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Oregon's Experience with Sustainability

by Jim Brown and Kevin Birch

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Sustainability is one of the few forest management goals that can be agreed upon by people on all sides of the natural resource debate. Sustainability can be described as meeting the needs of the present socially, economically, and environmentally without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

The Oregon Department of Forestry became involved with the Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators of sustainable forest management when the 1991 Oregon Legislature made changes to the forest practices laws protecting Oregon's environment. Members of the State legislature wrestled with the idea of regulating the cumulative effects of forest practices but came to the conclusion that the issue was too complex. Before creating new regulations, members wanted more information such as how daily forest activities influence wildlife habitat, what constitutes the basic productivity of the forest, and how to ensure good water quality. The Oregon Department of Forestry struggled with how to best identify the framework needed to describe the questions that the legislature and the public want to know.

From the State of Oregon's perspective and experience, we found that the criteria and indicators of the Montreal Process proved to be the best framework to describe the desired components of sustainability. When we ask people what forest values should be sustained the answers always seem to fit well under one of the seven Montreal Process Criteria. Our stakeholders agree that biological diversity, the productive capacity of the forest, the health of the ecosystem, soil and water resources, global carbon cycles, and socioeconomic benefits should all be sustained. And, everyone realizes we need a legal, economic, and institutional framework capable of providing those values.

Each of the Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators can provide better information for field managers if assessed at the local watershed scale or by ecoregion, however, policy and legal issues like endangered species must be understood and addressed at regional and national scales. We all benefit from a common language to describe the outputs from forest activities. As such, we need a common set of elements, assessed across the landscape, capable of being combined to answer local, regional, or national questions. The public will be comfortable with forest management activities only when they know that the Nation's biodiversity and other values are protected.

Oregon's First Approximation Report of the Criteria and Indicators gave us a better understanding of the condition of different forest resources and provided a foundation for the Oregon Department of Forestry's Forest Assessment Project. It also allowed us to identify the existing data that could be used to describe forest conditions and to identify those areas where important data is missing. This gap analysis will be used as a guide in future data collection. As a result of the First Approximation Report we are developing partnerships with Oregon State University and the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station to develop tools to analyze the data we collect and to help us look at tradeoffs between policy alternatives.

The Oregon Board of Forestry provides direction for our programs through their strategic plan, the Forestry Program for Oregon. Both Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators and benchmarks (statewide indicators of economic, social, and environmental health used to chart growth and development) are being used as tools to describe desirable conditions for the board's strategic plan. Use of the indicators will also enable the board to express objectives as a range of measurable outcomes, which will help focus program activities and energy on actions that achieve specific targets.

The sustainable forestry indicators can also serve as a core set of tools to be used by the Oregon Department of Forestry in its cooperative work with other agencies monitoring landscape-scale conditions on forestlands. No single entity can afford to monitor everything. If we want to be able to explain forest conditions and communicate with commonly accepted data sets, we must work together with a broad range of stakeholders. To build public trust it must be our data, not my data.

One of the main benefits of the Oregon Department of Forestry's work with sustainability has been a change in our vision for the future of forestry in Oregon and an examination of the pathway needed to achieve that vision. The Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators are helping us chart the path to sustainability.

Jim Brown is the State Forester for Oregon. Kevin Birch is the Planning Coordinator for the Resource Policy Division of the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Sustainable Forest Management is intended to respect the full range of environmental, social, and economic values of the forest, and to integrate the way those values are managed to ensure that none are lost and that the forest remains healthy and vibrant into the future.

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