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Forest survey: State poll shows wide range of views on management

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

How forests are used and the concept of forest management remain highly volatile in Oregon, a new survey shows.

The independent and nonpartisan Oregon Values and Beliefs Center released the survey Dec. 20. Its review of 1,554 residents shows that a majority Oregonians believe forests are not well-managed, with survey officials noting that this trend has escalated since 2019.

In 2019, research showed that the vast majority of Oregonians preferred managing the state’s forests in a way that prioritizes both environmental protections and economic considerations. Those sentiments remain true today, the survey results showed. 

In the intervening years, however, devastating wildfires across the state may be responsible for a marked shift in resident opinions about forest management. Three years ago, more than half of residents rated the management of federal, state, and private forests as good/very good.  Today, about four in 10 residents agree that forests are managed well.  Political debates about forest management, including media coverage and social media influence, also may have played a role in the declining figures, survey officials said. 

Rural residents, men, and those 30 or older are all more critical of forest management in Oregon, compared to their peers, the survey shows. Residents in each of these three demographic groups also are notably less likely to say they don’t know enough about the issue to answer.

Views on forest management were roughly the same regardless of who owned the property. About 39 percent of respondents say state and private forest properties are managed well, with 36 percent approving of management of federal forests.

Individual survey responses showed how polarizing the issue can be.

Crews work a post-wildfire area in the Willamette National Forest. A new survey shows Oregonians are concerned about management of forest property in the state. Willamette National Forest/USDA
Crews work a post-wildfire area in the Willamette National Forest. A new survey shows Oregonians are concerned about management of forest property in the state.
Willamette National Forest/USDA

“Clearcutting, using herbicides, and then replanting single species is considered management — as is selectively harvesting and allowing natural mixed species growth. These are two completely different ways to manage our forests, and people need to understand the difference and why the differences matter,” said one respondent.

Another said simply “replant, replant, replant.” 

A third said “logging trees can be balanced with planting more. Trees get old and sick; use them productively.” 

There was consensus on water and climate change issues.  Nearly nine in 10 Oregonians are concerned about access to clean water in the future, while seven in 10 believe climate change is affecting Oregon forests.

Oregonians also are split as to whether federal and state forests should be logged less often, more often, or the same amount. A plurality of urban residents (about one in three) say that both federal and state forests should be logged less often. Meanwhile, a plurality of rural residents (also about one in three) say they should be logged more often.

That said, a majority of Oregonians say we don’t have to choose between having healthy forests and a healthy economy. At least six in 10 residents in every demographic group subscribe to the idea that both the economy and forests can thrive in Oregon. The groups most likely to believe that these outcomes are mutually exclusive are people under 30 and urban residents. In these groups, about one in five residents believe that healthy forests must be the primary focus.

Although forestry has historically played a significant role in Oregon’s economy, residents continue to find themselves in need of additional information about the industry to form full opinions about forest management. In 2019, about one-quarter of Oregonians described themselves as not very or not at all familiar with the forestry industry. Today, roughly the same proportion of residents say they need more information to know if forests are managed right.

Opinions on wood products have shifted as well, and Oregonians are now 11 percentage points more likely to prefer wood as a building material to products such as steel and concrete (61 percent, up from 50 percent). This may reflect increased awareness of climate issues as well as growing acceptance of products such as cross-laminated timber and mass plywood panels.

Perceptions of the benefits of forest thinning also may have declined somewhat during the same stretch of time, or else people today may simply have less awareness of the practice. In 2019, three-quarters of residents said that forest thinning would reduce the risk of wildfire in forests in eastern and southwest Oregon. Today, just 62 percent say it is acceptable to thin trees (but not the oldest ones) to reduce wildfire fuels.

FOREST PRIORITIES

Here is how Oregonians rate forest benefits in the Oregon Values and Benefits Center poll. The numbers reflect the percentage of respondents who believe the value is very important or somewhat important:

Wildlife habitat 89%

Water for fish 89%

Drinking water 88%

Recreation 79%

Beauty 75%

Carbon storage 68%

Rural jobs 68%

Rural economies 62%

Lumber 58%

ABOUT THE POLL

The online survey consisted of 1,554 Oregon adult residents who were contacted Nov. 10-19. To ensure a representative sample, demographic quotas were set and data weighted by region, gender, age, and education. The survey’s margin of error is ±2.48 percent. Due to rounding or multiple answer questions, response percentages may not add up to 100 percent.
The research was completed by the independent, nonpartisan Oregon Values and Beliefs Center (oregonvbc.org).

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