80 TOUR CHRIS HEFFERNAN'S SUSTAINABLE FOREST
NORTH POWDER They piled into two school buses parked beside the ranch house. The more than 80 ranchers, private woodland owners, state foresters and Forest Service employees were ready to get a first-hand view of one familys efforts to bring a small forest back from the edge of destruction.
When we bought this place, it had been overgrazed, over-logged. They got everything they could out as cheap as they could, said Chris Heffernan, who with his wife Donna owns 1,332 acres in the Powder Valley. They left only the imperfect trees. It was basically a cut-and-run operation.
Heffernan, who bought the property more than 10 years ago, is committed to doing the right thing for wildlife and forest health, while earning a living from the land.
The tour began at the Heffernans house, high on a hill overlooking the forests and valley. Down into shallow gullies and up ridges 4,000 feet above sea level, the buses moved, carrying the visitors who marveled at the spread of Powder Valley below while they talked about past and present forest practices.
In temperatures approaching 90 degrees, Heffernan and Oregon State University forester Paul Oester shepherded the crowd off and on the buses, giving all a good view of young stands and mixed-age stands, innovative watering systems, a portable mill and livestock and wildlife grazing areas.
At least we got the genetics, Heffernan said, standing among the dense stand of young trees that have grown since the heavy logging of the late 1970s. There was a great cone year around that time.
The stand is overcrowded with single-age trees.
Its still too tight, but its great cover for elk and deer, he said.
At another stop, Heffernan showed off his solar-powered pump that takes water from a well and sends it to a trough where cattle and wildlife drink. The trough can be a water source for fighting fires.
The solar panel, key to the pumping system, sits behind a high log fence reminiscent of the stockades of the Old West. Built at a cost of $27,000, supported by a $24,000 Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife grant, the system can pump 18 gallons a minute on a sunny day like Monday.
This attracts cattle up to this land, away from the more sensitive grasses and riparian areas, Heffernan said, as he stood beside the trough in an area of obviously heavy animal traffic.
Ive seen cattle lying on the ground, and elk walk right through them to drink, he said. Yeah, cattle and elk intermingle.
Even as he considers lumber markets and his ability to sell trees, Heffernan, a member of the Oregon Board of Forestry, is concerned about the wildlife the animals and birds that populate his forest.
Weve seen a bald eagle, and thats really rare at this elevation, he said. I dont want to sound like Im only concerned about wildlife, but that is a big part of our operation.
As the day waned and the shadows began to mellow the afternoon heat, the guests left the shaded drinking area and climbed aboard the bus for the trip back to the ranch and more talk about trees.
PORTABLE MILL PROVIDES OPTION FOR OWNERS OF SMALL WOODLANDS
NORTH POWDER Have mill, will travel.
Burt Vanderwall will take his portable mill to the edge of a forest, set it up and mill the logs on site.
The mill, which cuts one side of each log at a time, is a bit slow for the high-volume commercial forest, but if a landowner has a few trees ready for milling, Vanderwall, of Haines, says hell be there.
Rory Leonard, also of Haines, is a customer. He built a hay barn from the rough-cut lumber, and Chris Heffernan says the small mill can be an asset for a farm.
This tree was hit by lightning, and so were using it to show how the mill works, he said during Mondays tour of his forest.
STORIES AND PHOTO BY ALICE PERRY LINKER