Hernandez and 70 of her junior and senior classmates from Salem’s Career and Technical Education Center (CTEC) were on Fern Ridge in the Santiam State Forest Feb. 9 and 10 to help restore the forest by planting seedlings after the devastating 2020 fires swept through the area. The event was organized and sponsored by the State Forests Trust of Oregon. The Trust is a nonprofit that works in partnership with the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) to serve as a catalyst for private/public partnerships supporting recreation, education and interpretation in Oregon’s state forests.
“This event is about establishing a hands-on connection to all the benefits of our state forests,” said Kelly Lau, Executive Director of the Trust. “These students come from diverse backgrounds and some have no or very little experience in the forest. We want them to see, feel, and experience firsthand the social, economic and ecological benefits and encourage them to be the future stewards of our sustainable state forests,” said Lau.
The students from the construction and business programs at CTEC got detailed instructions on how to plant trees from ODF staff members and had their questions answered.
“It’s important to get the trees planted at the correct depth and make sure the soil is compacted around them,” said John Walter, ODF silviculturist, to the group of four students he was leading. “If you plant them too shallow the roots will dry out and the seedling will die.”
“Why is it so important to squish the dirt around them?” asked Lyrissa Trippett, a junior. “First, for good root contact with the ground, and second, deer will nibble the ends of the trees, but elk will pull the whole thing out when they graze if it is not firmly planted,” said Walter.
In another group a student picked up a large piece of bark and asked about what “all the squiggly lines were from?” The group got a quick lesson in forest health and the impact beetles can have on trees. Then one student from the construction program asked about “how many 2X4s a downed log would have produced if taken to a mill?” The log was burned and unsalvageable, but two of ODF’s stewardship foresters quickly calculated the board feet and came up with 40 two-by-four-by-eights – one of the most common lumber size the students use in class.
“This type of practical awareness and education is what the Trust is all about,” said Lorie Wigle, who organized the tree planting. She was the Trust’s executive director and now is a dedicated volunteer. “This is a long-term effort but I’m hoping we can raise awareness and bring together all Oregonians for the Santiam the same way they pulled together to restore the Tillamook State Forest,” said Wigle.
The Trust was established in 1999 and was the key driver in establishing the Tillamook Forest Center. The Tillamook Forest Center is aiming to reopen this spring after being closed nearly three years. The plan is to take lessons from the Tillamook and apply them to the Santiam.
“We are in the early stages of creating a vision for the education, recreation, and stewardship opportunities for the Santiam State Forest,” said Wigle. “The State Forest Wildfire Restoration Fund, Santiam, is taking donations to help bring back the forest. We hope this private/public partnership will have the same impact as it had with the Tillamook.”
To donate, volunteer or learn more about Oregon’s State Forests, see the following websites: For more information on the Trust or to donate to the State Forest Wildfire Restoration Fund, Santiam go to the Trust website. To see the reopening dates and operating hours of the Tillamook Forest Center go here. To learn more about all of Oregon’s State Forests see ODF’s State Forests website.