OAKLAND — Richard and Donna Rawson have made it their mission to be stewards of their 66-acre forested property and its natural resources.

They purchased the land in the Metz Hill area north of Oakland in 1981. Through the years, either by hiring out the work or doing it themselves, they have turned a poison oak and blackberry infested forest into a timbered park of Douglas fir, oak and madrone trees. Four natural springs on the property have also been developed into domestic water sources, wildlife habitat ponds and sources for fire protection.

Their efforts were recently honored with their selection as the Douglas County Small Woodlands Association’s 2020 Tree Farmers of the Year. Richard Rawson led a tour of his property on May 1 for members of the association.

“It’s an entirely different place than what it was 40 years ago,” Richard Rawson said. “I’ve gotten more than my money’s worth from the enjoyment of working on this land. It’s been worth it. It’s in better shape than when we bought it.”

The acreage had been heavily logged in 1949 with the logs milled on site into railroad ties. So sawdust was scattered around the property and because the land was left to regenerate on its own, poison oak and blackberries had a strong presence along with a mixture of young trees. The Rawsons, in their mid-30s at the time and the owners of Cabin Creek Fencing, were up to the challenge of improving the land.

They built a home on the property and slowly worked on renovating the surrounding acreage. Poison oak, blackberries, Scotch broom, hawthorn and thistle were cut down and sprayed, ponds were developed for wildlife and for use in case of wildfire, and roads were constructed around the property for both work and for access in case of fire. In their place, the land features 40 wildflowers that bloom annually.

Several piles of woody debris were left to provide habitat for smaller wildlife.

“Wildlife is an important occupant of the forest and we get a lot of enjoyment out of watching them here,” Richard Rawson said of deer, squirrels, coyotes, bobcats, turkeys and a variety of other birds.

In 1992 and 1994, some trees in the forest were thinned, but there was no major logging until an ice storm, drought and a major snowstorm in the past five years impacted the trees. Following those events, the Rawsons had professional help in making decisions since they had begun working with Barnes & Associates, a Roseburg-based forestry consulting business, in 2016 to develop a land management plan.

“They’re good at maintaining what they have,” said Ben Christiansen, the forestry consultant who has worked with the Rawsons since 2016. “They have a healthy forest that is aesthetically pleasing to look at.

“They’ve done a lot of fire risk management, cleaning up the undergrowth, having roads to get around and developing the springs for water,” Christiansen added.

“I’ve never regretted investing in consulting foresters,” Richard Rawson said. “I wish I had earlier.”

Roy Brogden, president of the Douglas County Small Woodlands Association, explained that in selecting a Tree Farmer of the Year, such factors as harvesting, thinning, vegetation control and fire prevention management are considered. He complimented the Rawsons on how they have dealt with those factors on their property.

“They’ve done what is best for the land and the forest,” Brogden said.

Richard Rawson has been a board member for the small woodlands association for the past three years and has helped the association organize Fire Season Preparedness workshops and other field tours. The mission of the association, which has 200 members, is to assist small landowners in managing their resources.

Rawson completed the Oregon State University Extension Master Woodland Manager volunteer program training in 2019. His forest is also certified by the American Tree Farm System.

Rawson said his property has produced approximately 260,000 board feet of timber, 125 cords of firewood of both Douglas fir and oak, and many family Christmas trees.

“The work out here helps keep me healthy,” he said. Both Richard and Donna are now 75. “It has satisfied my inner need for nature. I’m pleased with what I see now.”

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