Below is a picture of Jerry Magera and his son Sam in the spring of 2001 standing in a recently thinned stand of mixed ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, and tamarack. These guys are my heroes.
Jerry is a retired U.S. Forest Service forester. He and Sam have a consulting forestry and logging business in Enterprise, Oregon. He manages my family's land, a few thousand acres of forest, meadows, and steep grassland on Joseph Creek, homeland of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, which cuts a 2,000-foot canyon in the Paradise Bench of northeastern Oregon.
The neighboring rancher, who was running cows on the place and was responsible for fencing, came by while they were thinning in the snow and started cutting tamarack snags for fence posts. They told him we were leaving snags and suggested he use some of our culled tamarack logs instead.
Jerry and Sam finished thinning the stand when the snow melted in early March; we returned to see how it looked that May. Above Sam's head, almost out of the picture, is a cavity that had an active family of nesting pileated woodpeckers. Nearby in a small hole in another smaller snag was a pair of mountain bluebirds.
Directly over Sam's head on the small leaner is a fledgling great gray owl. Directly over Jerry's head, about three-quarters of the way up a live tamarack, is the old red tailed hawk's nest where the great grays raised three young. It was one of the larger, better quality trees left in the thinning that was completed only days before the great grays began incubation.
This was a roughly 100-year-old, 21-acre stand with about 40 trees per acre, average height about 90 feet with a 17-inch dbh (diameter at breast height). The stand was logged at least twice in recent history by a "diameter cut," which takes the largest and most valuable trees, most recently in the early 1950s. It is a high, dry country, just 15 to 18 inches of precipitation, almost half of which is snow at its 4,500-foot elevation.
The general prescription is to take the worst, leave the best through variable retention 'thinning from below," emphasizing species, structural, age class, and landscape-scale diversity.
But here it's leave the snags and character trees. Look for beauty. Jerry picks the trees one by one, always looking to reduce insects and disease, cuts the stump at ground level and burns up most of his chain saw fuel slashing the limbs and tops into small 1- to 2-foot lengths scattered about to decompose into soil, while Sam does the skidding in a used Chinese "Rhino," which generally runs well, when it is not in their shop in Enterprise.
Over the past decade Jerry and Sam have logged through some 600 acres of ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, tamarack, and grand-fir. Under their prudent care, my family has been able to net a few hundred dollars per acre, perhaps a quarter of what traditional high grading would generate but sufficient to self-fund long-term forest restoration.
In 10 years and thereafter we will recycle through the same stands and log mostly larger-diameter, higher-quality trees; "income" from a larger stock of forest capital. We are restoring more natural forest condition for "stand maintenance" versus "stand replacement" from the inevitable lightning-caused fires that in late summer sweep the country once known by Chief "Rolling Thunder" Joseph.
This is part of the Blue Mountain province, rugged and diverse country about which whole books have been written describing "forest nightmares," a long legacy of fire prevention, high-grade logging (cutting the biggest, leaving the worst), and clearcutting in a forest once maintained by periodic groundfire where ponderosa pine grew to 6 to 10 feet in diameter and early pioneers drove wagons through park-like forest and meadow rich in fish and wildlife.
Taking the poor trees and leaving the good ones has a number of substantial benefits. …