Conversion of forests and farms to development slows overall

Conversion of forests, farms, and rangeland to development slows overall;
Oregon Department of Forestry

Despite population and income growth over the past 15 years, the conversion of non-federal forestland, farmland, and rangeland to more developed uses in Oregon overall has continued to decrease, according to a new study. Development of these lands slowed after the mid-1980s, when comprehensive land use plans were adopted.  However, the study also found that although lands are remaining in forest, farm, and rangeland, many tracts are experiencing significant increases in structures and population.

The recently-released study – Forests, Farms, & People: Land Use Change on Non-Federal Land in Oregon, 1974-2005 – is published by the Oregon Department of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station.

While the area of forestland owned by large industrial and public landowners remained relatively stable between 2000 and 2005, the area of land in forest use owned by smaller, private woodland owners declined six percent overall in Oregon – losing seven percent in western Oregon and three percent in eastern Oregon.

“These findings highlight the difficulties facing many of our smaller forestland owners,” said Jim Paul, chief of the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Private Forests Division. “We need to continue to do everything we can to ensure that Oregon’s small private woodland owners are able to retain and manage their forestlands.”

The study shows that 98 percent of all non-federal land in resource uses in Oregon in 1974 remained in those uses in 2005. Between 2000 and 2005, the rate of conversion of forests, farms and rangeland to low-density and urban uses averaged only about 6,000 acres annually, meeting the target set by the Oregon Benchmarks.

This result also meets a target set by the Oregon Indicators of Sustainable Forest Management, a comprehensive suite of “measuring sticks” endorsed by the Oregon Board of Forestry to determine sustainability on all of Oregon’s forestlands.

“Retaining forestland continues to be one of the highest priorities of the Oregon Board of Forestry,” said Paul. “Forests are critical to Oregon’s quality of life; providing economic, environmental, and social benefits that all Oregonians enjoy.”

While 87 percent of private forestland in Oregon zoned for forest use is still free of the effects that population or development may have, another significant finding is that land remaining in resource use – forest, agricultural, and rangelands – has experienced noticeable increases in structures and population. This was particularly significant between 2000 and 2005, bringing both non-federal and federal lands in traditional resource uses closer to more developed land in rapidly developing areas, with larger density increases occurring nearest already developed areas.

“These increased densities in traditional resource areas can directly impact forestland management,” said Oregon Department of Forestry economist Gary Lettman. “Fire risk, hazard, and suppression costs increase dramatically in these rapidly expanding wildland-urban interface areas, and there is also increased potential for conflict over management practices and commodity production.”

Other findings:

* For Oregon’s private land that changed use, shifts from resource uses to low-density residential or urban uses accounted for 72 percent of all change.
* Private land in western Oregon generally developed faster than in eastern Oregon, apart from the Bend area. The highest rates of land use change occurred on private land in the rapidly growing Bend and Portland areas and in Josephine County.
* The area of private land with high population density within one mile of federal forest land continued to expand; the closer this land was to federal forest land, the greater the rate of increase in population density.  This is consistent with the greater appeal for many property owners in living near federal forest land.

The report also examines the environmental repercussions of development on issues important to Oregonians, including carbon storage, water quality, critical wildlife habitat, forest management, and fire risk, hazard and suppression costs.

“Oregonians often cite water quality as their highest environmental priority,” said Lettman. “The report explores the relation between water quality and land use; noting that streams in forestland have the highest water quality, with the lower water quality and fish habitat in more developed areas.”

The full report is available online at

For additional information, or a copy of the full report, please contact Gary Lettman, 503-945-7408 or [email protected].


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