Tours offer up-close look at working forest
By Mitch Lies
For the Capital Press
PHILOMATH, Ore. — Once a week in the summer, Dick Powell drives a 14-seat bus from Corvallis to just west of the unincorporated town of Blodgett and leads people on an interpretative walk around a working forest.
Powell, public outreach forester for Starker Forests, said the educational tours honor the legacy of T.J. Starker, who started Starker Forests by purchasing second-growth parcels in 1936.
T.J., or Thurman James, worked for 20 years as an Oregon State University forestry professor before he began purchasing timberland, and he never stopped teaching, Powell said.
“T.J. always considered himself first and foremost a teacher,” Powell said.
In addition to the weekly Wednesday tour, which Starker operates from mid-June to mid-September, the company provides special tours for elementary school classes and other interested groups on other days of the week.
“The idea is just get people out there to help them understand what we do, why we do it and how we do it: What is the science behind what we do?” Powell said.
The centerpiece of the Starker Forests tour is a half-mile interpretive trail that the company constructed from an old logging road at the site of T.J. Starker’s first purchase. The idea was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of T.J.’s ownership by formally inviting people out to the site, Powell said.
In the 90-minute walk, Powell explains how working forests provide an ecosystem for wildlife and plants, and how thinning and other forest management practices improve on that ecosystem.
He explains that Douglas-fir trees are shade intolerant and how clear-cutting helps them establish.
“One of the points we are trying to make is clear-cutting is not a harvest method, it is a regeneration method that puts lots of sunlight onto the ground, because most tree seedlings have to have full sunlight,” Powell said.
Powell stops on a bridge over a small creek and explains how Oregon’s Forest Practices Act mandates that a buffer of trees be maintained around streams. An interpretive sign notes the act also mandates that foresters replant within one year of harvest and that at least 200 new trees be planted per acre. Starker exceeds that, according to the sign, planting between 350 and 400 new trees per acre.
Ninety-percent of the time, tour participants are appreciative of the forest company’s management practices, Powell said. “Once in a while we get somebody who takes exception to things we’re doing, but that is really rare.”
One lady complained about the mess caused by clear-cutting, Powell said. “She said it was an ugly mess and wondered why we didn’t clean up the roots and stumps and debris,” Powell said.
“I said we could do that,” he said. “It would make it look better, but you’ve also made it a sterile environment. All that ugly looking trash is great habitat for rodents.”
Powell, a graduate of OSU’s College of Forestry, said his greatest pleasure is hearing people say they are questioning preconceived notions.
“When I hear people say things like, ‘I’m going to have to rethink some of this stuff,’ well that is exactly what we are trying to do,” Powell said.
Then there is reading comments on the form the company asks participants to complete at the end of the tour.
“We get things like, ‘Gosh, I didn’t know foresters had to know all this stuff, because a forest is so much more than just trees. It is waters. It is soils. It is climate. It is the wildlife. It is all kinds of plants.
“‘And a forester, to manage a forest, really needs to know something about all of those things.’ That is when I say, ah- ha,” Powell said. “That is what we are looking for.”
To take the tour
Starker Forest Tours are available Wednesday afternoons from June 18 to Sept. 17. The free bus tours leave the Comfort Suites Hotel, 1730 Ninth St., Corvallis, Ore., at 1 p.m. and return to the hotel by 5 p.m.
To register for the tours, call Visit Corvallis at 541-757-1544.