The project applies to what Forest Bridges has defined as the “O&C Lands” – approximately 3 million acres -- situated in 18 counties of western Oregon. They include the O&C and all other lands (principally public domain lands) managed by the Bureau of Land Management in western Oregon, as well as O&C lands managed by the US Forest Service (A.K.A., the controverted lands).
The O&C Lands are mostly dispersed in a historic checkerboard pattern of one square mile land grants that alternate with private and public landowners (see map).
The O&C Act refers to the Revested Oregon and California Railroad and Reconveyed Coos Bay Wagon Road Grant Lands of Western Oregon, passed by the US Congress and signed into law by the President in 1937. Forest Bridges’ work and proposals include the O&C Lands managed by the US Forest Service. Forest Bridges also includes the Public Domain lands managed by the BLM in Western Oregon, which are not covered by the O&C Act, for management consistency.
Forest Bridges does not propose any changes to the O&C Act of 1937. Instead, we propose guidelines and policy refinements to aid in its implementation, along with various specifications and management concepts to address the complexities that have arisen since that time, with the additions of new environmental laws, climate change, the advent of serious wildfires, and increased interest in recreation in the O&C Lands.
ALL of the O&C Lands are included in the long-term strategic management proposals of Forest Bridges. This major change in the paradigm of management recognizes the importance of habitat sustainability throughout the O&C Lands, rather than a system that excludes reserve areas. Habitat sustainability includes legacy trees, forest stands and landscapes, and uses active management to sustain as to renew the forest by creating early seral and promoting other habitats. Utilizing the whole of the O&C Lands leads to a lighter management touch over time and focuses on management where needed most. This proposal also depends on lessening legal barriers and increasing financial resources for management.
In our proposal, all areas are evaluated periodically for treatment or “let-grow-as-is” based on their potential to become or remain a contributor to the diversity of wildlife and other biological habitats. As a result, the land management agencies would regularly and strategically select or bypass areas for active management, based on site-specific conditions for habitat growth and expected development or renewal (as part of future planning and project implementation processes).
Forest Bridges’ approaches use a combination of harvest, beneficial prescribed fire, other fuel reduction techniques and liability protections, and other actions under carefully defined guidelines intended to increase certainty around the extent and kinds of management, again based on site-specific characteristics. Management is active, creating metered amounts of early seral new habitats regularly, and monitored for effectiveness.
Harvest and thinning, both with legacy retention, seek to emulate the range of historical conditions, and are limited to types and amounts of actions that place the forests of the O&C Lands on a trajectory for developing as much structurally complex and diverse forest as possible, to persist and store carbon, to resist fire, and sustain growth and development.
Other major parts of our proposals for the O&C Lands:
We look to cultural Burning and other Indigenous practices, partnering and co-management with Indigenous tribes on their terms as also integral to these proposals.
Short-term impacts are weighed against long-term benefits to the forest ecosystem; forest management is approached with a long-range vision that spans centuries.
Forest management is carefully defined through metering of harvests to support trust and confidence of all parties.
Legal gridlock is reduced while environmental protections continue to be upheld.
Extensive, transparent monitoring and reporting on forest activities and conditions is made a priority.
New additional funding is recommended for restoration, monitoring, noxious weed control and ongoing adaptive management.
The O&C Act of 1937 gives the managing agency the authority to create a sustained yield forest plan and absent that plan, harvest a minimum of 500 Million Board Feet across the O&C lands per year. Forest Bridges’ proposals are intended to be implemented through an agency plan that focuses on sustained yield as a goal, and habitat sustainability as an outcome.
Taken as a whole, the specific proposals offered by Forest Bridges are intended to provide continuing sustained yield forestry while renewing sustainable forest habitats across the O&C Lands.
Instead of simply drawing lines on a map to create various reserves of unmanaged or minimally managed areas, we are using a whole-land-base, long-range, active conservation approach based on scientific evidence, professional agency experience, Indigenous wisdom and historic practices and forest policy tailored to 21st century issues, resulting in improved forest health and species habitats. Harvests will not be based on diameter limits and age limits but instead seek similar result in a historical mix of stand diversity, always retaining a legacy of unmanaged and minimally managed areas on O&C lands.
In dry, fire-prone O&C forests, the Forest Bridges plan will decrease the incidence of wildfire through wide-spaced thinning to create mixed-age and mixed-species forests. Dry forests are generally found in Southwestern Oregon. In a dry forest, the forest floor tends to dry out completely in the summer.
Moist forests, in contrast, are found more on the coast and in Northwest Oregon. In moist forests, fires are much less frequent but more extreme due to heavy fuel loads that accumulate each year. While Forest Bridges’ proposals may have some impact on the extent of wildfire in moist forests, it will not be as great a reduction in wildfire impact as in dry and transitional forests.
