Sustainable Environments

Sustained yield management is much more than just managing for timber harvest—it is about simultaneously managing for an array of forest uses and values. In the O&C Act, Congress expected forest managers to apply sustained yield forestry to produce at least 500 million board feet in harvests annually, and do it in a way that protects watersheds and stream flows, provides for recreation, and produces a range of other forest amenities. Across the O&C landscape, sustained yield is not about choosing just one objective or another, it is about achieving all of these objectives at the same time. To learn more about sustained yield management and sustainable environments, choose and click on a topic below, or simply scroll down.

Streams and Water Quality

One of the most important hallmarks of a well-managed forest is the protection of streams and riparian areas adjacent to streams. Some streams on O&C lands are domestic drinking water sources, and many of the streams provide habitat for fish. These are assets cherished by all Oregonians and they must receive proper care.
The management vision of the O&C Act is supplemented by the federal Clean Water Act under which standards are set and enforcement mechanisms are provided to assure that water quality—temperature, turbidity and chemical composition—is properly maintained. The State-implemented program to assure water quality on private forestlands is outlined on the Department of Environmental Quality website, available here.  While State measures are generally adequate, the O&C Counties believe sustained yield management on O&C lands should include protective measures that exceed those required on private lands.
Riparian areas vary substantially depending on location and many other factors and the protections needed to maintain water quality and biological capacity likewise vary substantially from site to site. One size does not fit all. Across the O&C range—-from the northern Willamette valley to California border, and from the Pacific Ocean easterly to well up into the Cascade Mountains—a total of 15 to 20 percent of the entire O&C landscape should receive special riparian management considerations; roughly 3 to 4 times greater than the proportion on private forest lands. These hundreds of thousands of riparian acres are more than sufficient to preserve water quality and fulfill the habitat needs of fish and riparian-oriented wildlife on O&C lands.
Protective measures applicable to riparian areas do more than just protect water quality and serve habitat needs of fish and other water-oriented species. The 15 to 20 percent of O&C lands the O&C Counties would manage as riparian emphasis areas would do double duty and also provide habitat for upland wildlife species—such as northern spotted owls—that do best when older and structurally complex stands are readily available. Sustained yield management is about simultaneously achieving multiple objectives.

Early Seral and Young Forest Habitats

Bird photos courtesy of Greg Gillson
Many—perhaps most—wildlife species thrive in areas that offer a substantial component of “early seral” and young forest age classes. It stands to reason: that is where their food is most abundant. These are places where the forest canopy is opened or removed to allow sufficient sunlight to enter and support the growth of grasses, forbs, shrubs and brush. These are direct food sources for some species and are the necessary habitat foundation for many other species.
Early seral stage and young forest habitats follow timber harvests as well as natural disturbances. Among the many species that do best in these areas are blacktail deer and Roosevelt elk and their predators. Many species of birds also prefer these open areas and the edges between older age classes of forest and the more recently harvested sites.
While these habitats are the obvious result of timber harvests, management techniques can enhance and prolong the early seral habitat value of the sites where harvest has occurred. To learn more about early seral and young forest habitats on managed private forestlands and recommendations to enhance their creation and persistence, click here for deer and elk information or here for songbird information.
The modest level of timber harvest supported by the O&C Counties and required by the O&C Act will naturally produce early seral and young forest habitats. In addition, the O&C Counties favor use of management techniques to enhance and prolong these habitat values on O&C lands. Sustained yield management increases and maintains a variety of wildlife habitat values across the full range of forest age classes on the O&C lands.

Mature and Structurally Complex Forests

Development of structurally complex forests is influenced by many factors, including stand age and the management practices applied over time. Such stands provide desirable habitat for well-known species such as the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet. Some mammal species also frequent older forests, including fishers, American martens and red tree voles.
Providing such habitat through sustained yield management is not insurmountable—-compliance with the O&C Act’s modest harvest requirements and provision of a full range of older forest habitats are not mutually exclusive. On a land base of over 2.1 million acres, it is entirely possible to manage with such a gentle touch that many hundreds of thousands of acres are always in older age classes and structurally complex conditions. Older and structurally complex forests are an important part of the full range of age classes the O&C Counties support as part of sustained yield management under the O&C Act.
It is not just “old growth” that is important to spotted owls. The needs of the species are much more complex than that. For a thoughtful discussion of the species and some surprising research findings regarding spotted owls and private forestlands, click here. Among other findings are the following conclusions, all of which are equally applicable to O&C lands:

“[M]anaged forests are important for Northern Spotted Owl habitat for three main reasons. First, a mosaic of forest ages including early seral forest conditions can provide excellent foraging habitat for owls and their prey. To ensure that habitat is as functional as possible, the research indicates retaining legacy components such as snags, and maintaining tree species diversity, including hardwoods, adds to suitability of the habitat. Second, thinning can accelerate the development of late seral characteristics in young stands. Finally, the risk of uncharacteristically severe wildfires in mixed conifer forests is a major threat to Northern Spotted Owls that can be reduced through active forest management including thinning and the use of prescribed fire.”


Recreation and timber harvesting have a long and compatible history on the O&C lands stretching back to 1937. The O&C lands are blessed with amazing natural features and resources supporting recreation. Sustained yield management of the lands has made those features and resources accessible via an extensive road system and caring investments in infrastructure by both the BLM and the O&C Counties.
For decades starting in the early 1950s the O&C Counties spent millions of dollars for construction of roads, bridges and parks on O&C lands. These funds were part of the revenues the Counties were slated to receive under the O&C Act, but which the Counties voluntarily relinquished. These so-called “plow back” funds were intended by the Counties as investments in future forest productivity and to enhance community enjoyment of the abounding resources.
While the O&C lands are naturally bountiful in many respects, there is one limitation that is almost unique to the O&C lands, compared to (for example) the National Forests. The history of the O&C lands causes them to be in a checkerboard pattern of sections (640 acres) interspersed with private or other nonfederal lands. There are very few areas where the O&C lands are found in large, uninterrupted blocks, as are commonly found on the National Forests managed by the Forest Service.
The checkerboard of O&C ownership means there are very few areas large enough (the Rogue River corridor being a notable exception) to be considered eligible as “wilderness areas” (legally defined as 5,000 connected acres or more) where wilderness pursuits are possible. It also means the road system throughout the O&C lands serves interspersed private and other nonfederal lands and is therefore a shared system not entirely within federal control.
These are geographic facts of life that seem not to have interfered with a robust recreational lifestyle enjoyed by the many folks who visit each year. To learn more about BLM managed recreation sites and opportunities on the O&C lands, visit the BLM website.
The O&C Act says that proper management according to principles of sustained yield assures provision of recreation facilities and opportunities. The two objectives are achieved side by side. The O&C Counties have supported recreation on the O&C lands for the last 80 years and see no impediments to the happy coexistence of timber harvesting and recreation on O&C lands for the next 80 years.