Featured Stories

After 'The Burn,' 72 million seedlings rise again

The Tillamook Forest Center will host a weekend of related activities

COURTESY PHOTO: MAXINE LEACH - This photo from 1959 shows Boy Scout Mike Leach and his father Carl Leach from Portland replanting an area of the Tillamook Burn just past the summit of Highway 6 near the north fork of the Wilson River.More than 80 years after the first in a series of wildfires that devastated Tillamook State Forest land, local residents will have an opportunity to learn about how the largely man-made forest bounced back and what the future of the woods looks like.

The Tillamook Forest Center will host a three-day celebration this weekend, Aug. 14 to 16, commemorating the history of the forest before, during and after the fires that charred 355,000 acres.

From 1933 to 1951, forest fires that occurred every six years — “the six-year jinx” — ripped through the forestland covering Washington and Tillamook counties, dissolving hundreds of thousands of acres of picturesque landscapes, habitat for thousands of critters and the livelihood of small-time foresters during the Great Depression.

The following decades have brought new growth, increased visitor access and new life to the once-scorched coast range hillsides. It took an organized effort to get the forest back on its feet, one that continues today.

“There are thousands of Oregonians that literally had a hand in making the forest what it is today,” said Jen Warren, visitor services coordinator at the Tillamook Forest Center. “Thousands of people have a connection to the forest.”

At the time of the first fire, most of what is now the Tillamook State Forest was privately owned. At that time, most logging companies were small — think a family with a team of horses. When the trees burned, much of the potential to make money off the land went with them. Many land owners couldn’t pay property taxes with no source of income and the reverberating effects of the Depression, and the county foreclosed.

As expansive, uncontrolled burns continued to sweep the landscape over the next nearly two decades, county government officials found themselves in charge of huge swaths of land that refused to cooperate with human desires. So the counties — Tillamook, Washington and Clatsop — handed the land over to the State of Oregon in the late 1930s. Since then, the state manages the land, but stuck to an agreement that gives the counties two-thirds of the profits from timber sales and recreational fees.

The state organized forces in an effort to restore the once-lush forest. Boy Scouts, students, congregations, 4Hers, women’s groups and inmates planted 72 million seedlings by hand, Warren said, and one billion seedlings were dropped by helicopter.

The reforestation efforts were in many ways a success story. While the Tillamook State Forest is still considered very young, Warren said, “you wouldn’t know anything happened there if you didn’t know.”

The newly planted trees were mostly all conifers, Warren said, many of which not genetically suited to resist common Pacific Northwest diseases such as root rot. Since the replanting, foresters and volunteers have continued to renovate the forest by diversifying. Currently, the state Board of Forestry is revamping its state forest management plan and is accepting feedback at oregon.gov/odf/Pages/board/comments.aspx.

Return From the Burn gives people a chance to take a look at the forest before and after the fires, and learn about opportunities for the future. “People can learn about how to take care of the forestland,” Warren said. “We all have a shared forest in our backyard.”

Come fete the forest

¦ Friday, Aug. 14 to Sunday, Aug. 16

¦ Tillamook Forest Center, 45500 Wilson River Highway

¦ Meet Smokey Bear, receive free goodie bags, meet real forest firefighters, spray the fire hose, craft and win prizes on a treasure hunt.

¦ At 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 15, guest presenter Bruce Rottink will present “Old Time Loggers: Their Tools and Techniques.” Rottink will show off the tools and techniques that helped old-time loggers do their job. The interactive session will offer a glimpse into the working life of an old-time logger, before the days of the chainsaw. Learn about a saw oil bottle, falling wedge, cat choker or a “Tillamook Diving Board.”

¦ At 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 16, railroad historian Ed Kamholz will present “The Oregon Historical Railroads Project.” Join Kamholz for a pictorial overview of railroad development in Oregon and the role it played to deliver and settle Anglo culture in the state. Kamholz will address main and branch line carriers, trolley and interurban lines and private railroads, and primarily logging railroads. This presentation will also describe the ambitious Oregon Historical Railroads Project that will map all of Oregon’s historical railroads dating from the state’s first wooden tramway in 1846 to the present and make this information available online.

This year’s Return from the Burn is free. It’s offered in conjunction with Tillamook County’s “A Step Back in Time,” which gives visitors an opportunity to visit several other museums and take a scenic train ride for an all-inclusive $15 pass. Call the Garibaldi Maritime Museum at 503-322-8411 for information about the “A Step Back in Time.”


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