Hungry Hill tour captures recovery from damaging ice storm

Jul 27, 2022 | Author: Larry Mauter, LCSWA member; photos by Mike Barsotti, LCSWA vice president | Editor: Gabriel Bradford

Woodland skills help White tree farm survive 2021 disaster

It was a tour showcasing the vagaries of nature, some local history, and Oregon timber ingenuity.
South of Scio on the north side of Hungry Hill, there is plenty of evidence of a natural disaster — craggy oaks, bent-over pines, and Douglas-fir cascading against other trees like in a domino game.

Aaron White has used his woodlands management skills for decades on his 340 acres and for other woodland owner’s in Linn County. For the past 18 months, his attention has turned sharply to his own property. His efforts following the chaos of Feb. 12, 2021, were the centerpiece of the July 9 walking tour and the annual summer potluck picnic for the Linn County Small Woodlands Association.

Nearly 60 people gathered at the start of the tour.

Aaron White explained his parents purchased 100 acres — a place where he grew up.
His wife, Shawn, and he have added parcels through the years.

Among the early tour stops was a cabin built by James Crabtree in 1870. It is now protected with a wood-frame structure and surrounded by old Oregon oaks — though, White explained, the trees were likely not there when the cabin was built. Tim Otis, LCSWA president, added the construction of the Crabtree cabin uses similar techniques as one from 1870 near Brownsville.

White, who is an OSU Extension master woodlands manager, told the group his family was “overwhelmed” at first following the storm.

White family has rebound from storm disaster displayed

By Larry Mauter, LCSWA member

Resilience and continuation were on display July 9 during the Linn County Small Woodlands Association summer picnic.

Hosted by Aaron and Shawn White — the couple were literally chased from their home by the monumental Feb. 12, 2021 ice storm.

“It was getting dark and we started hearing branches breaking out above the house,” said Aaron White. The family fled to a studio apartment that was in an open space.

Following the storm, White was “overwhelmed” with broken trees throughout the northern top of Hungry Hill.

The widespread damage led to power outages affecting a quarter million customers in Northwest Oregon.

Twenty miles northwest of Scio, the city of Salem lost 18 percent of the city’s tree canopy.

Aided by decades of working and managing forests, White has salvaged both timber and firewood during the past 18 months — fir, oak, and young pine.

Tim Otis, president of the Linn County Small Woodlands Association, recently wrote about the family’s rebound.

“In dealing with this natural disaster, their talent, patience, courage, and hard work speak volumes about what it means to be a tree farmer,” said Otis.

Forestry and agroforestry run deep in the family tradition. Shawn and Aaron White were LCSWA tree farmers of the year in 2004. They have 100 ewes in pasture along with hay and oats in production.

Their daughter, Timbre, is a forestry teacher at Scio High School. She attended the July 9 tour with several of her Scio High School forestry students, who helped to direct traffic as tour-goers arrived before joining the tour themselves. Another guest at the tree farm was then 17-day-old granddaughter Hazel. The day marked her first ever trip across the Cascades to visit her grandparents’ farm. As the tour continued after lunch, baby and grandma, Shawn, found some peaceful time in the shade. There were smiles all around. Another page of family history was in the books.

Portland General Electric said 253,000 customers lost power. Portland International Airport reported 9.4 inches of snow in a two-day period, the heaviest two-day snowfall in the city since 1968. Salem Public Works Department recently reported the city lost nearly 18 percent of its tree canopy in the ice storm — more than 1,000 acres of trees, the Statesman Journal reported. Scio is about 20 miles southwest of Salem.

“As tree farmers, you have to roll with it,” White told the group.

He first salvaged Douglas-fir sending it to local mills. Later, White tied into the chip market. Frames with cords of hardwood flank the central work area of the farm. Some 300,000 board feet have been harvested so far.

“I got paid to clean it up,” said White, who averaged about $850 per mbf in his sales — not the top of the market but higher than today’s log prices.

The first of two demonstrations on the tour featured White and neighbor Boone Brown processed a trailer full of calf-thick salvaged cherry wood. The two fed the wood into a buzz saw that connected to the power take-off from a two-cylinder John Deere tractor. Fifteen minutes later the cherry was stove length, enough to heat a home for a week, White estimated.

The group walked “a quarter mile” to a salvage site where topics like thinning and replanting were discussed. White said his tree farm goals have changed through the years. Today variety of species has increased in importance, said White who along with his wife, Shawn, were Linn County tree farmers of the year in 2004.

“One of my objectives is to keep a thriving forest and grow some old trees,” he told the tour.
Part of that philosophy comes from knowing that Douglas-fir built its reputation based on older wood, White explained.

A second demonstration on the day featured sawing through a large redwood trunk with an old Titan Blue Streak chainsaw. Neighbor Ray Rada assisted in the cutting, handling the business end of the long bar during the cut.

A second loop tour followed lunch. The day warmed into the low 80s as the walk included Ponderosa pines that had taken a beating, but White noted for the tour that nearby stands of coast redwood and western red cedar weathered the ice storm, again showing that planting mixed species has benefits.

Lunch was served in the White’s timber-framed barn. The 40 by 80-foot high-ceiling wood palace has apple-skin smooth concrete flooring. There are sticked planks and dimensional wood drying everywhere. Big-leaf maple, Douglas-fir, oak, cherry, alder, and black walnut are among the planks in the barn.

When asked how much wood was represented there, White replied, “I have no idea. I don’t even want to guess at it.

For lunch, four dozen lean hamburgers were provided for grilling by the Merzenich family and Oak Basin Tree Farm. As is customary, LCSWA members provided salads, fruit, and deserts in a potluck fashion.

The annual picnic returned after a two-year break related to the covid-19 virus. Even so, President Tim Otis cautioned the group and noted that hand-washing stations were available.

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Aaron White, left, listens in as Brad Withrow-Robinson of OSU Extension Service makes a point during the tour.