Ice storm heavily affects forests
03.18.2021

When an ice storm warning went out to central Willamette Valley residents in mid-February, I recall the term “significant icing” standing out to me as I read the warning. I would soon come to discover this meant that I and my family would spend an entire night lying awake listening to trees crack, topple and fall due to that significant icing. It sounded like firework explosions for 12 hours straight, or thunder without any lightning. In the light of the next morning, the full story of destruction and devastation was revealed.

Our home was unscathed, but many Oregonians had damage to their houses, cars, trees and forested properties after the storm. The aftermath looked much like hurricane damage, with hundreds of power poles and lines on the ground and tree debris everywhere. Many central Willamette Valley residents spent the first few hours and days following the storm clearing driveways and roads to allow safe passage. As with many natural disasters, communities and neighbors came together. Many checked that their neighbors were warm and fed, since thousands were without power, and made safety and welfare a first priority. For one neighbor of ours, I’m not sure if she was more thankful for the neighborhood crew that cleared her long driveway, or for the delivery of some hot coffee and breakfast.

As the ice thawed and roads cleared, I made my way to the Rediscovery Forest, a 15-acre demonstration forest inside The Oregon Garden in Silverton that OFRI has helped manage for the past 20 years. The conifer trees in the Rediscovery Forest vary in age from young seedlings to about 50 years old. When I surveyed the storm damage in the forest, it was the younger conifer trees – varying from teenagers to into their twenties – that seemed to be the most affected, with broken tops and trees uprooted or snapped. The older conifer trees also lost a lot of limbs and some tops, and a few of these trees also came down in the storm.

Storm damage

In the rest of The Oregon Garden, it was heartbreaking to see some of the several-hundred-year-old Oregon white oak trees had either snapped or been uprooted, broken or damaged. In general, hardwood trees seemed to sustain some of the worst damage. The Oregon Garden’s Signature Oak, a heritage tree, remained standing, but many of its branches were damaged.

Storm damage

What happened to the Rediscovery Forest and The Oregon Garden is just a reflection of the thousands of acres in Oregon forests that were impacted by last month’s ice storm. Some of it even overlapped with the burned areas from the Labor Day Fires in 2020.

“Winter storms are a naturally occurring phenomena in our region’s forests, but they can have many negative impacts, including increased susceptibility to insects and pathogens, fire risk from added ground fuels, habitat loss for fish and wildlife, damaged or blocked roads and culverts, safety hazards for landowners and forest workers, and reduced aesthetic value and economic losses,” reports Brad Withrow-Robinson of Oregon State University’s Forestry & Natural Resources Extension program. Find out more about storm safety and recovery here.

Many people who were affected by the storm have lamented a favorite tree being impacted, or how hard it was to decide to cut or save a tree. The Oregon Department of Forestry’s Urban Forestry Program has put together a list of useful resources and information on tree care after a storm. 

Some clean-up after the storm can be done using hand tools and a lot of sweat equity. In other cases, especially with anything that is potentially hazardous, it’s better to call in a trained arborist. You can find an arborist in your area through the International Society of Arboriculture.

It’s also never too early to start thinking about what you might plant to replace trees lost in the storm. If you live in a more urban setting, consult with your local ordinances and make sure to think about the right tree for the right place; many cities have tree-species preference lists. For those who live in a more remote forest landscape or own forestland, OFRI offers a useful guide called Establishing and Managing Forest Trees in Western Oregon that includes tips on selecting the right species to plant and how to properly plant seedlings. You can also find technical assistance for your area by visiting KnowYourForest.org, a website aimed at Oregon forest landowners that’s managed by OFRI and other members of the Partnership for Forestry Education.

Oregonians and our forests are resilient, but it has been a challenging year for both. From now on, I would prefer if “significant icing” were only used in reference to desserts and cakes.

From the woods,

Julie Woodward

Senior Manager of Forestry Education

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