In Moist Forests: Each agency district will be allocated an acreage for moist forest variable retention regeneration harvest annually, based on the amount of moist forest acreage in that district. We recommend that each district do active, sub-watershed scale assessment to select an area for multi-year variable retention regeneration harvest and other restoration as if it were part of a larger scale wildfire event in that sub-watershed.
Selection of these regeneration areas will be based on the potential of stands within the selected area to remain or become contributors to the diversity of wildlife or other biological habitats as they develop over time. By aggregating multi-year treatments in individual sub-watersheds, larger areas of the O&C Lands will remain undisturbed, rather than the “Swiss-Cheese” effect of dispersed variable-retention regeneration harvests. Variable retention regeneration harvests are to be performed annually, with the legacy tree retention standard of 25 – 40% basal area applied, modeled after a moderate severity wildfire.
In Dry and Portions of Transitional Forests: To get ahead of more than 100 years of fire suppression and stand densification in O&C dry forests, we recommend a very aggressive, watershed-scale thinning program to achieve this goal: that 95% of acres burned by wildfire should remain ground fires (low- to moderate-intensity), or just 5% stand-replacing wildfires, a sevenfold reduction in the current frequency. Forest Bridges recommends prioritizing the most fire-prone regions, and to create fire resistance across the dry forest O&C Lands as quickly as possible. The thinning treatments will be followed by repeated prescribed fire and other fuel reduction activities (and liability protections) every 5-15 years, to mimic the historic fire return interval of the area.
Forest Bridges’ recommendation is to treat at a scale that covers all of the Dry Forest across the O&C Lands in 30 years and includes both commercial and non-commercial areas that require stand density management. The Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians has begun to apply similar approaches on its lands to achieve 35-50 trees per acre in dry forests. Advanced cable and low-impact ground logging techniques accommodate flat areas and steeper slopes for thinning operations. After the first 30 years, this thinning process is repeated across the dry forests. In subsequent entries, thinning volume removed will be reduced, in turn lowering treatment costs.
In moist and dry forests, the restoration activities are prioritized to those directly related to the treatment area, including road and structurally enhancing riparian area maintenance, scaled to be borne by the commercial sale revenue and harvest receipts dedicated to the O&C Counties. In the dry forests, repeated prescribed fire, and other fuel reduction practices including liability protection for neighbors -- between commercial entries -- will require annually appropriated funds. We think of it as funding spent proactively rather than defensively fighting wildfire, which should be greatly reduced with sufficient stand density reduction to historic levels in the dry forests.
Our plan is expressly designed to protect legacy trees and increase older forests over time. In the moist forest, Forest Bridges is proposing a trajectory to annually increase and ultimately achieve 50 percent structurally complex old growth forest. In the dry forest, commercial thinning and the creation of skips within the treatment areas are intended to achieve older and structurally complex stands throughout the dry forests by restoring the resistance to fire that characterized these lands historically.
The Forest Bridges plan for the O&C Lands helps mitigate climate change impacts by sequestering more carbon to add biomass in older moist and dry forests over time, while decreasing the risk of destructive wildfire.
In dry forests, wildfires and large megafires, which contribute to climate change by quickly releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the air, would be replaced by extensive thinning, prescribed fire and other fuel reduction tools including pile burning near sensitive boundaries. There would still be fires, but they would not be catastrophic. Prescribed fire and pile burning are started and monitored by foresters during cooler seasons and weather conditions so that legacy trees, forest soils and adjacent lands are better protected. Liability protections are reciprocally necessary for all parties involved. This strategy is in effect a reset of stand density whereby carbon sequestration can be sustained with greatly reduced risk of loss through wildfire.
In moist forests, carbon is stored in trees and in downed wood, litter, the duff layer and forest soil. Forest Bridges’ moist forest management strategy enhances carbon storage by placing the forest on a trajectory to achieve the goal of 50% structurally complex forest – more than double the current level.
If climate change leads to the drying out of formerly moist forests, the historically moist forest floor material will become drier and be subject to more burning. This issue, along with excess fuels and density, will have to be addressed over time. This is a key reason that Forest Bridges is now proposing a transitional forest strategy that combines the moist and dry forest approaches and may include unique approaches and holistic Indigenous ideas for management, as well.
The Forest Bridges plan will create a diverse range of historical conditions on the O&C Lands similar to those prevalent when Indigenous Tribes tended these lands. The restored habitats will support a full range of wild species.
In moist forests, a metered amount of new and early seral habitats would be produced annually to benefit species including deer, elk, birds, pollinators, small mammals, fish and other fauna. Additionally, structurally complex old stands would be increased to benefit spotted owls, spotted frogs, salmon and steelhead, marbled murrelets and other endangered species. Diverse middle-aged, mature forests would benefit species who require this type of habitat.
