During his nine years as the Woodlands Assistance Forester for Douglas County, Marty Amos has coordinated the spraying of 21,560 acres for 119 small woodland owners across the county and treated 6,260 acres to ready the ground for tree planting.
“Because of this work, over 2.25 million trees are growing in Douglas County, largely due to the herbicide treatments that were applied,” Amos said. “I have also coordinated the treatment of 1,271 acres of fuel hazard reduction for 56 different landowners, not to mention answering 400 to 500 forestry questions and assisting landowners with all other aspects of forest silviculture each year.”
But now, Amos is unsure of what will come next.
The Douglas County Board of Commissioners voted to make changes to the structure of the Land Department during a public meeting on Jan. 5 in order to relieve some of the county’s financial stress. Amos and the part-time county forester under the department were given notice the following Monday that their positions would be terminated on Feb. 17. Other positions under the Land Department have been moved to different departments.
“The elimination of the service forestry program will be a substantial loss for the citizens of Douglas County, in addition to the direct negative impact on the timber production within the county,” Amos said. “This will eventually adversely affect the job force and economic welfare of communities in Douglas County, as approximately 25 percent of Douglas County’s labor force is employed in the forest products industry.”
Though Amos’ job in the Woodlands Assistance Program is set to end on Feb. 17, County Commissioner Chris Boice said his position had already been budgeted for through the end of the fiscal year (June 30).
Boice said if there is enough interest in continuing the program without county funds, the commissioners might consider using those budgeted funds for the transition of the program to another entity outside the county.
The Board of Commissioners would need to make that decision in an open public meeting.
Amos said he was shocked when he found out his job would be cut.
“There was zero inclination and zero talk of them doing what they decided to do,” Amos said. “They were given four proposals by Kevin Potter and the HR director and they decided to do something completely different than those four scenarios set out in front of them.”
“There were many possible scenarios discussed at the January 5th meeting and we chose this option because it was the best combination of a lot of options,” Boice said.
Possible alternative ideas for funding the Woodlands Assistance Program without county funds included teaming up with the Oregon State University Extension Service or Douglas Timber Operators, but neither of those have panned out.
“For Extension, it would have to be strictly fee-based to pay for the position, and I just don’t see that working and the cost would be a substantial increase to the landowners that use it each year and that wouldn’t be a realistic alternative,” Amos said.
Boice met with OSU Extension Regional Administrator John Punches, who said people who use the spray program would likely be willing to pay for that service, but OSU Extension is not able to fund the position in full, as the Woodlands Assistance Program steers away from timber sales and other services that create direct revenue for clients.
Boice also contacted Bob Ragon of DTO, who declined the offer to take on the program and said there are other resources that can provide the services for woodlands owners. Ragon added that being part of the Oregon Small Woodlands Association could also help the clients find available alternative programs.
Amos said a tax on county-assessed timber lands could possibly provide funding to keep the program going, but he doesn’t know how much that would provide. He wouldn’t be able to provide the services as a consultant on his own because he would have to charge so much that it would be cost-prohibitive for woodlands owners.
One of the services Amos provided through the program is the spraying of herbicides on competing grass near new seedlings for an average of 2,500 acres each year.
“The spray is crucial to seedling survival,” Amos said, adding that a 75 percent loss of new seedlings due to moisture stress is common without the herbicide treatment. “Without that program, for them to be able to get helicopter service to treat their units with herbicide is going to be nearly impossible for landowners.”
This year, landowners will spend about $261,000 to plant 725 acres of timberland with an average of 360 trees per acre, according to Amos. Without an aerial spray program, most of the landowners will not be able to treat the plantations.
“With a minimum loss of just 75 percent, this will mean a financial loss of $195,750 this year, and another $195,750 or more next year due to the reforestation requirement that will make it mandatory to replace the trees that have succumbed to the competition with surrounding vegetation,” Amos said. “The loss will continue to compound until eventually landowners decline to reforest because of the financial impact, and the overall timber production in the county decreases significantly.”
The spraying service usually starts in March, but the short notice doesn’t give landowners much of a chance to set up an alternative, Amos said.
Bill Arsenault, a woodlands owner in Elkton, has received the spraying service over the years and was expecting to have it again this spring for his 38 acres.
Small woodlands owners sometimes only harvest about 20 acres at a time, and Arsenault said it’s not economical for a helicopter to come out to only spray 20 acres at a time, so the Woodlands Assistance Program would pool the woodlands owners together and assess what each of them needed ahead of time to make the service feasible.
“Marty also sets up the formulas for what to apply, which depends on the ground, the vegetation you’re trying to control and what herbicides you actually use,” Arsenault said. “Marty’s a great technical support and he has that knowledge, and generally us small landowners don’t keep up on that stuff.”
Amos also helps schedule the spraying to make sure it happens at the optimal time before the trees start budding.
“We need that kind of advice from a person like Marty,” Arsenault said. “We need help.”
Arsenault said without Amos’s service, he’s been trying to find out what else can be done.
“It comes at a shock, but we certainly understand the county’s position,” Arsenault said. “They’re plain out of money.”