naturally occurring plant life. 

Statewide, Oregon has more than 60 species of native trees, but as far as the timber industry is concerned, all we need is 1 very tall, very straight, cash cow. When clearcutting happens on private industrial forest lands in Western Oregon, all trees and life are removed from an area, and that area is replanted with one species: Douglas-fir. This “monocrop” is then sprayed for several years with a combination of several herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizer to ensure it is the only thing that can grow there. Walking through a forest in Oregon is an amazing experience, one might see or touch a plethora of plant or animal species. Walking through a Douglas-fir plantation is much more like being in a cornfield.

3.The “create fear”: We have to “kill it before it burns!”

The Myth: Clearcuts are good for forests because they mimic fires and make Oregon safer.
The Truth: Clearcuts mimic parking lots, not nature. Fires and other natural disturbances support and enhance ecosystems in ways that clearcuts do not. 

A common myth we hear from the pro-clearcut lobby in Oregon is that “clearcuts mimic natural disturbances in forests,” often using this myth to support the idea of logging to make forests safer from fire. Well, parking lots aren’t likely to burn either, and they certainly won’t produce salmon I want on my dinner table. 

Modern science tells us that clearcutting older forests and planting young monocrops makes forest fires in Oregon more dangerous to people, and more likely to get out of control. Old growth trees have much thicker bark that prevents them from fire, and their limbs are typically higher up where ground level fires don't reach them. Science also tells us that forests which have experienced large natural disturbances such as fire are an important part of the natural landscape and provide crucial habitat to many species. Clearcuts, on the other hand, start out as moonscapes and grow into tinderboxes. While there are certainly situations where forest management needs to be used to protect communities, the clearcut industry is making a habit out of using this myth to stuff their wallets. 

Learn more about the benefits of fire in Oregon's forests

2. The “We care”: Oregon doesn’t cut old growth. 

The Myth: Oregon has laws protecting old growth, we no longer cut down ancient forests.
The Truth: Laws regulating private industrial logging in Oregon do not protect old growth forests, and giant trees are cut down on a regular basis. 

Old growth forests are very different from young tree stands. They provide rich soils, retain and filter clean water, and are habitat for many rare and distinct animals.

While it is true that many federal forests in Oregon have much stronger protections for old growth than they used to, the same can not be said for State, county or privately owned lands. A picture is worth a thousand words, so here is a photo of a legal harvest of 500 year old trees recently completed by Douglas County in Southwestern Oregon. These trees were cut solely for profit . 

More information on the global significance of Oregon's dwindling old growth

1. The absurd: “ZOMBIE TREES” are a problem for Oregon

The Myth: Standing dead “Zombie Trees” are a problem in Oregon and clearcutting old forests makes them healthier.
The Truth: Older forests are better for Oregon by every measure, and standing dead trees or “snags” are a crucial part of a healthy Oregon forest and provide many benefits to Oregonians. 

While standing dead trees are seen by logging corporations as a loss, dozens of species of native wildlife call them home. For owls, woodpeckers, salamander, black bears, pacific fisher, and other critters, dead trees -- and very large dead trees in particular -- might be better labeled as "wildlife's condos" than "zombie trees."

“Only a tree farmer is concerned about tree mortality, because they want every tree to "die by chainsaw" says Doug Heiken, Oregon Wilds Conservation and Restoration Coordinator. “In a natural forest every tree that grows in the forest also dies in the forest (and stays in the forest). In fact, snags and down wood play a wide variety of valuable ecological services for the developing forest.” 

Click here for more on the role of snags in healthy forests. 

Get connected with Oregon Wild, and let us keep you updated on this issue, as well as what’s really going on with Oregon’s drinking water, aerial pesticide spraying, landslides, and other ways Oregon’s logging laws are failing the people, and failing the planet. Sign up here.

Photo Credits: 
Photo of cut old-growth tree: Francis Eatherington All other photos: Chandra LeGue