I was deeply saddened by the recent announcement of the impending closure of Ochoco Lumber Company’s sawmill in John Day.
Following last month’s announcement, I saw an editorial in the Blue Mountain Eagle newspaper, which serves Grant County. The writer struggled to make sense of the loss felt in John Day, a community surrounded by national forests. That struggling sawmill has been a steady supplier of lumber for decades. The writer noted that if the pending loss of 75-80 jobs were in Portland, it would be a Big Deal. The writer went on to note that the consequence of the loss is exponentially larger to John Day.
I have participated for three years on the state’s Federal Forest Advisory Committee’s Implementation Working Group, convened by the governor’s office and Oregon Solutions to support local collaboratives whereby community consensus can be reached on ways to restore eastside forests. These processes work slowly. But we believed it was a good omen when $2.5 million in federal funds was extended to support the Blue Mountain Forest Partners Collaborative for this purpose. And now this.
The loss of this sawmill — a tragedy for the John Day community — is also a blow to the future health of those forests. Without that mill, the small-diameter logs from forest restoration efforts will have to be trucked to Lakeview or Gilchrist — 210 miles or 190 miles, respectively, and both about four-hour, one-way drives. Probably not feasible, especially with today’s fuel prices.
Without sawmills located close to areas needing thinning, there’s no economic engine to make restoration economically viable. It is the lumber that will help pay for this work. Ironically, the mill closed because there is not enough timber to keep the mill open, even though it is located within eyesight of a sea of forests needing attention.
We can’t afford to lose any more mills in eastern Oregon.
Owning family forestland is worth the hard work.But believe me, it’s no picnic. I’ve gained new respect for tree-planting crews.
I discovered this while replanting a section of our 89-acre woodland this past winter. My husband, Rex, plus my father and I, spent two weekends planting 1,600 Douglas-fir seedlings on about six acres.
On four cold, wet and dark February mornings, we headed out to our property in the Coast Range near Mist. We pulled on raingear, loaded our tree bags with seedlings and grabbed planting shovels. After a while, we developed a rhythm: Pace distance, notch hole, plant seedling, tamp soil. Repeat.
On and on we worked, stopping only long enough to gobble our sandwiches with cold hands. At dark we returned home, grateful for warm showers, and collapsed into bed. The next morning, we got up and did it all over again.
After four days of this regimen, my bones were tired and my muscles were sore, but my conscience was clear.
Despite the hard work, owning and managing forestland is deeply satisfying. There are both “hard” and “soft” benefits:
• Firewood for us and my parents, and ferns for our yard
• A stream of timber revenue as part of our retirement income
• The satisfaction of seeing the tangible fruits of our labor mature into trees
• Family bonds that grow stronger working side by side
• A peaceful refuge to enjoy deer, elk, birds and wildflowers
• An inheritance for our children
Above all, we’re happy to keep our forestland green. We don’t want to see forestland taken out of timber for other uses. And we’re happy to contribute to Oregon’s economy. It’s why we work in the forest industry.
While I may complain about the work, I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
But next time, I will consider hiring a planting crew!
OFRI Business Manager
“Hello? This is an owl calling. Anyone home?”
No, it’s not the script for an annoying marketing call. Instead, it’s what I was doing on a recent perfect summer evening in the Douglas-fir forest of Oregon’s Silver Falls State Park, southeast of Salem.
Yes, making owl calls. “Owling,” in the vernacular.
I was teamed with Fran Cafferata Coe, a wildlife biologist hired by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to research whether any northern spotted owls still occupy this territory. Fran is also documenting all owl species within the park.
In the twilight, we headed down the trail. Our eyes and ears were turned on. As was our neat little boom box playing the pre-recorded owl calls.
The value of owl research
The spotted owl, a dark-eyed raptor with brown plumage and white spots, has been the subject of large-scale and long-term studies since it was listed as a state and federal threatened species in the 1990s. Along with research into the owl’s biology and habits, surveys are determining population numbers and establishing preferred habitat. The results of these surveys are especially important to landowners, who use them to make management decisions about creating and protecting spotted owl habitat in their forests.
In the woods, our job was to walk a designated eight-mile loop, stopping at 12 specified locations and calling for 10 minutes per station.
We traipsed without response for eight stations. Then, at the ninth station, boom! It was the haunting, eight-note hoot-hoot-wahoot, hoot-hoot wahoo of a barred owl. (Spotted owls employ a four-noted hoot-hootoot-hoo.)
Where are the spotted owls?
I flashed my light into the trees. The barred owl loomed about 25 feet above us, watching us as we watched him. I could have stayed longer, but Coe nudged me. It was time to move on to the next station. Our evening ended with the additional sighting of a juvenile barred owl flitting through the trees. No spotted owls seen or heard.
Are barred owls displacing spotted owls? Scientists are assessing this threat. Some think the barred owl’s adaptability and aggressive nature may allow them to more successfully compete for the spotted owl’s ecological niche. Others think spotted owls clam up in the presence of barred owls.
That may be so. On this night in the Oregon woods, I heard a hoot-hoot-wahoot, hoot-hoot wahoo but not a hoot-hootoot-hoo.
“Hoos” to know?
OFRI Director of K-12 Education Programs
For more information on owls in Oregon’s forests, check out these links and OFRI publications.
A Guide to Priority Plant and Animal Species in Oregon Forests
Wildlife in Managed Forests — Northern Spotted Owl
Wildlife in Managed Forests — Oregon Forests as Habitat
The Spotted Owl’s New Nemesis, Smithsonian magazine, January 2009
Experimental Removal of Barred Owls to Benefit Threatened Northern Spotted Owls, Draft Environmental Impact Statement, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, March 2012
A study of water quality on the McKenzie River watershed shows that pesticide contamination of the water supply presents a negligible threat to human health, The Register-Guard newspaper reported on Aug. 8.
The 10-year, $1 million study examined contamination by herbicides, insecticides and fungicides - collectively called pesticides - in tributaries as well as the main stem of the McKenzie River, which flows into the Willamette River near Eugene.
According to Karl Morgenstern, the drinking water source protection coordinator for the Eugene Water & Electric Board, the study measured contaminant levels in parts per quadrillion, well below any threat to human health.
EWEB conducted the study with the U.S. Geological Survey, testing 28 sites during the first major storms following a dry summer and during spring squalls.
Morgenstern said the study confirmed his suspicion that urban areas and areas with higher-density homes are the primary threat when it comes to pesticides. The surprise in the study, he said, was how little pesticide was detected coming from forestlands, which make up 92 percent of the watershed.
Forest landowners use herbicides to control competing vegetation after a regeneration harvest to quickly establish tree seedlings. Herbicides used in forestry are applied under stringent labeling requirements and generally by licensed contractors who have been trained in the lawful use of herbicides. Rules for herbicide use are outlined in the Oregon Forest Practices Act and on product labels. The rules are administered by the Department of Forestry, the Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.