OSU cut this 70 year-old forest stand in January 2024 to demonstrate "even-aged short rotation wood production," another term for clearcutting.
OSU cut this 70 year-old forest stand in January 2024 to demonstrate "even-aged short rotation wood production," another term for clearcutting.

OSU Feels the Heat of Forest Planning Ire

By Doug Pollock, founder of Friends of OSU Old Growth

Oregon State University, the nation’s leading forestry school, came under heavy fire recently as dozens of concerned citizens and even their own experts harshly criticized their forest planning process. They spoke out about an update to Oregon State University’s management plan for the 11,250-acre McDonald-Dunn Research Forests near Corvallis.

The “community input session” was an opportunity for people to weigh in on the “5 new forest management strategies” that OSU’s College of Forestry intends to implement across these public forests.

However, things did not go according to plan. Angry citizens criticized a wide range of problems, including flaws in the modeling, OSU’s non-collaborative approach to forest planning, and its poor record of stewardship of these forests. About 30 people attended the meeting in-person and 40 via Zoom. Despite a 2-minute limit on public comments, OSU leaders got an earful.

I was one of those critical of the plan. As I spoke, a friend held up one large photo after another showing OSU’s clearcuts, giant stumps and slash fires.

“This entire process has been baked from the start,” I pointed out. The so-called “Stakeholder Advisory Committee” was chosen by the dean. No one from the public was allowed to apply. Most people selected for the committee had pre-existing relationships with the College of Forestry. Nine of eleven people serving on the committee come from the College Forestry. It was clearly biased in favor of logging over protecting it as a carbon sink and habitat.

In 2019, we were promised a collaborative process. You can argue about what collaboration means, but it certainly does NOT mean one side gets to decide everything. It does not mean one side gets to control the information that’s shared and the questions that are asked. That’s not collaboration, that’s a dictatorship.

OSU’s Professor Emeritus Dr. Beverly E. Law questioned the underlying modeling and assumptions of OSU’s forest plan.

The website Research.com named Law the best female  scientist worldwide in 2022 and 2023. Prof. Law has distinguished herself with research on forest carbon.

“Your assumption on the carbon density metric appears to be: The more you cut out of these forests, the more resilient they will be,” she said. “Where is the science that supports this assumption? Because increased thinning increases surface heat load which would increase canopy heat load and make the remaining trees more vulnerable to heat stress.”

These are the most important forests in the US for protecting carbon density for climate mitigation, Law said. So who made this decision? The carbon density is what is important. I don’t get where reducing the density is the best thing to do and will make them more resilient.”

Others pointed to the failure to use OSU’s own experts in the planning process. Lisa Pierson, a forest neighbor from OSU’s Fisheries and Wildlife Department, expressed years of frustrations with OSU:

She said she asked multiple professors whether they have ever been asked by the Forestry Department to do a species survey in the McDonald or Dunn Forest. Their answer is always no. “They don’t want to know what lives there. Because if you know what lives there, you’re obligated to protect it, especially threatened species and species of concern.”

“This is a very opaque model,” she added. The university excluded the public from participating in the process that developed the model. It has not revealed how the model was developed. Nor has it given out the names of the people who developed it.

“We come and we say things to you and we write to you and nothing changes. We as humanity and the forests are in the fight of our lives. And it's going to get really rough. And you guys need to step up. You're the leading forestry institution in this country, and probably the world.”

Howard Bruner, a retired senior research assistant in the College, told a personal story that brought many to tears:

“I was up in the McDonald Forest last week, in a beautiful, 100 year-old contiguous stand that was just full of birds, absolutely loud...and I got about mid-way up ... and in comes a semi with a low-boy that has a feller buncher on it. This is the device that is on tracks and runs up into the forest, and grabs trees, hugs them hard, cuts them off, carries them back and piles them.

“I asked the boys that were unloading the feller bunch, ‘Where are you going to use that?’ He waves his hand up on that beautiful ridge that is full of birdsong and he says, ‘Right here.’ Man, I thought, Who’s managing this forest?”

“This is a valuable asset, this is a functioning system that is at the height of its value and if they come in here and start fragmenting things like that, the entire process has got something very wrong with it. ‘Cause what they are sitting on there is hope for the future, that this can continue to evolve into an old system and the people that will live here 50 years, 100 years from now, will inherit that right next to Corvallis. To go in and fragment that is sacrilege in my opinion.”

The McDonald-Dunn planning process has captured the attention of groups far beyond Corvallis, as OSU’s role in the Elliott State Research Forest has diminished. Conservation leaders increasingly view OSU’s management of these forests with skepticism and concern.

By law, the State of Oregon holds the titles to these forests. They are public forests. That means they belong to ALL Oregonians, not just to the university and the College of Forestry. OSU uses them to demonstrate, teach, and promote its own brand of industrial forestry practices, which have laid waste to forests in Oregon and around the world.

Why is our “nation’s leader in forestry education” still doing clearcuts of mature forests, burning logging slash, and spraying herbicides? They should be leading the industry to a better, more sustainable future. They are cutting an 80+ year old stand of beautiful forest in our valley right now. I can hear the big trees crashing to the ground.

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