Lone Rock Resources (re)growing Douglas County after 2020 wildfires
Wildfire recovery and replanting is not a simply or easy process, and the timber industry has a lot of ground to cover before forest recovery is complete. Lone Rock Resources, one of Douglas County’s largest timber companies, is looking toward their future after fall fires damaged 8,000 acres of the company’s property.
“We actually replanted our first tree 31 days after the first day of the fire,” President and CEO of Lone Rock Resources Toby Luther said in a phone interview. “There was still fire going around and smoke in other areas, and we were planting. So, we are certainly not going to waste any time. We’ll get to it as quickly as we can. Our goal is to rehabilitate and get those acres reforested as quickly as possible.”
Fire is a part of forestry, and losing a few hundred acres each year during fire season is normal. However, the 2020 wildfires with their unprecedented heat, dryness and wind were on another level of devastation for the area.
According to Luther, before Archie Creek, the biggest year for fire losses was in 1987 when the company lost almost 1,500 acres. In 2020, Lone Rock lost 8,000 acres in total, 6,500 of which were from the Archie Creek fire alone. All of this area, salvageable or not, will need to be replanted.
Reforestation is already an important part of Lone Rock’s culture of sustainability.
“We generally plant about a million and a half seedlings in a year,” Luther said. “Just this area alone needs a few million seedlings. So, it’s going to take us a few years. We feel pretty confident that we can get that over that period.”
The process of growing seedlings in these nursery beds takes about two years, according to Luther. This combined with the time it takes to harvest the damaged areas and prepare the ground for replanting contributes to Lone Rock’s expected three-year reforestation timeline.
Growing the right seedlings is a process in and of itself, and numerous factors must be considered to ensure that the seedling is right for the area. Supply is also an issue.
“The basic limitation is the number of beds available for seedlings, and we are obviously competing with all the other timber companies to get as much space as we can for the next couple of years,” Luther said. “We are out there scrambling for beds to get our seedlings going and planted so we can get those out into the woods as soon as possible.”
This perfervid, ardent replanting effort, especially after such huge losses, is of extra importance both for future forest health and future merchantable timber.
Like most timber companies, according to Luther, Lone Rock does not insure its timber because of the high cost. This means any unsalvageable (too young or too damaged) or not salvaged timber will be a total loss for the company. This is in addition to the financial hit of lower timber prices due to the mills having an overwhelming supply of timber.
The company also sustained costs for fighting the fires and wildland recovery.
The Oregon Department of Forestry does require replanting after harvesting but also offers some services to help with this added difficulty after a fire. However, responsibility still rests on the company’s shoulders to replant within the allotted timeline.
“We are obviously racing the clock right now because dead trees have a pretty short shelf life before the bugs get ahold of them,” Luther said. “By midsummer, any that we haven’t gotten to are ones that we probably won’t ever get.”
As fast as Lone Rock wishes to harvest, careful caution is necessary. Harvesting and clearing fire-damaged lands is even more difficult and dangerous than normal logging, which is a dangerous profession to begin with.
Even with the safest efforts, however, danger still looms. Snags, hazardous fire-killed trees, cover the forest after a fire, but operators do not truly know how dangerous these trees are until they cut them. These trees are weakened, some rotting.
To ensure safety, there is an added cost and slowed speed, which is extra difficult this year with COVID-19 regulations.
“When you are dealing with a green tree farm where all the trees are healthy, it’s one level of safety,” Luther said. “When you are out there and dealing with snags everywhere and trees are burnt, you don’t know if they are sturdy. You start to cut, and you don’t know if it’s going to collapse. Those kinds of things. It’s very different than normal.”
Luther, like many leaders in the timber industry, carries the weight of this danger in concern for his operators. The top priority is to ensure that no one gets hurt, but that is hard to guarantee in such a risky, largely unpredictable environment.
“I always tell the guys the last thing I ever want to do is have to explain to someone’s spouse that they are not coming home. So, first and foremost, we need to be safe out there,” Luther said. “It’s definitely on my mind all the time. Logging in general is a dangerous profession. I think we do it very safely and very consciously.”
“We will be very glad when our guys are out of there and back to normal green stands,” Luther said.
Kyle Reed, fire prevention specialist and public information officer with the Douglas Forest Protective Association, stresses the importance of these efforts after the fires. Clearing these damaged areas, cleaning up possible fuels and replanting with fire prevention in mind all help to ensure future forest stability and future wildfire prevention.
Ultimately, these damaged areas will take generations to recover. The efforts of logging companies like Lone Rock and other private and government agencies taken now will invest in the forest for the next generations.
Lone Rock already sought to have this future-oriented mindset before the fires: “Most of our timberlands we have held for a very long time, and so the way we manage them has that kind of mentality. We are harvesting and replanting as quickly as possible because ultimately, we are hoping that it is still going to be us later reaping the benefits.”
“Both for Lone Rock and for me, it is the long-term mentality and the responsibility of making sure that we are managing the forests for sustainability and taking care of the land that we are entrusted with,” Luther said. “Our expectation is that we are going to hold it long term and manage it for the next generation so that there are more trees for them then there was for us.”
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