Chemical Application

Forest protection laws limit use of chemicals

Trees grow quickly, but so do weeds and other plants. Seedlings compete with other plants for water, sunlight and soil nutrients, and can be smothered by them before the young trees can get established. Forestland owners are required by law to make sure newly planted trees are tall enough and healthy enough to outgrow the surrounding vegetation within six years. This is why some landowners choose to apply herbicides (chemicals used to suppress the growth of unwanted plants) to give trees an advantage to outgrow weeds and other competing vegetation.

Because herbicides (a type of pesticide) can be hazardous to humans, fish and animals, state and federal laws limit their use in forests. Forest landowners are required to take special precautions, especially if applying the chemicals from a helicopter, where there may be a risk of the chemicals drifting off target, posing a potential danger to homes, drinking water intakes and aquatic habitat.

Person spraying sapling with chemicals
Most forest practice laws related to chemical use deal with helicopter application, however even portable applicators must follow appropriate regulations.

Many rules to know

Forest chemicals are the same or similar to chemicals available to consumers. However, foresters must follow strict rules laid out by a variety of state and federal regulations, as well as the Oregon Forest Practices Act (OFPA). These rules must be followed responsibly for the health and safety of people, aquatic life and drinking water. The rules include:

Federal laws

All pesticides, including herbicides, used in the United States must be registered with the U.S. EPA and must carry federally-approved labels describing permitted uses and appropriate protection measures.

Oregon laws

  • Prohibit helicopter pesticide applications within:
    • 300 feet around schools and dwellings
    • 75 feet or more of fish-bearing or drinking water streams
    • 50 feet for some non-fish-bearing streams
  • Prohibit other aerial applications (non-helicopter) within 60 feet of fish-bearing or drinking water streams.
  • Prohibit all aerial applications within 60 feet of open water greater than 1/4-acre.
  • Prohibit ground-based applications within 10 feet of fish-use or drinking water streams and open water greater than 1/4-acre.
  • Forest landowners are required to prevent, control and report pesticide leaks and spills.
  • Pesticide applicators must submit notifications to apply pesticides to the Department of Forestry at least 15 days in advance.
  • All pesticide applicators must be licensed by the ODA. To maintain their license, they must attend continuing education classes.
Helicopter flying over saplings
New laws passed in 2021 increase required no-spray buffers around homes, schools, drinking water intakes and some streams, for helicopters applying pesticides.

Newer laws regarding helicopter pesticide application

When the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 1602 in 2020, it immediately altered requirements related to helicopter spraying of pesticides in Oregon’s forests.

The law increases required no-spray buffers around homes, schools, drinking water intakes and some streams, for helicopters applying pesticides. The buffers are:

  • at least 75 feet from streams with fish or domestic use
  • 50 feet from other streams with surface water present
  • 300 feet from a school’s boundary or campus
  • 300 feet from the nearest edge of an inhabited dwelling
  • 300 feet from a qualifying water intake

The law did not change regulations for pesticides sprayed by ground, fixed-wing and drone methods.

Monitoring and enforcement

In Oregon, pesticide application is regulated through the Department of Agriculture and Department of Forestry. If you suspect a violation of the Oregon Forest Practices Act (OFPA) regulations regarding the use of pesticides on forestland has occurred, please contact your local ODF stewardship forester. Find contact information for your local stewardship forester.

Forestland owners who violate Oregon’s forest practice regulations could be subject to fines and other punitive measures.

Register for helicopter pesticide application communications

Anyone may register their qualified residence and surface water intake to receive communications from the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) about helicopter pesticide applications within one mile of their home or surface water intake.

To register:

  • Create an online account through ODF’s Forest Activity Electronic Reporting and Notification System (FERNS).
  • Register your home or surface water intake location.
  • Provide your address / tax lot ID, or the GIS location of your surface water intake.

Once registered, you will receive email and text communications about planned helicopter pesticide applications near your home or water intake.

Learn more about helicopter pesticide application notifications and how to register to receive them.