News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Oregon forest replanting ‘catches up’

The Oregon Department of Forestry used to plant somewhere around 200,000 trees per year as part of its regularly scheduled replacement program.

That routine was changed utterly amid the devastating 2020 wildfires that charred 400,000 acres of the Santiam Canyon, destroyed 1,500 structures and took the lives of five residents.

The tree-planting number rose to 400,000 in 2021 and then soared to more than 1 million annually in 2022 and 2023 as the ODF mission morphed virtually overnight into one of replanting and salvage logging.

Now, headed toward the summer of 2024, the agency is finally closing the spigot at about 3.2 million trees.

“We have some higher elevation areas that are snowed in that still need to be planted,” said John Walter, ODF silviculturist, “and then we’ll be caught up.”

Walter was speaking March 15 in front of a map on the wall of the ODF compound in Lyons. 

He was explaining to a group of about 15 students what happened to the local forests on Labor Day weekend in 2020 and why ODF officials and the students were about to head out to add more plantings to the total.

Salem-area Career and Technical Education Center students and Oregon Department of Forestry officials fanned out Friday across a ridgeline below the Santiam Horse Camp to plant 130 western red cedar seedlings.  JAMES DAY
Salem-area Career and Technical Education Center students and Oregon Department of Forestry officials fanned out Friday across a ridgeline below the Santiam Horse Camp to plant 130 western red cedar seedlings.  JAMES DAY

The students, from the Career Technical Education Center in Salem, are part of a class in sustainable plant science & technology, and 33 of them helped the ODF put western red cedar seedlings in the ground on March 14 and 15.

“Students learn about plant science, sustainability, biochemistry, biotechnology, plant management and ecology over the course of two years,” said teacher Joey Corcoran. “Many of our students go on to pursue careers/studies in forestry, sustainability and agriculture, and our goal is to provide students with as many real world opportunities related to our curriculum as possible.”

The ODF/student planting program, which is sponsored by the State Forests Trust of Oregon, worked with an additional 73 students on tree plantings last February in the Fern Ridge area of the Santiam State Forest.

Those students, Corcoran said, came from CTEC’s business and residential construction programs.

“The business program went because they liked teaching the students how to give back to their community,” he said, “and the residential construction program went because they use lumber as a primary source in their industry and the instructors wanted the students to see how it’s a sustainable resource due to replanting efforts.”

This year’s crop of students caravaned with the ODF fleet up Monument Peak Road from Gates toward the Santiam Horse Camp and stopped a few hundred feet below the summit in an area that was badly burned in 2020 and salvage logged in later years. The landscape was a disheveled moonscape, with gray remnants of burned trees and slash everywhere.

Walter and his associates gave the students a crash course in seedling planting. Key principles to apply, Walter said, are to plant the new tree at the correct depth and make sure the soil is compacted around the seedling.

Then the ODF officials and students formed three-person planting crews and scrambled up the hillside looking for suitable planting sites, dodging Douglas fir seedlings that were planted in the same area a year ago.

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