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Central Point tree farmer honored

Wally Skyrman ?just wanted to be a good steward of the land?

Mail Tribune

If it were merely a tree farm, Wally Skyrman's 33 acres of timber north of Wimer might have fetched a good price a long time ago.

But Skyrman's long-term goals are just that — long term.

That helps explain why the 56-year-old Central Point resident was chosen Tree Farmer of the Year for Jackson County by the Oregon Tree Farm System.

The land has been in Skyrman's family since Medford attorney Harry Skyrman bought it at a Depression-era tax sale. Skyrman bought it from his uncle in 1977.

The land had been logged in the 1940s and ?50s. Although he did some thinning on a few acres, a decade passed before he began seriously analyzing his forest's future.

I let it sit there and grow and have trees. It became apparent that with logged-over forest land, left wild, you don't have much, says the 56-year-old Skyrman. In my case I had way too many trees. As they grow up, there's not enough nutriment and water to go around; they have to be thinned.

I don't think it had been replanted, but they had left enough standing seed trees and nature did a good job of replanting.

Among the new growth was Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, incense cedar and sugar pine.

I tried to leave a little bit of everything, he says. If a tree had good confirmation, growing straight, and looked like it would typically show in the books, I left it. I'd take out smaller stuff.

Short of establishing volume and quality, there's no way of knowing the value of the timber surrounded by Bureau of Land Management and Boise Cascade holdings. But one thing is for sure, the rainfall in the northwest tip of the county is decidedly greater than in Medford.

It's really a pretty good area for productivity, says Marty Main, a consulting forester for the extension service.

Skyrman estimates that close to 50 inches of rain fall on the property yearly — about double the amount on the valley floor 35 miles away in Medford.

But rainfall isn't enough to provide nourishment to every tree, and only seasonal creeks grace the parcel.

The lack of year-round water demanded thinning.

It's like fixing dinner for four people and 10 show up, he says. It's OK one or two times, but year after year doesn't work. There's not enough water. The trees get stressed out, stunted and growth stops.

Skyrman took advantage of a government cost-share program that reduced his costs to thin the trees.

It took hundreds of hours, and I was really fortunate to have a friend who loved to operate a chain saw, he says.

The friend, Rulon Taylor, who passed away at 80 last month, provided enthusiasm and muscle for his former Crater High geometry student.

For a long while, every Tuesday they would go out to the woods.

I'd stay out of Rulon's way, and he'd be sawing about 100 feet from me. He loved being out there.

The thinned stand has turned into a place of pride for Skyrman.

A lot of people think it ought to be left natural and wild, Skyrman says. But it's already been logged, and the cycle is broke. If the trees are sick and puny, then you?ll have disease and bugs. Then fire will come through.

The thinned trees have been used for firewood and poles for farms.

Among Skyrman's pursuits over the years were stints as an industrial arts teacher at the old Medford Mid-High and in antique automotive repair. The one constant for a quarter century has been his care for the family forest.

I've never thought of it as a tree farm; I just call it a wood lot, Skyrman says. It's kind of loss leader for the time being; the next generation will be able to saw logs off. I just wanted to be a good steward of the land.


Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail - Mail Tribune /Roy Musitelli