Merzenich family captures statewide tree-farm honor

Jun 29, 2023 | Author: Larry Mauter, LCSWA member | Editor: Nancy Hildebrandt

Linn County will host statewide convention in 2024

Two brothers — and their families — have been selected as Oregon’s top tree farmer for 2023.

Jim and Ed Merzenich have partnered to manage Oak Basin Tree Farm in southern Linn County. The 956-acre tree farm is a family enterprise located south of Brownsville in the Coburg Hills.

The Merzenich families and their Tree Farmer of the Year award for 2023.

From left, Ed and Nancy Merzenich pose with Karen and Jim Merzenich at the June 23 awards ceremony. Photo by Mike Barsotti.

Their selection was announced June 23 at the annual convention of the Oregon Small Woodlands Association (OSWA) and the Oregon Tree Farm System (OTFS).

“We learned Friday evening that the Merzenich family is Oregon’s 2023 Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year,” said Mike Barsotti, president of the Linn County Small Woodlands Association (LCSWA) “Congrats to Jim, Ed, and families,” Barsotti said in an email.

The Merzenich families have collaborated in Oak Basin’s management for more than a quarter century. The property features agroforestry, with a small cow-calf operation featuring hearty Scottish Highlander cattle.

More than 150 people attended the weekend conference and awards ceremony, according to Rick Zenn, executive director of the Oregon Small Woodlands Association. OSWA has more that 1,600 members statewide.

Judging for the honor is handled by tree farm inspectors, said Zenn.

He cited three elements in the judging that favored the Merzenich family this year: 1) family collaboration, 2) active management which includes habitat restoration and 3) interest in sharing strategies and education.

“The primary purpose of the tree farm competition is to promote responsible forest management,” according to Jim Merzenich, a retired forester. “Our goal is to show that economic timber management and wildlife habitat enhancement are compatible,” he said.

Jim and his brother Ed — a retired Salem dentist — are pioneers in collaborating with the federal NRCS in restoration of Oregon white oak habitat and developing wetlands. They are frequently cited as examples for using agroforestry in concert with habitat restoration.

Ed Merzenich said he was “very honored” at the selection. “This was a total family effort,” he added.

Oak Basin objectives include providing a sustainable flow of harvestable timber while protecting water, range and wildlife resources; to restore and maintain natural oak and meadow areas and other areas of unique interest or value; to provide quality secure habitat for game species including deer, elk, bear, cougar, wild turkeys and waterfowl.

Ed Merzenich first purchased acreage in 1992 that was cutover and not replanted. He soon received a repair-order from the Oregon Department of Forestry to reforest over 400 acres. Owners of cutover property that is not planted are required to reforest even when they are not the cause of the problem. The next few years were spent clearing brush and reforesting this acreage. The amount spent on reforestation exceeded the original cost of the property.
“Ed was the Linn County tree farmer of the year in 1998 because of his Herculean efforts to get this tree farm back into production,” said Jim Merzenich.

In 2004 Jim and Karen Merzenich purchased a 386 acre block adjacent to Ed’s property. They have subsequently commercially thinned much of this property and have restored more than 100 acres of oak woodland. Controlling noxious weeds such non-native blackberries and thistles has been a continual effort.

The state runner-up this year was the Rail Creek tree farm in Lane County. Owned by Diane Kaldahl and family, this farm and historic home burned in the Holiday Farm fire in 2020. Diane Kaldahl helped the Merzeniches establish and monitor bluebird nest boxes on the Oak Basin tree farm.

Linn County President Barsotti noted the Merzenich selection will add some wrinkles to next summer in Linn County.

“This also means that our chapter gets to host next year’s Family Forestland Convention and Tree Farm tour,” said Barsotti in an email.

“With that in mind, I think the first thing we need to do is select a theme. It would be great to hear from all of you on what theme you think would be of interest to this broader community,” he added.

“The Merzenichs’ tree farm has so much to offer on managing the wide range of forest types that I think it will be able to complement/highlight whatever theme we select,” Barsotti concluded.

He tipped his hat to this year’s convention host: the Clackamas County chapter of OSWA.

They “will provide spreadsheets that listed tasks, dates to complete, volunteer in charge, etc. This should help us in our efforts to put together a great convention,” said Barsotti.

Linn County tree farmers have won more than their share of awards at the national and state levels

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