OSU’s Research Forest Plan – What Plan?!

Most people in Corvallis have probably heard of OSU’s College Forest Plan in the past – or assume OSU must have a plan for how they manage the forests. While this used to be the case, for the past decade, the College of Forestry has been operating without any long-term plan! Their own website makes this clear:

OSU College of Forestry – Summary of McDonald Dunn Forest Plan
(from OSU College of Forestry Website)

Note the second line of the webpage: “The plan was followed until 2009, until it became apparent that a new plan was needed…A new McDonald-Dunn Forest Plan is in progress.” While I applaud them for their honesty, I think most people would be astounded to know they jettisoned their plan TEN YEARS AGO! How does a PUBLIC institution managing ~15,000 acres of land justify operating without a plan for a DECADE?! It has been 14 years since their (2005) update to their 1994 Research Forest Plan.

While the 2009 decision to abandon the 2005 update (to the 1994 Research Forest Plan) may have been prompted by a fall in log prices, critics point out the convenient nature of operating “off script”. The absence of a formal plan means the College of Forestry can log as much as they want (or cut Old Growth) – without public oversight or accountability. With the subsequent rise in log prices, OSU has significantly increased logging – but without following any long-term plan.

OSU’s abandonment of their Research Forest Plan is unfortunate not only because of the negative impacts of the increased logging. It also erodes the credibility of the College of Forestry and OSU as a whole. The message to the general public seems to be: “We don’t need your input – we’re going to do what we want.” Finally, it does a great disservice to all of the OSU forestry folks who worked so hard to establish the planning process in the first place. This is doubly unfortunate, as the original College Forest Plan (and 2005 update) was a showcase of impressive forestry research activities at OSU. For those who judge the College of Forestry by their clearcuts, the McDonald-Dunn Forest Plan was a refreshing, alternative view (use the link at the bottom of this post to access the 2005 update to the Research Forest Plan).

For those who are interested in OSU’s Research Forest Plan (and it’s shifting priorities concerning Old Growth protection), here’s a little background. Starting back in the early 1990’s, the Dean of OSU’s College of Forestry recognized the need for a comprehensive management plan and process for the (~12,000 acre) College Forest. An interdisciplinary faculty committee was formed to work with a variety of stakeholders to “illuminate the concerns, future vision, and possible objectives for the forest…the Dean then formed a faculty committee to construct the forest plan itself – a plan that would describe the long-term forest condition that would be sought and the activities (especially harvests) that would occur in the next 10 years, reflecting the objectives suggested in the stakeholder discussions and those developed during further conversations between the dean and faculty.” (1)

This project was a sincere and substantial effort, with committee members meeting three hours per week for five months. The resulting plan was approved in 1994 and implemented over the following decade. Key to the plan were the nine goals that included the need to protect “special features such as old-growth Douglas-fir stands” and, “To be a good neighbor.” (2)

OSU’s Research Forest Plan Goals (1993)

OSU’s Research Forest Plan was updated again in 2005. Unfortunately, the goals of the 2005 update did not include specific mention of old-growth preservation. The text concerning protection of old-growth Douglas-fir (stated in Goal #2) of the 1993 plan was removed in the 2005 update.

To the layman, Goal 3 of the 2005 update sounds like a bunch of carefully-constructed, meaningless jargon. Who is to determine what “ecological diversity commensurate with land capabilities” means – and how do you measure something so vague?! “To meet legal requirements and to capture opportunities to test policy-relevant management options” – what drivel! When College of Forestry leaders decide “meeting legal requirements” has to be stated as part of their “Natural Heritage and Forest Ecosystem Services” goal, it doesn’t send a positive, proactive message. Compared to the clear and concise text of the 1993 plan goals, goal 3 of the 2005 update seems like it was intentionally designed for ambiguity.

Goal 3 from the 2005 Update to OSU’s 1993 Research Forest Plan

Regardless of the shortcomings of the 2005 update, it’s important to reflect on the greater value of OSU’s Research Forest Plan – and the development of a comprehensive planning process. It is fair to say these developments represented a revolutionary change in approach for OSU’s College of Forestry. A skeptical public and press gradually became supportive of the planning approach, even if they didn’t always agree with the results in the forest. By acting with integrity and gathering public input, the 1993 committee had made a significant contribution to the College of Forestry. At the same time, it is important to point out that while the College of Forestry solicited public input, they have yet to develop a collaborative process with the public (that supports their institution). The OSU website says they expect to complete their revised forest plan in approximately six months. Let’s hope this time they keep following it!

You can check out OSU’s 2005 College Forest Plan here: https://cf.forestry.oregonstate.edu/sites/default/files/mcdunn_plan.pdf

(1) Ecological Forest Management, Jerry F. Franklin, K. Norman Johnson, and Debora L. Johnson (2018)

(2) OSU’s McDonald-Dunn Research Forest Plan (1993)