In Corvallis, Oregon, Georgia-Pacific is harvesting nearly 3,000 noble and Douglas firs and western hemlocks growing at 4,000 feet on Marys Peak, the tallest point in the Oregon Coast mountain range. We’re working with the U.S. Forest Service to eliminate timber overgrowth and restore the Marys Peak meadow. The partnership ensures harvesting is guided by state and federal rules, and it also illustrates the complex work of growing and managing trees.
Jerry Keck, group manager of wood and fiber supply, who is supervising this project, emphasizes, “In a stewardship sale like this, Georgia-Pacific wants to make sure we’re protecting the environment, but also able to get usable fiber.”
So why does the meadow need to be restored? Around the mid-20th century, workers unwittingly spread tree seeds by foot and vehicle as they built trails and installed radio towers on Marys Peak. The resulting trees have been encroaching on nearly 100 acres of the meadow, which is comprised of hardy grasses and is a habitat to large game like deer and elk as well as birds and butterflies. GP is responsible for reducing the tree cover by at least 25 acres.
“Not everything is being removed,” Keck says. “It’s selective tree removal, and their location has everything to do with it.”
The project began last fall at the peak’s summit; harvesting on the mountainsides should be finished by the end of 2016. The goal is to thin out trees so that the meadow looks like, well, a meadow. Unnatural clumps of trees have overrun the once-open swath of grassy land. These areas look like mini forests, but they aren’t governed by the natural cycles that keep forests healthy and well-proportioned. Instead, the trees grow close together and, at this high elevation, cannot reach their full potential. They are “stunted and limby,” Keck says, “and don’t readily fit standard log classes, which help determine a harvested tree’s destiny as, say, a 2x4 or 2x10.”
Georgia-Pacific’s Philomath and Coos Bay saw mills and Toledo containerboard mill will process the wood, and anything they can’t use will be sold to other local sawmills.
Of course, it’s not just about selling timber. Keck says, “This project is the culmination of efforts by the forest service and conservation groups. The objective of stewardship timber sales is to restore, enhance and improve habitats. The saw timber is a side product.”
Heavy Equipment With a Light Touch
Harvesting in Oregon’s Coast Range usually requires heavy-duty, heavyweight equipment. That equipment can compact soil, which disrupts decomposition, growth and other parts of the natural carbon cycle. For the Marys Peak harvest, GP is using special cut to length logging equipment that creates low ground pressure. A large tractor called a standard logging skidder has four big wheels, but the skidders rolling into Marys Peak have eight. The additional wheels redistribute the equipment’s weight to put less pressure on the soil.