It is fitting that this issue of Digger focuses on sustainability.
Sustainability is embedded in how our nurseries operate, and it comes standard with all of our products. Last Labor Day, our region and the nearby Cascade forests came under attack from raging wildfires. Communities were destroyed, people were forced to evacuate, and the sky turned a dirty shade of orange. But I think the ultimate legacy of those fires will be one of rebirth and recovery. Our natural ecosystem can be replanted and sustained through the most dire and apocalyptic of events.
Two stories intertwined by 6.7 miles
The Santiam River Canyon is home to two major hydroelectric dams — Big Cliff Dam, and then the larger Detroit Dam just a few miles upstream. The fires that ravaged the area truly demonstrated the raw, destructive power of Mother Nature.
As the operator of both dams, Mike Pomeroy found himself racing between the two to secure and prepare them for the oncoming Beachie Creek fire. When his path to escape was cut off by the encroaching fire, he found himself inside the concrete walls of Detroit Dam itself, kept company by a chipmunk that also took refuge there.
Pomeroy pulled together supplies, including food, water, a cot, extra clothing and a sleeping bag. He made his way to the lower levels of the dam, thinking that was the safest place to be. He laid down on the cot and wrapped himself in his sleeping bag.
Eight hours after entering the dam, Pomeroy emerged from it in the morning to see daylight, rather than fire. He tried his radio and got a response. By midday, coworkers and first responders were able to come evacuate him. He’d been alone for 30 hours when they reached him.
Just a few miles upstream from the dam is Mongold State Day Use Park. This is where volunteers from the Idanha-Detroit Rural Fire Protection District assembled in response to the fire.
Veteran firefighters said they had never seen such an explosive fire. It sounded like deep, rumbling noises more akin to a train — but the black smoke columns signaled the fire running across the forest canopy.
The light was like what you would see a Mars Rover relaying back to earth. Rockslides and downed trees pinned in 70 firefighters, campers, and residents. As the fire closed in, repeated calls for help were answered, but conditions ruled out helicopter support. Main roads weren’t passable.
Using Forest Service roads, a convoy of sedans, trucks and other vehicles formed to escape. During the night, they inched away from the roaring fires and thick smoke — at times having the caravan back up to select another forest service road when one was blocked. The volunteer fire fighters led the group over the ridges and back roads to safety.
Seedlings and trees are the answer
It took most of the fall for the fire to be contained and controlled. Salvage operations were needed to remove dangerous snags left standing by the fire. The state now is looking to replant state and federal forest lands.
I have a bumper sticker in my office in Wilsonville (and at home, which during COVID-19 I have called my “64th Avenue Bunker”). J. Frank Schmidt III gave it to me, and it says, “Trees are the Answer.”
We are seeing this first-hand not only by coalitions spurned into action to resolve a state and national crisis for reforestation, but also in the halls of Congress.
On Capitol Hill, newly elected U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz (R-Oregon) introduced H.R.2562, the Solving Our Shortages for Seedlings Act (SOS for Seedlings Act) to address the national shortage of seedlings needed for reforestation efforts following wildfires across the United States.
According to the House Natural Resources Committee, wildfires destroyed more than 68 million acres in the last decade and over 10 million acres in 2020 alone. Here at home in Oregon, roughly 1.07 million acres burned during the 2020 season, the second-most on record. Firefighting costs are also high — $354 million. 347 million trees burned, and 4,000 homes were lost.
The Oregon State Legislature has before it House Joint Memorial 8, which urges support of the federal legislation. What is critical is that the OAN will be in the middle of shaping how the private nursery market can meet the demand of the devastation.
Promote more trees in urban areas
The Plant Something campaign, designed by the Arizona Nursery Association and visionary Executive Director Cheryl Goar Koury, not only promotes the benefits of plants but also their climate change perks.
The OAN got on board — we saw what climate experts saw: the nursery and greenhouse industry are a part of the climate solution. Studies have proven that shade trees and landscaping along paved streets can cut repair costs, reduce building maintenance expenses, and cool down public spaces.
Trees can reduce the urban heat island effect as well. When asphalt is exposed to the direct, intense rays of the sun, it can reach extremely high temperatures, causing it to break down more quickly and requiring more frequent repairs. One study has shown that protecting streets with a shady canopy cuts cost.
In addition, well-planned landscaping also protects buildings from the sun’s pounding rays in summer and the biting conditions of winter. Situated properly, plants can create buffers between the buildings and the elements.
In rural and urban environments alike, trees are the true sustainable resource that our forest brothers and sisters know each day. The nursery and greenhouse industry provides the starts the forestry industry needs to mend our fragile landscape. Likewise, we provide the trees to make our cities more livable.
The OAN fully supports large scale efforts like the Million Tree Challenge, and we can rise to the occasion, demonstrating our critical role in the sustainability of our built environments and forest lands.