By Amy Grotta, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension – Columbia, Washington & Yamhill Counties
Last week I traveled to sunny Eastern Oregon for the OSU Extension Forestry team’s annual planning meeting. To kick things off, our group spent an afternoon with Tom and Cindy Beechinor, who are active forest landowners, Master Woodland Managers, and dedicated Extension supporters in the Blue Mountains above the town of Milton-Freewater. We toured the family’s 640-acre property and learned much about how they care for their land and some of the challenges they face. Some observations:
- The Beechinors envy those of us here in northwest Oregon for the high productivity of our forest soils. On their site, 18-24 inch annual leader growth is “good”.
- They also envy our access to markets. They mentioned Douglas-fir prices in the $300/MBF range. That’s about half of what it is on the west side! Log hauling costs are also a challenge, as the nearest mill is about 100 miles away.
- On their land, situated about 4500 feet in elevation, grand fir is the most common species, followed by Engelmann spruce, although this is partly a result of early logging practices which removed the higher-value Douglas-fir and western larch. Today, through selective logging and replanting the Beechinors are attempting to convert the forest to a more diverse tree mix.
- Anyone in our neck of the woods who has attempted to plant western redcedar in an area where deer and elk live can relate to the Beechinors’ situation with trying to grow western larch. They have planted thousands of seedlings, but most have not made it due to elk rubbing.
- Speaking of elk, our hike through the woods was punctuated by the sounds of elk bugling all around us. For those of you who have not experienced this before, it is really something!
- Maintaining the land’s value for elk and other wildlife is an important management objective, although this comes with a big challenge: wolves. So far, they have not experienced any livestock predation, but the Walla Walla wolf pack is known to come on to their land and they have seen evidence of elk kills. They have a good relationship with fish & wildlife officials, who can alert them as soon as a radio-collared wolf is tracked on their property. That way, they can move their cattle if needed. One challenge they’ve come across is that they no longer can use dogs to manage their livestock, because their cows are now so skittish from wolves that they don’t respond to domesticated dogs either.
All in all, it was an enlightening tour and a great introduction to this part of the state. There are opportunities for woodland owners to visit tree farms in other regions too, such as through OSWA’s annual meeting. I encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities to travel and learn about the diversity of issues, and commonalities, faced by small woodland owners across Oregon.