Across a small wooden bridge that spans the rippling Baker Creek, a leaf-strewn road winds up a hill into the McDonald and Dunn Research Forests. An early cold-spell has deadened the leaves of the surrounding deciduous trees, and a biting wind has blown them from the boughs.
Doug Pollock ambles up the path, his feet crunching the golden leaves. He is a former sustainability engineer for Hewlett-Packard, and lives near the forest. As the trail opens up into a wide expansion of downed trees, he chats while eating a sandwich.
Last May, Pollock learned something that he said disturbed him.
“My wife and son were recently running in the Baker Creek area, across the valley from the clearcut operation occurring along road 800. They came home to say it looked like many of the old-growth trees along Road 800 had been cut. I was very surprised and dismayed to hear this, as these were some of the finest and oldest trees in the entire [Oregon State University] forest system,” Pollock said in an email to Brent Klumph, the forest manager for the college, back in May.
Dozens of tree stumps line the hillside, with large slash piles lumped here and there. This is what has become known as the No Vacancy clearcut. In May, the OSU College of Forestry carried out a plan, two years in the making; to harvest old-growth from the Sulphur Springs/ Baker Creek area. The cut has been decried by many in the community as a sad loss—some going so far as to hold a memorial for the downed trees. One of the older trees in the stand dates to around 420 years old.
College of Forestry Interim Dean Anthony Davis has categorized the harvest as clearing the area for future regeneration of forest. Yet, he has since called the cut a mistake.
“We made a mistake in carrying out this recent harvest,” said Davis in a July 12 memo to
faculty and students.
The cutting of the stand has drawn controversy around the OSU College of Forestry’s practices. In 2009, the college suspended the 2005 Forest Plan after the economic downturn of 2008.
The 2005 Forest Plan was enacted to guide how the forest would be managed by the college. While the area where the cut occurred was not a protected zone, it was historically a nesting, roosting and foraging habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl—which the plan designated as protected forest, shielding
it from clearcuts.
The deviation from the 2005 Forest Plan is now over according Davis. In a letter to faculty and students of the College of Forestry dated Oct. 21, he formally unsuspended the plan. Davis is now looking to provide more protection for old-growth.
“I have directed our forest management team to collaboratively develop guidelines for retaining trees of unique character to ensure that trees of significant age, condition, structure, or habitat value remain standing following harvest operations,” said Davis in the memo.
Pollock sais he is disappointed the plan was
ever deviated from.
“They should have been following the plan all along,” said Pollock as he trudged across the clearing. He stops here and there to point out the larger of the stumps. Pausing at a sizable one as he bends down. “This one is probably 350 or more, it was a beauty,” said Pollock tracing the rings with his hand.
Since bringing attention to the clearcut in May, Pollock has started the Friends of OSU Old-Growth, which is a local group of concerned citizens whose mission is to protect the remaining old-growth
on OSU land.
“This whole period has been a time where I feel like I’m on the right path, like I’m called to do this,” Pollock said.
Through the efforts of his advocacy and the attention that this clearcut has garnered, the college has set aside the remaining 36 acres at Sulphur Creek/Baker Creek to be protected. This coming at a time when OSU is in exploratory stage of a possible research forest being established in the Elliott State Forest. To some, the No Vacancy clearcut has raised concerns as to whether the college is prepared to add 82,000 acres to its 15,000 currently owned.
The Elliott State Forest, located in Coos and Douglas counties, is currently under state ownership. Most of the forest generates revenue for the Common School Fund which supports public schools across the state. OSU has been working with the Oregon Department of State Lands since December on the Elliott State Research Forest concept.
“Oregon State University is working to identify if there is a unique, significant, opportunity to create what we are referring to as the Elliott State Research Forest. After almost a year of this process, we are preparing to present this vision to the State Land Board in December 2019,” Davis said. “Assuming we galvanize around a vision that advances OSU, the College and the State of Oregon, and that the State Land Board identifies with that vision, work will continue to determine if transforming the Elliott State Forest into a research forest is feasible.”
The No Vacancy clearcut has Pollock skeptical of the college’s forest practices. However, there are a number of benefits to the Elliott State Forest being considered as a research forest.
“That vision calls for multiple general public benefits, including keeping the forest publicly owned with public access, compensating the Common School Fund for the value of the forest, continuing habitat conservation planning to protect species and allow for harvest, and providing for recreation, education, and other benefits,” said Ali Ryan Hansen, communication manager for the Department
of State Lands.
Along with the reinstatement of the 2005 Forest Plan, the college is working on the development of a new one in which the college will “identify stands that have important ecological characteristics, and ensure they are maintained for future study and learning, as well as their conservation
benefits,” Davis said.
Going forward Davis wants to bolser public communication and outreach, hoping to learn from mistakes of the past.
“Sustainable forest management is vital to Oregon’s rural economies. We should use our research forests to highlight how a sustainable and progressive approach can provide building materials while conserving ecosystem functions and processes. Effectively implemented, we will enhance our ability to deliver multiple (and often conflicting) values from our McDonald-Dunn Research Forest,” Davis said in an Oct. 21 letter.
Pollock, said while he is pleased with what ground the college has ceded, he is still wary.
“We look at this and say that this is like what happened back in the 70s and 80s in our state, and national forests before the Northwest Forest Plan. This is the worst of what the industry does and it’s happening in our own backyard,” Pollock said.