Forest Bridges values understanding and integrating the complexities of ecological systems, as we apply active, metered management strategies to improve and sustain multi-species habitats across the O&C Lands.
As yet to be developed, the Forest Bridges Riparian Strategy for the O&C Lands will focus on the site specific riparian area as it varies from place to place with the goal of restoring and sustaining watershed functions to benefit a range of forest resources (fish and other organisms) as well as soil, water, shade, and metered sunlight.
In the absence of a collaboratively developed Forest Bridges riparian strategy, we defer to the BLM's 2016 Riparian Strategy.
Two key ways: First, embed collaboratives for adaptive management and agency planning processes through time. Second, create legal consistencies.
Under the Forest Bridges paradigm and during the Agencies' forest planning processes, the Agencies will engage with a collaborative such as Forest Bridges to propose and help refine management alternatives. When a new forest management plan is ultimately completed, it will be subject to the traditional vetting by the courts for compliance with environmental laws. By selecting an alternative that has been subject to prior collaboration, there is precedent that it will better withstand court challenge.
Once a Plan is being implemented, individual projects can be challenged in court only on the grounds of some legal standard of inconsistency with the Plan (although this proposal has not yet been fully developed by Forest Bridges).
Independent and/or agency monitoring of forest plan implementation should be combined with independent research-driven, specialist-led monitoring of species and habitat health changes under the forest management plan to gauge the plan's effectiveness.
When the agencies are operating under approved plans, Forest Bridges recommends that a federally-funded collaborative be integral to adaptive management refinements in response to monitoring results. A diverse multi-stakeholder collaborative group would engage with and offer feedback to land management agency efforts to validate progress towards habitat and other goals, as well as to vet recommended changes to update Forest plans (adaptive management). Sufficient funding will be necessary for the monitoring, the deliberations, as well as reports that will be made available to the public and to the land management agencies.
First, the BLM and US Forest Service agency funding appropriations by the US Congress need to continue. However, ecologically sound forest management, as demanded by the public since the 1970s, along with more recent climate change concerns, requires additional stable and robust funding to be viable long-term. Reallocations PLUS additional appropriations for the managing agencies will be required to fund the cost of FB’s new management programs, over and above the current level of agencies’ funding.
The new programs recommended by Forest Bridges include:
Substantial public support will be required to appropriate and reallocate sufficient funding, on top of current agency budgets, for Forest Bridges' proposed "21st Century Active Forest Conservation Program". Please become a Friend of Forest Bridges today.
Forest Bridges is not proposing any changes to the 1937 O&C Act. 50%of O&C harvest revenues will continue to be distributed to the O&C Counties.
The Forest Bridges Collaborative includes the Board of Directors as the core collaborating body with decision-making authority (e.g., for the Principles of Agreement, proposals to land management agencies, and legislative concepts). They are supported by staff, a Council of Advisors and a group of Independent Scientific and Ecocultural Experts. These groups will continue to collaboratively develop and refine and contribute comprehensive forest policy proposals for Western Oregon's O&C lands.
With a foundation of staff in place, including an executive director, tribal liaison, and finance-administration support specialist, Forest Bridges has entered a new phase of engaging other organizations and the wider public to share and gain feedback on our Principles of Agreement and proposals for the O&C Lands. Donations are welcomed and needed to help fund our public education and collaborative development of our proposals.
Through these engagements, Forest bridges is also building its network of Friends who support our Principles and the collaborative development process for new forest policies and recommendations as building blocks in forest plans affecting the O&C Lands. Our recommendations are then submitted through the land agency rulemaking and planning processes.
As the BLM and the Forest Service continue to develop new forest management rules and planning processes, Forest Bridges will assess gaps to address as legislative concepts, in order bring to bear the full suite of Forest Bridges policies as laid out in the Principles of Agreement.
Further along, Forest Bridges sees an important role for an on-the-ground collaborative, in project review and design, as well as in the process of monitoring and changes proposed as adaptive management.
A Friend of Forest Bridges is someone who can support our Principles of Agreement and our collaborative efforts to further develop and advance them. The Principles of Agreement (PoAs) are designed to comprehensively address issues to enhance to O&C lands management, as well as to address legal, regulatory and financial barriers. Friends receive our periodic newsletter and are invited into public engagement through learning and listening events. While Forest Bridges does not ask Friends for financial support, donations are welcome to help fund our operational and program costs.
We believe that when it comes to effective forest management and modifying forest policy, time is running short. We are living through a time of climate change with increasing severe wildfire and multi-species habitat loss, combined with legal gridlock and misplaced funds. The focus is on defensive firefighting rather than proactive forestry. Forest Bridges seeks to reverse this trend with timely proposals to increase public awareness and to gain from the backing of a wide range of persons and entities. Widespread support is needed because we’re working together to shift a paradigm.