Restorations Sweep in Profits for Foresters

Jim Merzenich holds two rustic brooms, handmade with hardwood branches from tree
Jim Merzenich holds two rustic brooms, handmade with hardwood branches from trees on his family woodland.

By Mary Stewart

Brownsville, Ore—When Jim and Ed Merzenich bought Oak Basin Tree Farm, a 961-acre woodland perched on the north Coburg Hills in Linn County, their intent was to create a great place to hunt while growing timber. As the brothers worked to improve wildlife habitat, they involved numerous partners—US Fish and Wildlife, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, Oregon State University Extension Service, Oregon Fish and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, and the Small Woodland Association—and discovered that their efforts to enhance grasslands and forests would pay out additional benefits to both the environment and to their bottom line.

Determining Best Use for the Land

“Ed and Jim are managing their land for multiple objectives,” said Brad Withrow-Robinson, Oregon State University Forestry Extension Agent for Linn County. In the process of restoring the woodland to a condition that more closely resembles what is believed to be the historical landscape of Oregon white oak savannas, upland prairies, and areas of mixed native conifers and hardwoods, the Merzenich’s have discovered they can produce and sell a new value-added product – specialty broom handles.

Introducing New Value-Added Wood Products

Last year the Merzenich’s and other local tree-farmers sold 5,000 broom sticks to a rustic broom manufacturer. The handles are crafted from 7-foot long hardwood sticks that are 0.5 to 1.5 inches in diameter. “While most sticks were fairly straight, many had little crooks in them to provide some character,” he adds. “By introducing this new value-added product, we have increased our profitability,” says Jim.

The company purchasing the handles, Broom Magic, is based in Eugene, and hand crafts full size, kid’s size, kitchen, “turkey-wing,” and specialty brooms, such as wedding and hand-fasting brooms. According to Jim, Broom Magic—Scheumack Broom Company—has been in business since 1981 and moved their manufacturing business from Arkansas to the Willamette Valley about five years ago. The brooms are sold primarily locally and online.

 “OSU Extension’s Amy Grotta and Brad Withrow-Robinson have been doing a lot to help us figure out new markets for the products we raise,” Jim points out. Extension faculty members have been serving as a resource to The Oregon Woodland Cooperative, which involves more than 70 sustainable woodland owners. According to Jim, the organization builds and markets a variety of natural products, including firewood bundles sold at New Season’s Markets.

Essential Oils from Pine Needles

A new project on the front burner is the development of essential oils—concentrated liquids containing volatile aroma compounds— from tree needles. In order to create the essential oils, needles are distilled from six different species of conifers. “We are using needles from incense-cedar, western redcedar, grand fir, noble fir, Douglas-fir, and Valley ponderosa pine,” Jim explains. The essential oils are in demand for aromatherapy, for medicinal purposes, and used in candle warmers to freshen air in a home or other enclosed area. According to Jim, the essential oils may be purchased at http://oregonwoodlandcooperative.com/.

Conservation is a Goal

Jim and Ed balance their efforts to earn a living from the land with conservation projects that improve water quality, wildlife habitat, and healthy soils now and in the future. They work closely with USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service and Oregon State University graduate students to improve habitat for birds, such as the western bluebird, and to increase the resident population of Fender’s Blue Butterfly, an endangered species that feeds on the lupine and nectar-producing plants growing on Oak Basin Tree Farm’s upland prairie. According to Brad, “Jim and Ed are creating a mosaic of various little niche ecosystems that serve a lot of different species of plants and animals.”

 

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