Planting trees in the timberlands of Douglas County has run like clockwork for decades, with a planned, time-proven strategy to keep one of Oregon’s most renewable resource thriving.
After the 2020 Labor Day fires, that process has been thrown into overdrive.
More than 1.3 million acres of timberland were claimed by wildfire this past August and September, largely due to the Riverside, Beachie, Lionshead, Holiday Farm and Archie Creek fires, which all consumed more than 131,000 acres each.
That’s more than double the annual average of 550,000 acres that burns in Oregon, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.
Getting those lands replanted has been running full-speed ahead from the second it was safe to enter areas which were still actively burning.
“We started recovery and replanting while parts of the fire were still burning,” said Matt Hill, executive director of Douglas Timber Operators. “We started on private lands as soon as it was safe to re-enter.”
The bulk of replanting on the Archie Creek Fire scar has been on private timberland, with what Hill estimates to be nearly 10,000 acres already supplied with new seedlings. One of the reasons for the urgency of reforestation is stabilizing soils which burned so intensely that the integrity of the soil itself was compromised.
“We’re racing against erosion and invasive species,” Hill said.
Timberland owners not only want fresh root systems in the ground to strengthen the base of their soils, but also to help combat such noxious species as Scotch Broom and Himalayan blackberry.
“We’re trying to help nature get a head start against competing forces,” Hill said. “Forest recovery, watersheds, fisheries, wildlife habitat. They’re all related. The faster we can help that process get started, the better it is for all factors.”
Joe Newton of Lone Rock Resources said that unlike normal years, the replanting happening now will also be a bit of an experiment.
During a normal replanting cycle, most Douglas fir seedlings have been matured two years before being planted. This year, Newton said there are more 1-year-old trees being planted.
“We really had to change our strategy this year,” said Newton, the lands manager for Lone Rock. “We plan our planting several years out. That changed.”
Newton said the focus for Lone Rock was to replant several hundred acres of very young trees which burned during the Archie Creek Fire, which became a priority to get replanted as soon as possible.
“It’s going to take several years to replant all of the things that burned, in addition to what we normally would be replanting,” Newton said. “It’s sort of a double whammy.”
Replanting with younger seedlings also means that judging the success of the replanting will take more time than a usual season.
“We’re going to have a really good idea of how successful we were after this first planting season,” Newton said. “We will go back through in October, and we’re going to learn a lot. The first year is the most important.”
“We will see a living experiment over the next several generations how intervention can help accelerate the recovery of these forests,” Hill said.