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Oregon family foresters seek secondary dwellings

Secondary dwellings on forestlands in Oregon would ease generational transitions, according to a proposal by family forestland owners.

Mateusz Perkowski Capital Press

Small forestland owners want the Oregon Board of Forestry to endorse a proposal to allow new dwellings on forestland for relatives of aging operators.

Half the owners of Oregon’s family forests are 65 years or older, but unlike the aging population of the state’s farmers, they can’t build secondary homes on their property, said Bonnie Shumaker, a Washington County landowner.

“The upcoming issue of inter-generational change is huge,” she said during a July 24 board meeting in Salem, Ore.

Shumaker serves on the Committee for Family Forestlands that makes recommendations to the Oregon Board of Forestry, which oversees forest management policies and regulations.

The committee hopes to win the board’s support for a “legislative concept” in 2019 that would allow secondary dwellings to be built on the same parcel of forest resource land.

Oregon’s statewide land use law has successfully retained 98 percent of the state’s forests since being enacted 45 years ago but family forestland operators face difficulty maintaining their properties as they age, Shumaker said.

Allowing relatives to inhabit a secondary dwelling would provide forest operators with needed assistance, she said. Meanwhile, younger family members could learn about managing the property while still pursuing a career.

“Not having an option to live on the land remains an obstacle,” Shumaker said.

While the development of forests along the “wildland-urban interface” is a concern, the legislative proposal would address the issue by only allowing secondary dwellings on the same parcel, without subdividing the land.

The secondary dwelling would have to pass “fire safe” regulations and would only be allowed on property that already qualifies for a dwelling.

There’s also discussion of establishing a minimum lot size that would be eligible for secondary dwellings, most likely 80 to 160 acres, Shumaker said.

“I’m a proponent of land use. We need land use but we need it to be common sense,” she said.

Farmers have long been allowed to have secondary dwellings under Oregon land use law, likely due to their day-to-day involvement in agriculture, she said.

It’s possible family foresters didn’t push hard enough to overcome the perception that forest work is more sporadic, Shumaker said.

Having help with harvest, planting and fire suppression would actually ensure a smoother succession in areas that are prone to development, said Evan Barnes, the committee’s acting chair and a Douglas County landowner.

“It’s not meant as a development tool,” he said.

Peter Daugherty, the Oregon State Forester, encouraged the committee to approach the board for an endorsement again after refining the proposal.

“It is consistent with the goals of the Board of Forestry,” he said.