LOOKINGGLASS, Ore. — Ken Harrison works almost daily on his small woodlands property in the east side foothills of the Coast Range.
He’s rewarded with a physical workout, but more recently with another honor. He and his wife, Sharon, were named Tree Farmers of the Year for 2018 by the Douglas Small Woodland Association. The Harrisons have been members of the Douglas County, Ore., 200-member association since 2002.
The couple was recognized for their effort in managing and maintaining their 127-acre Harrison Tree Farm to benefit the trees and the habitat for frequent visits from deer, elk, bear and other wildlife. For the past 18 years, Ken, with help from Sharon, has worked among the trees, planting seedlings, pruning, doing pre-commercial thinning, and spraying and controlling blackberry, Scotch broom, poison oak, grass and weeds.
“This is my way of going to the gym, this is my golf game out here,” the 77-year-old Ken said while looking around at the Douglas fir trees growing on all sides of his house. “For me, I get emotional talking about it. To be recognized for what you believe in and what you enjoy doing is very gratifying.”
“I just follow along behind and help when I can,” Sharon said. “I contend that if Ken lives long enough he’ll have the whole place looking like a park.”
Roy Brogden, president of the woodland association, said forest management is the key criteria when the association selects an award winner each year.
“The Harrisons have taken care of the land and have managed it well,” Brogden said. “They’ve prepared the ground for planting, they’ve planted and reforested, they’ve done weed control, they’ve taken care of their roads so there’s no erosion and their trees are surviving and growing.”
Ken has plenty of forestry experience from previous jobs. After one year in a forestry tech program at Lane Community College in Eugene, Ore., he has worked for the U.S. Forest Service and for private timber companies, including Roseburg Lumber and Lone Rock Timber, both in Douglas County.
“I just enjoy forestry,” he said. “I did a lot of management work, taking care of tree planting, during my career.”
The Harrisons purchased 34 acres in 2001. The property had been logged. Ken described it as being “in disarray.” After doing some cleanup, he and Sharon planted 5,500 Douglas fir seedlings.
“I was the mule,” Sharon said of packing the seedlings while Ken dug the holes and planted the trees.
In 2014, the Harrisons purchased 93 acres next to their original 34 acres. Fifty acres of the purchase had second growth trees that had germinated naturally back in the 1980s. The property also had some acreage that had been slashed and burned back in the early 1900s to provide pasture for horses that were used on the nearby stagecoach line. Since the end of that era, cattle and sheep had grazed on this area.
To return that land to timber and to fill in other areas with trees, the Harrisons this time hired a planting crew and had 10,000 Douglas fir seedlings planted between 2014 and 2016.
During that same time, Ken and his grandson Riley Stutzman planted 600 1-foot tall Ponderosa pine plugs on a dry hillside where they would do better than Douglas fir.
More recently, Ken has planted another 2,000 fir seedlings and he plans to plant another 1,000 this winter, replacing a few previously planted seedlings that died and filling in some other areas.
“I get excited when I think that four years ago that was just grass,” Ken said of the former pasture area. “Now it’s a young forest, what it was originally. It has come full circle. I get excited every time I look around and I see a green spot growing.”