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Oregon: Cut a tree, plant a tree
by Kevin Weeks
 
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Note:  A shorter version of this story appeared in the print edition of the Summer 2009 issue of "Forests for Oregon"
 
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By the time the Territorial government was established at Oregon City in 1849, Oregon already saw great potential in the vast stands of trees which formed the boundary of frontier in the American expansion of the West. By that year, twenty-nine sawmills in the Oregon Territory already produced nearly 18 million board feet of lumber. But even as early as 1901, people realized the forest was not a limitless resource and that replanting trees was in the public interest; an approach whose impact is still felt today.

Eleven tree seedlings per Oregonian per year
According to the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, about 40 million trees are planted in Oregon each year – that’s about 11 tree seedlings for each resident of Oregon based on 2008 population data.
 
Prior to 1941, reforestation in Oregon was limited to mostly natural reseeding and regeneration, especially following fires. During the first four decades of the 20th century, only 49,000 acres of new forest were planted in Oregon. The lack of new planting was frequently a market-driven decision; in 1940, the cost of planting a new year-old Douglas fir seedling was about double the cost of harvesting a 50-year old mature tree.
 
In 1941, foreshadowing more landmark legislation three decades later, Oregon enacted the Forest Conservation Act. The Act expressed the state’s commitment to conservation while also directing how timber harvests should occur. The core value of the Act was maintaining forest growth and productivity; this required logging operators to either leave trees within a harvest unit to permit natural reseeding to occur or to plant new tree seedlings if existing trees could not be retained.
 
Oregon came to value massive reforestation from necessity. By 1943, the state grappled with how to rejuvenate the multi-thousand acre area of northwest Oregon scarred by the 1933 and 1939 Tillamook Burns (subsequent fires in 1945 and 1951 would continue to add to the replanting challenge). State Forestry’s response was to aggressively reforest and spread tree seeds from the air, and deploy an army of tree planters on the ground. During the first three years of planting efforts in the Tillamook Burn, 8.3 million tree seedlings were used in an effort to reforest almost 9,600 acres.
 
Availability of tree seedlings was a necessary part of the strategy. Beginning with funding provided by the federal Clarke-McNary Act of 1924, Oregon began growing tree seedlings to assist landowners with replacing harvested trees. The Forestry Department opened a seedling nursery in Corvallis in 1925 (still running today as a part of Oregon State University’s Forest Research Center) and opened the 66-acre Dwight L. Phipps Forest Nursery near Elkton in 1957. The Phipps Nursery ceased operations in 2008.
 
Replanting trees in the former Tillamook Burn sites was a field trip activity for many students growing up in the Portland and coastal schools during the 1950’s, as well as community groups and work crews. By 1955, 15.3 million tree seedlings had been planted in the Burn, creating a thriving forest stand dedicated as the Tillamook State Forest in 1973.
 
Despite innovations in tree genetics research and reforestation strategy, the business of planting trees has not changed much through the decades. A planter still dons a bag of seedlings (hopefully kept at 33 degrees F until just before planting) and heads into the freshly-prepared planting site with the tool of choice: a hoedad (an L-shaped long blade hoe), a planting spade or an auger. Once in the dirt, landowners must contend with keeping seedlings watered, keeping them protected from wildlife who may view the seedling as lunch, the inevitable early mortality of weaker seedlings and keeping vegetation from competing with the seedling for precious resources including soil, oxygen and sunlight.
How to Plant a Tree 
 


Oregon's Forest Practices Act
 
In 1971, Oregon established the benchmark for forest management again with the passage of the Forest Practices Act. The Act required protection of resources during harvest, slash disposal, rules for chemical application and reforestation after harvest.
 
There is overwhelming support for Oregon’s commitment to planting trees. In research performed by Davis, Hibitts & Midghall in June 2008 for the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, 74 percent of Oregonians polled know that replanting is required after harvest while 86 percent approve of managing forests by periodically harvesting and replanting after harvest.
 
Despite regulation, science and forest management plans, nature still plays a large role in the success of new tree growth – and ultimately decides what works in the forest. Because of Oregon’s commitment to conservation, planning and replanting, Oregon will enjoy healthy forests for decades to come.
 
 
 
Kevin Weeks is a Public Affairs Specialist with the Oregon Department of Forestry's Agency Affairs Program in Salem.