Lane Parry watched some of his more rewarding professional achievements transformed into black ash and clouds of smoke that blotted out the August sun.
But even as the biggest wildfire in Baker County history was charring its way across tens of thousands of acres, Parry understood that the flames erasing his handiwork were also creating his next challenge.
Although he didn’t expect that challenge to be quite as big as it was.
“It was definitely a whirlwind,” Parry, a longtime forestry consultant in Baker City, said of those hot and smoky days in the late summer and fall of 2015 during and immediately after the Cornet/Windy Ridge fire, which burned over 104,000 acres south of Baker City.
“We had a lot of stuff going on at once.”
Parry, 53, who grew up in Baker City, has owned Lane Parry Forestry Consulting since the early 1990s.
He started the business in Wallowa County and moved to Baker County in 1995.
Parry, who graduated from Baker High School in 1983 and earned a degree in forestry management at Oregon State University, works for — and with — private landowners to meet their goals for their timbered ground.
Several of his clients own forests that burned during the 2015 fire.
Parry had in the past helped those landowners manage their forests to produce more lumber, to survive droughts and disease and also, ironically, to better resist wildfires.
But after the blaze wreaked havoc on much of that land, Parry focused his expertise and his more than two decades of experience on salvaging the blackened trees while protecting the ground and preparing it for the planting of seedlings as soon as possible.
He contracted with 14 landowners, and although the task isn’t quite finished — there are still acres to be replanted when the ground thaws this spring — Parry’s post-fire restoration work has earned him one of just three statewide awards for private foresters.
The Oregon Board of Forestry, which oversees the state’s Forest Practices Act for private lands, picked Parry as its Eastern Oregon Operator of the Year for his efforts following the Cornet/Windy Ridge fire.
Parry will receive his award March 7 at the Forestry Board’s meeting.
Although he said it’s gratifying to be recognized, Parry deflects the credit to his employees and to others.
“I couldn’t have done it myself,” said Parry, who has three full-time employees, including his “right-hand man,” Geoff Phillips, as well as Parry’s two sons, Ty and Chance.
“Luckily I have a really good crew,” Parry said.
He also mentioned the vital help he received from the Oregon Department of Forestry, the Private Lands Forest Network in La Grande and Hancock Forest Management. The latter two were instrumental in helping Parry acquire seedling trees for his clients — a major challenge after the 2015 fire season because so many acres burned that the region’s nurseries were unable to meet the immediate demand for young trees.
“The award is nice, but it’s more satisfying to me to see the appreciation from the clients, and to me it’s even more rewarding to see healthy forests,” Parry said.
Which happens to be the overriding goal in every project he undertakes.
Although the landowner ultimately decides how to proceed, Parry said he has always strived to take a personal interest in the forests where he works rather than a purely professional one.
“We try to manage the land like it was our own,” he said.
That’s one reason Parry watched with distress as the Cornet/Windy Ridge fire all but exploded on the afternoon of Aug. 14, 2015.
Not only did he realize that the fire was scorching forests where he had worked, but he was in fact overseeing a logging job that day in the Denny Creek area, on the western fringe of the fire.
“We went up to check on the loggers and make sure they were all right,” Parry said.
See more in the Jan. 26, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.