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The Land Steward

Springwater's Gil Shibley retires from OSU Extension after 15 years of helping people with forestland
by: John Klicker, Gil Shibley has been replanting the fields of his family farm in red alder. The Estacada resident is retiring from his position as an OSU Extension Service forestry program assistant.

Gil Shibley appreciates the irony of planting trees in soil that his great-grandpa worked so hard to clear in 1864.

Shibley spent a day last week replanting red alder on part of a 620-acre Springwater tree farm near Estacada homesteaded by his great-grandparents. It is a neat trick, hanging onto the family farm through death and taxes and generations.

Red alder grows like a weed - many old loggers thought it was a weed - but it could be a fast-growing cash crop that will out-pace Christmas trees, Shibley says. He has spent the last 15 years working for the Oregon State University Extension Service teaching Clackamas County residents to manage their forestland. With a tree farm of his own, he teaches from experience.

Shibley stops to rest his gloved hands on the well-polished end of his shovel and muses on changing times. Roots with the extension service run deep. He was a child in this same field when a county extension agent advised his father to plant grass seed as a cash crop.

'Now it's my turn to be the land steward,' he says, 'and it turns out forestry may pay better than farming.'

Shibley, 70, retires June 30 from his job as forestry program assistant for the extension. But not before he conducts one more class, April 28 to May 17, for people who want to learn how to manage forestland. His subjects include taxes, reforestation, fire prevention, marketing, thinning, pruning and harvesting.

Retirement, though, will not stop Shibley from volunteering for some extension projects. In that respect, he will likely be the go-to guy on the topic of small woodlands until he, himself, is planted.

With Arbor Day this week, and Earth Day coming up, he acknowledges that his tree planting has pretty well taken care of the Shibley carbon footprint on the planet.

He estimates he has planted 40,000 trees, five times more than he has cut, in the last 30 years. He points to a fine park-like grove of Douglas fir near his home on the rim of the canyon above Clear Creek.

'It has been logged three times and it still looks like a forest,' he says. Selectively logged just last year, the site yielded five loads of logs at about $1,200 a load.

When he was a little boy, Shibley used to veer off on his way home from Springwater School to hunt those woods for wildflowers. He and his mother, Margaret (Beck) Shibley, spent Sunday afternoons on wildflower hunts. His mother was inquisitive and once took on a 4-H geology class just so she could learn the subject.

Shibley, who graduated from Estacada High School in 1956, began as an animal guy and holds a doctorate in animal physiology from the University of Oregon.

He taught biology at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, but returned to Oregon in 1975. From 1976 to 1990 he was an extension agent for the 4-H youth development program in Multnomah and Columbia counties, working mostly with youngsters and their farm animals. In 1997, he came back to the family farm where he grew up.

Management of his family land brought him to the extension's forestry program where, after graduation from the Master Woodland Manager program, he was obliged to pass his knowledge on to others. That's how extension works, and how it used to work in Multnomah County before county budget cuts ended the programs.

Shibley was hired by the extension program in 1993 and has been teaching, and practicing what he preaches, ever since.

What he liked best about teaching the extension course, he says, is that his students are already motivated, and he doesn't waste valuable teaching time trying to motivate them.

Some are new to forestland ownership. Maybe they just bought 10 or 20 acres and are eager to learn.

'Sometimes people make a mistake by saying yes to the first logger who comes by their place.'

He talks from experience on estate taxes. He and his family (he and his wife, Barbara, have three sons and a daughter and seven grandchildren) share in the land.

They have managed to hang on to their land, but many families find themselves cutting too soon or selling timberland to pay estate taxes.

Shibley sees himself as a link in his family's generations. He dreams, he says, of the day when he will have a great-grandchild and he, in the middle of a span of seven generations, can stand on the land looking back to his great-grandfather and ahead to his great-grandchild.