VENETA — Don Persyn pointed out trees that were missing their tops as he drove along a logging road in the Coast Range west of Eugene.
The bright yellow dots amid the dark green forest signal where a mid-December ice storm hit the hardest. Below, downed trees litter the timberland.
Persyn, a logging manager for Springfield-based Roseburg Forest Products, has been busy in the months since the storm. He and other Roseburg timber managers have been evaluating the state of the woods and identifying places to log earlier than planned.
So far, they’ve found about 100 locations. Harvesting has started, and eventually motorists driving Highway 126 between Eugene and the Oregon Coast will see some of the work. Loggers will be cutting everything from a select few trees to clear-cuts, in stands of 5 acres to 70 acres.
“It’s all on how many good, standing trees you have left to grow,” Persyn said.
The same December ice storm toppled trees and cut power around Eugene, with the storm’s effects lingering for weeks. It affected tens of thousands of people in Lane County, leaving many without power for nearly a week. Its cost surpassed a combined $9.4 million for local public agencies and utilities, according to Lane County estimates.
Ice damage to tree farms is partly because of how timber companies manage private land, contends Doug Heiken, conservation and restoration coordinator for Oregon Wild. The Portland-based environmental group, with an office in Eugene, advocates for forest and old-growth preservation on public land. He said timber companies grow forests as agriculture.
“Private industry maintains a large portion of their lands in very young plantations, and small trees break more easily,” he said. “Such tree farms are also more vulnerable to insects and fire. That’s the cost of trying to control nature instead of working with nature.”
Younger trees survived the ice the best, and it was trees nearing harvest size and age that took the most damage, said Phil Adams, Roseburg Forest Products’ land and timber manager.
Roseburg, state and federal forest managers with timber holdings near Veneta still are assessing ice storm damage in hundreds of stands. An ice storm as damaging as the December storm occurs only about once every 50 years, Adams said. “We haven’t gotten our hands completely around the event yet,” he said.
Giustina Land & Timber also is still assessing how much damage the ice storm caused and has had to adjust its harvest schedule, said Carey Hart, chief forester for the Eugene-based company. He declined to say how much timberland Giustina owns, but said the ice storm did extensive damage to holdings south and east of the city.
“The ice got heavy in town, and it got really heavy just south of town,” he said.
Cleaning has just begun, and it starts with removing downed trees and branches from roads.
Roseburg has spent about $100,000 since January just on clearing roads. Ice up to an inch thick covered the trees during the December storm, Adams said, with the worst damage seen on northern and eastern slopes at elevations above 700 feet.
Roseburg owns about 75,000 acres, nearly 120 square miles — the triangle formed by Veneta, Mapleton and Lorane. Helicopters and drones have buzzed the forestland, looking for pockets of storm-damaged trees that are not visible from roads.
Where the storm brought down or broke more than 50 percent of a stand, Roseburg plans to clear-cut log the whole stand and then plant Douglas fir seedlings. Most of the logging should be done in the next year.
The company normally waits at least 40 years to log Douglas fir in the Coast Range, but the storm changed plans for many young stands.
Before the storm, about 200 trees stood per acre, said Link Smith, the western Lane district forester for the Oregon Department of Forestry. Only about 20 trees per acre remain.
So, Adams said, Roseburg will harvest the stand five years ahead of schedule.
The piles of logs on the ground create prime habitat for beetles, Smith said. Beetles feast on dead trees first and then spread to live trees.
The beetles might kill live trees, he said, adding to the trees brought down by the storm and increasing the likelihood of wildfires in the summer.
Thick debris on the forest floor creates a danger for firefighters, Smith said. “You can’t fight fire in that.”