By Rob Davis
The university clearcut a 16-acre grove of old-growth trees, drawing scrutiny at exactly the wrong time.
The seedling that sprouted in 1599 in Oregon State University’s McDonald-Dunn research forest was cut down by the public college, along with other trees more than 250 years old. The decision netted $425,000 for the university’s College of Forestry. School officials say the revenue will fund teaching, research and outreach, but it happened at a time when the university’s forestry school has accelerated other timber cuts and dipped into its reserves to fund $19 million in cost overruns on a major construction project.
The forestry school’s interim dean, Anthony Davis, has since acknowledged his mistake in approving the 16-acre cut known as the No Vacancy harvest. He has temporarily halted all logging of trees older than 160 years on the university’s 15,000 acres of research forests.
“Harvesting this stand did not align with the college’s values,” Davis wrote in a July 12 letter to the school community, first reported by the Corvallis Gazette-Times. “Moving forward, we have learned from this matter.”
The felling of the old growth trees raises questions about Oregon State’s land stewardship at precisely the wrong time. Top state leaders are weighing whether to hand over management of the 82,500-acre Elliott State Forest to the university’s college of forestry, a transfer that would quintuple Oregon State’s forest holdings.
Records reviewed by The Oregonian/OregonLive cast doubt on the university’s justification for cutting what it knew were trees as old as 260 years. Records also show the university recently allowed a separate clearcut seven times bigger than permitted under its own management plans.
Taken together, the cuts threaten the credibility of a school that has deep ties to the timber industry but says it can be trusted to do more than maximize timber production in the Elliott.
By JOHN McCOY
“Fifty inches in diameter,” Doug Wood said as he read the number off the tape measure. “That means this poplar tree is probably at least 200 years old, maybe 250. That puts it into the old-growth category.”
Old growth? Wait a minute. For years, West Virginians have been told that the state’s only remaining old-growth forest tracts are in Cathedral State Park and the Monongahela National Forest’s Gaudineer Knob Scenic Area. Wood believes there are more old-growth stands scattered throughout the state, perhaps many more.
“Based on criteria established by the U.S. Forest Service, there are plenty of places in West Virginia that qualify as secondary old-growth forest, where the forest has grown back up after being logged,” he said. “Several areas of secondary old growth have already been identified, and I’m convinced that more will be found.”
The poplar tree Wood measured stood in Kanawha State Forest, just a few minutes’ drive from the hustle and bustle of downtown Charleston – hardly a place one would expect to find old-growth forest. Wood said a sizable portion of the forest’s northern end contains many such trees.
“So far, we’ve found tracts on several pieces of public land that have old-growth characteristics,” he continued. “Here in Kanawha State Forest, but also in Watoga, Cedar Creek, Twin Falls, Cacapon, North Bend, Holly River and Beech Fork state parks.”
Wood, a retired Department of Environmental Protection water-quality official, is helping spearhead an effort to identify old-growth tracts, particularly on public lands. He scours the woods looking for big trees and the signs of old-growth habitat that surround them. When he finds a likely tract, he notifies the Old Growth Network of its presence.
“The Old Growth Network is a non-profit group interested in helping designate old-growth areas,” Wood explained. “They like the effort to be driven by the local citizenry, so they have county coordinators to help get citizens interested in identifying old-growth tracts.”
Wood said the recent effort by Gov. Jim Justice and his administration to open state parks to timbering has helped give rise to the grass-roots effort to protect any old-growth areas that might exist within those parks.