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The Observer Paper 12/17/14

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Setting an example

Joanne Pubols, left, continues the tradition of grazing and harvesting timber on land worked by her family since the 1870s. (KATY NESBITT/The Observer)
Joanne Pubols, left, continues the tradition of grazing and harvesting timber on land worked by her family since the 1870s. (KATY NESBITT/The Observer)

Former cattle ranch turned private forest leads the way for other Oregon tree farmers

WALLOWA — The HMJS Tree Farm outside of Wallowa on Smith Mountain is a showcase of how one family manages its inheritance and maintains its heritage.

Settled in the 1800s, the land is still actively managed for timber and cattle.  

Joanne Pubols, the daughter of Howard Johnson, said her parents retired from cattle ranching in 1980 and began concentrating on timber on their 4,000 acres. During the time Johnson concentrated on his timber, he was named Oregon’s tree farmer of the year twice and hosted two statewide tours.

Pubols’ family homesteaded in the Wallowa Valley in 1872 and raised sheep and cattle. The family acquired more land, focusing on ranching, with timber the secondary interest.

At one point, Pubols said, four uncles and her father all ranched in the same region of the county. In 1916 they began logging their land, until 2007, when the timber market, and the rest of the economy, took a nosedive.

Butch Tanzey has managed the timber for Pubols’ family for 20 years, and Max and Jeanne Mallory use the pastures to graze their cattle in the summer. 

The first stop on an OSU Extension Service tour on June 19 was an area where ponderosa pine has naturally regenerated and other pine were purposefully planted nearby, creating a two-story canopy. The family pruned up limbs on some of the young trees to eliminate ladder fuels and keep the trees safer from fire. Thinning out trees while they’re small is good for the health of the stand and also reduces the threat of wildfire.

Paul Estes, OSU forestry Extension agent from La Grande, said Pubols’ father farmed some of the open land until the late 1970s. Trees began to encroach on the fields, so Johnson started the process of thinning, pruning and even did an understory burn that didn’t kill the trees, but did wonders to rejuvenate the grass.

One plot has 140 pine per acre while an adjacent plot has 300 per acre with 12-by-12-foot spacing. Estes said the trees are at their upper management zone and need to be thinned in the next 10 years. When trees grow too closely together, they compete for moisture and sunlight. When a stand gets stressed, insects and disease prey on the weakness.

Balancing forest health and the market is increasingly tricky with prices down for domestic timber and the disappearance of sawmills throughout the region. Hauling costs factor considerably on whether or not to harvest timber.

 For the full story, see Monday's issue of The Observer


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