Treatment options for young forest stands damaged by fire or ice

Many people in the Willamette Valley have been faced in recent years with severe fire or ice damage in young forest stands that do not have much salvageable (merchantable) material. For example, about 15 acres of young forest stands at Hopkins Demonstration Forest suffered massive damage from an ice storm.

Like many landowners who have damage from fire or ice, staff at the Hopkins Demonstration Forest felt overwhelmed by the extent of the damage and the need to address it. The staff and volunteer crews spent many days yarding and chipping the roadside material.

What are the options and costs for addressing young stand damage like this? Here are a couple of options:

  • Harvest and sell all the merchantable pieces, manage the high volume of debris and prepare for planting.
  • Leave the trees that have a good chance to survive, manage the high volume of debris and prepare for planting.

Options for managing the high volume of debris include:

  • Cutting, yarding and chipping most down debris.
  • Masticating all down and damaged trees using a big machine with a masticator head.
  • Cutting most of the down debris into smaller pieces, piling and/or scattering — not burning or chipping — just to get debris on the ground to increase moisture and decomposition.
  • No treatment of debris, just plant through the mess and hope for the best.

When more than half of the trees are damaged beyond recovery, people are often faced with the choice of leaving the best-looking trees and replanting the gaps or just clearing everything and starting over.

It is hard to give up on 15- to 25-year-old trees that may still have a chance. However, in the dense young stands that were most damaged by ice, leaving residual trees newly exposed to the next high-wind event seems risky. Much depends on your specific setting and wind exposure. And it depends on your perspective on managing mixed patches of trees of different ages. If there is much shade from residual trees, your choice of trees to plant may be limited to shade-tolerant trees in the gaps.

For many of the treatment options, the work involves a combination of labor crews and adapting various machines to move or process woody material. We need better estimates of cost and results from these and other options. If you have done some work in young stands damaged by fire or ice — whatever methods you may have chosen — please share your experiences with us so that others can learn from them.

While most of us have dealt with the immediate cleanup needs around buildings, roads and trails, more help is needed to address the larger acreages deeper in the woods.

With what seems a continuing series of disasters, legislators in many jurisdictions are allocating more funding to address forest damage and recovery efforts. So, there will likely be increased funding for incentive programs to help individuals and neighborhoods deal with some of the land management challenges ahead.

Some extra funding to coordinate and increase the capacity of land management service providers is expected as well. Stay tuned for more information on this from the Oregon Department of Forestry, USDA, local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, watershed councils, and other agencies.

To help you decide your course of action, OSU Extension is here to enable sharing of information on successful strategies and to help make connections with likely sources of assistance.

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