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Logging with little impact

Forestry — today

WHAT: Ecoforestry demonstration by — the Rogue Institute for Ecology and Economy.

WHEN: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through Monday. A simultaneous business — fair will be staffed today and Saturday.

WHERE: Upper Applegate Grange, three miles up Upper Applegate Road — from Ruch. Vans shuttle visitors to the remote logging site.

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Yale Creek show demonstrates ways to take small trees and still leave healthy ecology

RUCH -- Logging old-growth timber required Paul Bunyan-sized equipment, but in an era of small-diameter trees and environmental concerns, Tonka Toy-style machines may make more economic sense.

The dollars and sense of small-scale ecoforestry are on display at a 25-acre Rogue River National Forest logging site on Yale Creek. On Thursday, Applegate District Ranger Mary Smelcer watched log after log slide down a 400-foot waterless flume without disturbing an inch of ground.

The traditional equipment we've used in Southern Oregon for logging is too big and too expensive for us, she said. We've got a pretty unique quality with this small-diameter wood. If you can afford to get it out of the woods, there is a market for it.

The small-diameter Douglas fir trees being cut, limbed, bucked, yarded, debarked and milled on-site Thursday ranged in age from 80 to 120 years. Decades of wildfire suppression have retarded tree growth, resulting in tightly-ringed wood that's as strong as old growth. The market for so-called suppressed wood includes products such as laminated veneer lumber, flooring, paneling and furniture.

Small-diameter trees are one kind of Rogue Valley timber that's in vast supply across millions of acres of federal lands where forest managers must thin stagnant, tightly-packed stands to promote forest health and prevent catastrophic wildfires. In the Applegate District alone, 40 small-diameter timber sales are ready for auction, with many more in the pipeline.

All that's missing are the logging contractors equipped to profit from small-diameter trees.

To show how such timber can be profitably logged with little impact on fragile forests, the Rogue Institute for Ecology and Economy dreamed up a five-day logging show.

The Ashland-based nonprofit group assembled a variety of diminutive machinery:

A small, rubber-tracked cat operated by one man cut, limbed and bucked trees, all without the touch of human hands.

On level ground, another small cat yarded trees to a landing, but on steeper slopes, a trio of men skidded logs down a flume made of heavy plastic half-pipe that snaked among the trees.

A portable peeler operated by two men chewed the bark off the raw logs.

Finally, a portable four-head chipper mill operated by three men cut peeled logs into 5-by-5 lumber.

Among the four dozen visitors who toured the show Thursday was Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist Matt Broyles, who knows the difficulty of selling small-diameter timber.

We've got way too much of it, he said. Nobody wants stuff like that.

But the small machines working the forest with a light touch offered him a glimpse of a new kind of logging.

I'm excited about this from a professional biologist point of view and as a private landowner in the area, Broyles said.

Private landowners Cal and Pat Perkins drove in from Wilderville to get some ideas for managing their 40 acres after a decade of drought.

The big trees were beginning to show some problems and we lost some pines. That's when we got concerned, Pat Perkins said.

Retired contractor Bill Kiester of Central Point just wanted to see where the lumber he worked with came from.

This is seeing how the wood gets to where we saw it up and use it, he said.

With an enormous volume of small-diameter timber in need of cutting over the next decade, the Rogue Institute's Mark Stella hopes the demonstration of a new kind of logging with Tonka Toy-style machinery will inspire new ventures by local entrepreneurs.

What are we going to make from this stuff? he said. Let's find a product. Let's get a market. And let's get some purchase orders.

Bill Warner, district silviculturist for the Rogue River National Forest, watches a log fly down a plastic waterless flume at the Little Applegate Ecoforestry Demonstration Project Thursday. - Photo by Jim Craven