Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Forest Practices in Eastern Oregon: MC Ranch

Dates of Visit: June 17 - 21, 2019
Type of Event: Study tour
Topic: Forest Practices in Eastern Oregon
Organizations: Merlo Corporation, Woodgrain
Location: La Grande, Oregon
Host: Rex Christensen / MC Ranch Manager
International Fellows: Richard Banda (Malawi), Fen-hui Chen (Taiwan), Temitope Dauda (Nigeria), Zhongyuan Ding (China), Ana Kanoppa (Brazil), Will Maiden (United Kingdom), Romain Matile (France), Rodolfo Vieto (Costa Rica)
WFI Staff: Vivian Bui / Professional Programs Coordinator, Rick Zenn / Senior Fellow

On June 17th, the International Fellows had to leave behind the comforts of living in Portland and head to a place without Internet or cellular coverage. Though the journey to MC Ranch, a property that lies 10 miles west of La Grande in eastern Oregon, was mountainous, the Fellows’ hopes and expectations were too high to be intimidated. Everybody was excited to have a different kind of experience outside of the office - the cowboy way of life.

MC Ranch is a property that was once owned by Crown Pacific. Harry Merlo purchased the land in 2002 and then acquired timber rights in 2005. After the acquisition of timber rights, the ranch has been managed for various purposes ranging from timber production to cattle grazing to conservation of wild animals and endangered species. MC Ranch covers 12,000 acres with the predominant tree species being ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, white fir, western larch, Engelman spruce, and lodgepole pine. The primary objective of the property is to balance the ecological needs of the land with the short- and long-term needs of the landowner. The property boasts a hilly topography with numerous ponds, springs and streams.

The sustainable management approach at MC Ranch maximizes productivity of the forest and livestock while hosting a variety of wildlife. To provide for these multiple uses, the management goals of the ranch are the following:

· Good forest health
· Forage production
· Water availability
· Wildlife management
· Education
· Fire protection

Harvesting operation at MC Ranch
Forest health: The landowner ensures that local natural resources are maintained, increased or improved. Thinning, which is the silvicultural practice of removing excess, diseased or poor-quality trees and underbrush, is done to modify species composition, density and quality of forest cover. Stands of healthy trees help to conserve water quality and wildlife cover while improving forage. Trees with poor crowns or those that have physical evidence of damage from gall rust or root rot are marked and cut down. Stands with high densities are retained, since most of these stands are on deep soils with high growth potential. The ranch also produces wood chips from the removed timber, which provide an alternative source of income.

Forage production: Most of the local soil supports a significant grass component with established tree cover. By managing tree density, the forest floor receives more daylight, thus promoting the maintenance and increase of forage values. Fencing helps to control domestic livestock use, which, in turn, helps to control grazing patterns and improve forage utilization. Grazing of animals is done systematically, as it is also used as a fire reduction tool.

Water availability: There are many streams at the ranch that flow into Little Beaver Creek and the Grande Ronde River, both of which are fish-bearing streams. Riparian buffer is consequently conserved, and roads and bridges are maintained in such a way that minimizes soil erosion and sediment delivery into the streams. Ponds have also been developed scattered across the property to supply water for wildlife, livestock and firefighting.

Wildlife management: The property offers habitat for a variety of wildlife, like mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, bear, fox, wolf, turkey, owls and quail. Forest cover provides areas for wildlife to hide, rear young and forage. Tree stands are diverse enough to offer a wide range of habitats for game, bird, and prey species.

Education: The asthetic value of the ranch is important as it makes it possible to host guests on the property. The property offers a learning opportunity to students and forest professionals from WFI to work, recreate and learn about matters related to forestry and natural resources management.

Fire protection: To ensure safety from fire, the ranch has helicopter access as well as strategically placed caterpillars. There are also ponds spread throughout the ranch that act as sources of water for firefighting. Where slashing is done, the slash is mulched, lopped and scattered, or heaped and burnt.

WFI Fellows and staff with the MC Ranch team

Lessons Learned

Not everyone who chased the zebra caught it, but he who caught it, chased it. There were many learning opportunities at MC Ranch. It was nice to learn that farmers, ranchers and small woodland owners may obtain cost-share assistance for activities, like non-commercial thinning, slash piling and tree planting, fuel reduction, and pond and water development. This can act as an incentive for forest landowners and help them stay competitive. Through the Oregon Department of Forestry, landowners can also benefit by obtaining knowledge and technical support from forestry technicians. This is a recommendable prospect as the landowners are given a chance to link up to technical knowledge. More support can also be obtained from the Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. The use of livestock grazing to reduce forest fire risk was a remarkable lesson. The managerial approach at MC Ranch, which is mostly managed by common sense, is also a good learning point, as most times it is believed that you need scientific understanding to do the right thing, but it is also possible to manage things successfully while smelling the roses.

An International Fellow’s Thoughts and Perspectives

Richard Banda, International Fellow from Malawi,
learning how to be a cowboy
Considering that no sun sets without its histories, the way the tour was organized was incredible, and you could tell a thousand stories from it. The food and drink were great - you could write books explaining how wonderful they were - but this was not our main interest but merely added advantage. The knowledge and the reasoning behind the management of the ranch was the most important thing to learn from. My experience at MC Ranch has made me believe that everything is possible. You don’t need to have a degree or a laboratory to run a forest. When you don’t have other privileges, you need to use what you have. Being somebody who works in a country where access to information and other resources is limited, I should not see it as a challenge but an opportunity to smell the roses and move on. The plantation where I work in Malawi is just managed for timber, and animal grazing is restricted. At MC Ranch, I learned that, if it is properly managed, animal grazing can be a tool to reduce fire risk. I have started thinking about how we can best incorporate and balance timber production, wildlife conservation and agriculture, as land is becoming scarce and there is increasing need to maximize its use. I can draw a lot of successful stories from the tour of MC Ranch.

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