About 360,000 acres of private forestlands were among the million acres that burned in Oregon during the Labor Day wildfires. Over the next year or so, Oregonians can expect to see trucks carrying scorched timber off private forestlands and bringing tree seedlings and planting crews onto them.
Assessments show the wind-driven fires burned unevenly across the landscape. Some stands were completely incinerated, leaving no merchantable wood. In other places, trunks were scorched but the trees still hold some value.
Repairing access roads, falling hazard trees, and replanting are expensive costs to landowners. And while post-fire logging captures some remaining timber value on burned lands, the majority of acres burned had not grown trees large enough to go to a mill or produce revenue for landowners.
“Sadly, the Labor Day fires of 2020 laid waste to far too many acres of beautiful and productive forestland that Oregonians prize,” said Mark Kincaid, Vice President of Timber Resources for the family-owned Lone Rock Timber based in Roseburg. “Now that the smoke has cleared, an urgent and robust recovery effort is needed to remove dead trees, which are fuel for future fires, and replant the future generation of forest.”
Jim Dudley is Vice President of Resources for the Swanson Group, a forest products company based in Douglas County. The county was hit hard this September by the Archie Creek Fire, which burned 131,596 acres.
Dudley said, “Time is of the essence when it comes to post-fire harvest and recovery. After the heat and flames of a fire, it only takes a few weeks for insects to make their way in and break down trees and other organic matter that hold our forest soils in place and filter our water. By harvesting quickly, we maximize the value of our forest resource, which also helps offset the costs of critical reforestation efforts necessary to restore our forests to healthy, thriving lands that protect soil and water quality.”
“In the end,” Dudley added, “all of the trees harvested from these fires will be milled into essential building products by local manufacturing facilities that we can use to rebuild our communities.”
The effort to clear burned stands falls to Oregon’s professional loggers, many of whom lost both expensive logging equipment and timber they had cut but not yet removed. Rex Storm is a certified forester and the executive vice president of Associated Oregon Loggers, which represents over 1,000 companies.
“This has been a tough year on loggers, with logging shutdowns in March and April due to COVID-19 and again during the wildfires, when many loggers were actively helping fight fires by loaning heavy equipment,” said Storm.
“Some older loggers are retiring rather than try to replace lost equipment, but others are already back working to quicken the greenup of the forests by doing restoration logging,” said Storm. “A standing dead tree is not only a hazard for people working or recreating in forests, it’s not going to capture any more carbon or provide any of the other benefits we get from trees.”
Dylan Kruse is Director of Government Affairs and Program Strategy for the Oregon-based non-profit Sustainability Northwest.
Kruse said, “As post-fire logging operations commence, Sustainable Northwest supports transparency and clear communication from landowners and strict oversight and regulatory review from the Oregon Department of Forestry. Staff resources and additional technical assistance should prioritize avoided conversion of working forests, support the needs of family forest landowners, and protect and enhance drinking watersheds and critical fish and wildlife habitat.”
Because post-fire harvesting is fairly time-bound, ODF has been shifting stewardship foresters throughout the state to provide capacity to districts that are experiencing heavier workloads in the wake of the Labor Day wildfires, including an increase in notifications for post-fire harvesting.
According to Kyle Abraham, Chief of ODF’s Private Forest Division, they have also brought in technical specialists from other state agencies to lend their expertise and provide additional support to the notification review process. For the next several months, a habitat protection biologist from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and a water quality specialist from the Department of Environment Quality will be working alongside ODF’s stewardship foresters on these massive review workloads.
Reallocating and adding resources will help ensure state laws and rules on natural resource protections are being followed while providing landowners with timely approvals and assistance, if needed.
Abraham says Oregon’s Forest Practices Act has provisions for logging after wildfire.
“Operators are required under the FPA to protect forest soils, water quality, and habitat for fish and threatened and endangered species. There is also a recognition that large, burned-over stands can be removed to re-establish the environmental benefits of a healthy tree canopy faster.”
Today’s post-fire harvest reminds Lone Rock’s Kincaid of efforts after the massive Tillamook Burns of the 1930s and 1940s.
“One need only look to the Tillamook State Forest and remember the devastating fires there 80 years ago to see the value of a robust recovery effort that restored healthy watersheds, recreation, and local communities,” he said. “While the blackened skeletons of millions of trees may be today’s challenge, our actions today matter - they will allow my children and future generations to once again enjoy a healthy, productive forest landscape.”