A COOL MILLION
by Mardi Ford
Observer Staff Writer
In three coolers, hundreds of thousands of conifer seedlings lay wrapped in bags or stored in waxy boxes on metal racks.
Housed in a 3,700-square-foot green building at the Oregon Department of Forestry complex, the coolers inside are affectionately referred to as big, middle and little.
Outside, a sign over the door reads "Private Lands Forestry Network."
Many people either don't realize the network is here, or, if they do, assume it is part of the ODF complex.
It isn't. The network is a self-funded, non-profit entity.
"We have a 99-year lease on the property, though," says Dan Hoyt with a smile. Hoyt is the chairman of the network's board, which oversees the operation.
Since March, Hoyt and Jamie Chandler, who refers to the network as "pillfin," have spent four mornings a week babysitting these tiny green tots for the Forest Service, the Oregon Department of Forestry, Boise and other private landowners.
The coolers make everything possible.
"Big" is a cavernous 40-feet by 25-feet refrigerator that came from Oakridge near Eugene in the Cascades. The refrigerator provides housing for the biggest orders of hundreds of thousands of trees.
The 26-foot-square middle cooler was a rare find in Klamath Falls. Its $20,000 worth of working equipment was purchased off the Internet for $780.
The little cooler, 12 feet by 20 feet, came from Mount St. Helens. As the supply of seedlings begins to dwindle in the spring, the remaining trees will be funneled into the little cooler, making the operation more economical. It also stores a small supply of hardwoods and shrubs for riparian plantings.
All three coolers were purchased from the Forest Service as surplus equipment. The entire operation was funded through a grant obtained in 1994.
Every spring, the network harbors approximately 1 million seedlings.
Some seedlings come as bare root; others, rooted in dirt, are known as "plugs."
"Plugs," Chandler says, "are easier to plant."
By the end of this week, most of these babies will already be in the ground.
"We encourage people to get them in early," Hoyt says. "They do a lot better if they have time to establish a root system before it warms up enough for top growth."
Hoyt knows what he's talking about. A retired Forest Service employee, Hoyt planted his first tree on his 18th birthday. He has no idea how many trees he has planted since. He does know, however, that he planted over 900,000 trees in 1994 alone the year the Private Lands Forestry Network was formed.
"This was all started by a group of landowners who needed a place to store trees," Hoyt says simply. "There were a lot of people involved."
Chandler, on loan from the ODF, works a few hours four mornings a week during March, April and on call as needed through May.
She has worked with Hoyt "in the cooler" for the past five seasons.
Hoyt keeps the temperatures in the coolers "as close to freezing" as he can get to ensure the trees remain in dormancy and free of mold.
"It's pretty cold in the cooler," Chandler warns.
As she draws back the door to the big cooler, an Arctic blast escapes.
Upon rows and rows lie the future forests of Northeast Oregon ponderosa pine, western larch (tamarack), Douglas fir, lodgepole pine and western white pine.
Among them are the western larch and a spruce both grown from seed harvested from Wallowa Mountain trees and ponderosa pine seedlings grown from trees in the Blue Mountains.
"Trees are totally genetic," Hoyt says. "Elevations are important."
Planting them back into the elevations the seed was generated in, he says, is part of successful reforestation.
Chandler says it is never too early to put in an order for trees next season. A message phone for the network, 963-0382, is available year round.
They prefer to sell the seedlings in lots of 100. The trees range in price from 26 cents each to 35 cents each, depending on variety and size.
The network will also provide a variety of planting tools for a small fee and, if the project is huge, a planting crew might even be hired.
Leftover trees in containers are often sent back to the nursery from whence they came to spend a year in the ground. They will come back to the coolers next spring and be sold as "plugs plus one" a more established seedling.
For others, Hoyt and Chandler will go down the list of clients and make some calls. More often than not, there are no left over trees.
"Hey, Jamie," Hoyt suddenly remembers, "I found a home for those last 7,000 trees. One of our landowners is going to take them."
Jamie gives him the thumbs-up.
"Cool," she says, smiling back.