A sweet and sticky surprise awaited Megan Monson in her family forestland. It turns out that certain Pacific Northwest native trees can produce a breakfast table treat.

“We learned how to tap big-leaf maple trees — for syrup,” said Monson (pronounced MUN-son), a communications consultant based in Myrtle Creek. “It’s not the kind you have in Maine, but you can tap them.”

Monson won’t apply the skill until next winter. Still, it’s an exciting potential resource for Monson and her adult children as they manage their 120 acres outside Myrtle Creek. They can thank Oregon State University Extension Service in Douglas County for the discovery.

Monson attended her first Extension workshops more than 20 years ago. Her husband, Doug Rice, a logger who later retrained as an electrician, was helping his parents with the acreage that had been in his family since the early 1930s. Monson joined her mother-in-law in workshops and related activities offered through the Extension’s Forestry & Natural Resources program area.

Doug Rice’s premature death in 2013 thrust Monson into deeper involvement with the family woodland holdings. She turned again to the Extension Service for guidance.

“I went for some basic knowledge on what to do with the property,” Monson recalled. “Do I need to thin over here? Or worry about blackberry bushes over there? Is that tree going to come down over the road? How do I protect (the property) from wildfire?”

These are bread-and-butter questions for Alicia Christiansen, Extension forestry and natural resources agent. She consults on a wide variety of topics, focusing on forest management and all that encompasses, including fire protection.

Her expertise is available to the general public in events such as an annual wreath making class and yearly native tree walk. The bulk of her job comprises assistance to small woodland owners.

One landowner near Myrtle Creek mentioned that he was seeking seedlings for a type of tree called golden chinkapin. While on a site visit to his property, Christiansen caught sight of a tree hiding behind another one.

“It had gold on the underside of the leaf, which is a distinguishing characteristic for golden chinkapin,” Christiansen recalled. “I told him he had one right on the road. He didn’t know about it and was super excited.”

Extension courses and instruction are available on tree identification, as well as non-timber forest products such as mushroom and berries, and even how to operate a chain saw.

For Christiansen, “helping people to reach their forest management goals is at the core of what I do,” she said.

Site visits and caller questions are free of charge. There are nominal fees for workshops and classes. Christiansen said typical classes cost $10 to $20; longer and more intensive series are in the $50-$75 range.

The Extension Service has become something of a legacy stretching down to the fourth generation for Monson and her family.

Monson enrolled in a short course about a decade ago on drawing up a forest management plan. This guides property owners in setting five- and 10-year goals for their land – helpful if they wish to harvest timber and essential for tree farm certification.

About three years ago, Monson signed up for a longer and more intense Extension course called Master Woodland Managers. She described the course as life-changing.

“It brought together everything I’d learned from all the different workshops. And there was this collegial atmosphere of other property owners, all there to learn,” she said.

Ultimately, Monson’s adult children inherited the property from their grandparents and Monson’s in-laws, Bill and Clem Rice. Its management remains a family affair between Monson, her son and daughter.

“We don’t make any decisions without a group meeting,” she said.

Monson, meanwhile, continues to absorb information. She has learned whether trees are softwoods or hardwoods, which ones are best thinned and which ones should be left standing. She can evaluate when downed trees should be left for wildlife and when they should be piled and burned. She’s volunteered for Women Owning Woodlands, a national network coordinated in Oregon by OSU Extension.

“The biggest thing is having a community out there now,” Monson said. “We know a lot of people who have property themselves who are facing the same issue, and we can call on them.”

Recently, Monson’s family needed some land-related advice requiring an attorney or accountant. Monson turned to Christiansen for a referral.

“She sent out an email, and I kid you not, we had a list of six or eight solid people,” Monson said. “It was like magic, very cool.”

Editor’s note: Tricia Jones is a freelance writer and former employee of The News-Review.

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