Private forest owners in Baker County are reviving an organization that helps members better manage their timber ground, and this version has expanded its geographic boundaries considerably.
The newly constituted Northeast Oregon chapter of the Oregon Small Woodlands Association covers four counties, said Jacob Putney, extension forester for the Oregon State University Extension Service in Baker and Grant counties.
Besides those two adjoining counties, the new chapter includes members in Union and Wallowa counties.
“We all share the Blue Mountains, and although there are differences, for the most part the forest types are somewhat similar,” Putney said.
Baker County has a lengthy history of having an active local chapter of the Oregon Small Woodlands Association (OSWA). The statewide organization lobbies in the Oregon Legislature on behalf of its members and also offers advice for private forest owners about how to manage their properties.
Putney said the Baker County chapter, which added Grant County members when the latter county’s chapter dissolved in 2011, gradually cut back on its activities around 2018, when his predecessor, Bob Parker, retired.
Putney said he convened a meeting of the local chapter in early 2020, just before the pandemic started.
This was not the best time to try to restart the group.
Or any group, come to that.
But more recently the effort to reconstitute the chapter has gained traction, something Putney attributes largely to Debi Lorence.
Lorence and her husband, Walt, moved in January 2021 from Washington County, where they raised Christmas trees and were active in the Small Woodlands Association chapter there for about five years, to Halfway.
Debi Lorence is the president for the new Northeast Oregon chapter, which met most recently on Thursday, Sept. 2.
Although the Lorences’ 17-acre property in Pine Valley near Halfway didn’t have a single tree when they moved in, Debi said they have planted a couple thousand seedlings, including ponderosa pines and tamaracks, on two acres. The remainder of the property is growing alfalfa.
Debi Lorence said she was eager to become involved with a local group of tree owners, and potentially pass on some of the knowledge she had gained through her participation in Washington County’s Small Woodlands Association chapter.
“It helped me as a young tree grower to understand everything I was getting into,” she said.
When she learned that the local chapter had mostly gone dormant, Lorence said she talked with residents who had been involved with the chapter about the prospects of reviving the group.
“I just wanted to get it going again,” she said with a rueful chuckle. “And now I’m the president.”
Putney said this is an excellent time to encourage forest owners to join the local chapter. He emphasized the adjective “small” in small woodlands.
“Even if you own an acre of trees,” he said.
Lorence amplifies on Putney’s point.
“You don’t have to own a forest,” she said. “Even if you have a tree on your property and you like it and would like to protect it, OSWA will help.”
With wildfires becoming an increasingly widespread threat to forests across the West, both private and public, Putney said it’s natural that woodland owners would be interested in learning how they can protect their trees.
“Managing for reducing wildfire risk is always a major motivation for small woodland owners,” Putney said. “Having a place where woodland owners can get together and talk about the challenges is beneficial.”
Although expanding the local chapter’s footprint to include Union and Wallowa counties will create some logistical challenges in scheduling meetings — it’s a pretty long drive from, say, Enterprise to John Day — Putney said the chapter, as in the past, will also strive to schedule field trips and other outdoor events where members can gain practical knowledge.
Strolling through somebody’s stand of ponderosa pines, for instance, is inherently more useful than sitting at a table and talking about those trees.
The Defrees Ranch in Sumpter Valley, about 20 miles southwest of Baker City, is likely to be a destination for a field trip.
Dean Defrees, whose family has been involved in the Baker County chapter of the Small Woodlands Association for many years, said he’s excited about Lorence and Putney working to revive, and expand, the chapter.
“I think it’s a very good deal,” said Defrees, whose family was named the Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year for 2016 by the American Tree Farm System, out of 74,000 entries. “It’s good to get things put back together and rolling again.”
Defrees encourages all private forest owners to consider joining the chapter.
Lorence said field trips and similar events are integral to the mission of the Small Woodlands Association.
“It’s a hands-on organization,” she said. “It’s not supposed to be about a bunch of meetings. It’s supposed to be about participating and learning from each other. We want people who have been doing this a long time to share that knowledge.”
Lorence also hopes to spread the word in local schools about the association’s work.
“With the drought showing no signs of ending, the need is greater than ever for knowledge, and for getting the message out about how important trees are,” she said.
More information about the Small Woodlands Association is available by emailing Lorence at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 541-604-1151.