I felt some trepidation when my wife and I saw this sign as we got to Camp Sherman (central Oregon) last weekend. We're part owners of a cabin along the Metolius River that sits on leased Forest Service land.
Forest fires are an ever-present danger.
Several have burnt large acreages in the Camp Sherman, Black Butte Ranch, and Sisters areas in recent years. Wildfires used to naturally control the density of vegetation, but now that humans control fires, the forests are way overgrown.
We know this.
But when we heard rumbling early Monday morning and went out to the edge of the road to see what was going on, our environmentalist hearts still beat a bit faster when we saw what was coming out of the land on the other side of the road from the cabins.
I waved to the driver of the truck as he went by. I felt good that the logging industry was getting some much-needed work in these lean economic times. It seems that stimulus dollars are responsible for the increased thinning in the Camp Sherman area, which is being done by Melcher Logging of Sweet Home.
Later in the day, Laurel and I went for a walk near and through the area being thinned. This section near Forest Service Road 1419 hasn't been touched yet. Or at least, not recently. There are lots of small trees -- good candidates for thinning.
A Sweet Home paper's article about Melcher Logging has a right-on quote from Scott Melcher's younger brother, Robbie (Scott runs the company).
Robbie Melcher said that working in the Camp Sherman area puts them “right in the middle of the environmentalists. It’s a pretty high-profile area.”
Yes, we're two of them Prius-driving, latte-sipping, Obama-voting greenies. By and large, Laurel and I are on board with thinning projects like this one. So is the environmental movement in general, as evidenced by an Oregonian story about a similar Melcher project near Sisters.
There's a clear demarcation where the thinning is supposed to stop. This tag faces into a butte that we like to climb for exercise and the view. It was good to see that it's off limits to tree-falling.
Transformer-like, it latches onto a tree with a fiendishly complicated "mouth," and bites it off. (The tree slanting to the right is its current victim.)
Then somehow the Timberjack also is able to strip the tree of its branches and cuts the trunk into suitable lengths. Way cool.
Further down the path I came across this machine, cleverly disguised as a big pile of branches.
The grabber thingie picks up branches that the Timberjack has cut and puts them on the back of the machine. Also way cool.
Then I came to a large pile of logs. How did they get there?
Here's the answer. Another machine that looks like it'd be a lot of fun to play with. It runs around the forest and picks up the stripped logs that the Timberjack has cut, then piles them neatly in this storage area.
What isn't so neat is the damage all this equipment is doing to the area, which used to have only some walking/biking/riding trails and some minimal traces of long-unused dirt roads. I hope the Forest Service requires Melcher Logging to smooth out and reseed these tracks.
Here's a giant pile of branches waiting to be retrieved by the Picker-Up Machine (I'm a bit vague on the technical names of the equipment).
Nearing the Forest Service road again, the benefit of the thinning to the cabins along the Metolius is evident. All of this vegetation now won't be fuel for a forest fire.
This Timberjack was being worked on when I walked by, so I could snap a good photo of it. We've got ten acres of largely wooded land in rural south Salem. I'd love to have one of these. I have no idea what I'd do with it, and my wife wouldn't let me drive it onto our natural property anyway, but it'd look great parked somewhere.
I've got to remember not to take LSD and then go for a walk in the woods while thinning work is being done in the area. (Here's a You Tube video of a Timberjack walking machine that is definitely something you don't want to encounter while on psychedelics.)
These stacks along the road show the basic thinning strategy: cut smallish trees and strip the branches, which leaves the trunks. I'm not sure what all this will be used for. Melcher says firewood and chips, among other things. Maybe some will be used as biomass fuel (a plant is being built in Eugene).
This felled tree was bothersome to us. It's a mature Ponderosa. My wife called the Forest Service office in Sisters to ask if it was supposed to be cut down. Hopefully it was.
The Sweet Home newspaper article mentions Ponderosa's with a diameter of 8 to 16 inches as being thinned in early projects. This one looks to be much larger.
[Update: Laurel called the Forest Service office again this morning. She was told that trees up to 25 inches in diameter can be cut down. Wow. That sure seems excessive. The staffer said that cut trees of that size might have diseases or other problems, but they could be healthy.]
[Further update: Steven Orange, the Forest Service guy overseeing the thinning, stopped by our cabin to answer our questions and address some concerns. I feel a lot better about the work now. Orange was impressively knowledgeable about forest health.
He assured us that Melcher is one of the best logging companies he's ever come across and is highly diligent about doing the thinning as the contract requires -- even going beyond the call of duty when an environmental issue demands it. We learned a lot during our 45 minute conversation with Orange.
I showed him a photo of the large cut Ponderosa that we were concerned about. He said that it likely was a "hazard" tree which needed to be downed with a chain saw. Orange clarified that only Ponderosas 16 inches and less across (four feet or so above the ground) are being thinned, unless a larger tree is unhealthy or a danger. Pines, I believe, could be cut up to 25 inches.
He pointed out that the Timberjack only can cut trees up to 24 inches in diameter, so this puts a limit on what gets removed. Laurel asked how the crews decide what trees to cut, and what trees are left. Orange told us that Melcher Logging is so skilled at thinning, and has done so many similar projects, they have a very good sense of how much wood should be left standing.
When Orange checks their work with a prism of some sort, he said that usually Melcher is better than 90% accurate. And when they err, it is on the conservative side. We talked about the fact that a logging company with a desirable long-term Forest Service contract isn't going to do anything controversial to jeopardize it. So all in all we're reassured that the Camp Sherman thinning project is being conducted correctly.
Orange showed us on a map where previous thinning projects around Camp Sherman have been conducted, so we could see how the area has recovered after a couple of years. Next visit, we'll do that.]