Local tree farmers honored as county’s best

Jim Cota, manager and partner in Fun Forest tree farm, held a measuring tape up to a 2-year-old Douglas fir that is taller than he is, showing a leader 53 inches tall.

It’s the biggest at Fun Forest’s Greenville Road forest, but many of the young trees are showing similarly excellent growth, with leaders taller than 40 inches.

The Linn County Chapter of the Oregon Small Woodlands Association named Fun Forest the Linn County Tree Farmer of the Year last month.

“This selection recognizes the outstanding management by Fun Forest of 1,500 acres in 13 parcels around Sweet Home,” said selection committee chairman Joe Holmberg.

Fun Forest is owned by Cota, Scott Melcher and Robbie Melcher. Fun Forest hosted a tour of four of its parcels recently, showing examples of pasture conversion, riparian restoration, reforestation, pond establishment and early entry thinning.

The name of the tree farm represents what tree farming should be for all generations €“ fun, Cota said.

Cota and the Melchers organized Fun Forest in 1999, Cota said. Cota worked for Mike Melcher before Scott and Robbie Melcher were out of school.

“It’s good to be recognized,” Cota said, but mostly, the partners are just interested in planting trees.

Fun Forest is unique in one of its main practices, converting pastures to forests and getting excellent results in doing so.

Growth like Fun Forest has experienced at the Greenville site is not unusual when the soil has been ripped, Cota said. When converting pasture, Fun Forest rips the subsoil 36 inches deep using a Cat with a ripper teeth attachment, which essentially just plows deeper than a normal plow.

The roots can grow deeper and faster, Cota said.

“It jump starts them,” he said. It allows the roots to reach moisture longer, creating a longer growing period.

With undisturbed pasture, “it takes awhile for a tree to start growing,” Cota said. “Those are the kind of places we buy.”

That’s where the “fun” comes in, he said. It’s fun seeing if the partners can get everywhere in those areas, ideally 100 percent of the land.

Typically, a timber company considers it sufficient to get growth on 80 percent of its tree farmland, Cota said. Rocky ground and heavy soils make it difficult to get better results than that.

Fun Forest plants many different species to take advantage of different types of ground, he said. That includes non-native and valley Ponderosa pine.

Fun Forest also practices early entry, Cota said. Last year, Fun Forest thinned a 13-year-old stand for someone else.

Scott and Robbie Melcher handle the thinning for Fun Forest.

“We intend to do that on our own farm at 15 years,” Cota said. Fun Forest plants trees with an 8-foot by 8-foot spacing. Going in at 15 years, Fun Forest will target half the trees, netting about 300 to 400 trees or 25 tons of pulp logs per acre for use in paper and chips.

After that, the forest will be thinned every five to 10 years, taking 50 trees an acre until the stand is about 50 years old, he said. The second time in, the harvest will be chip and saw logs.

The 2009 Oregon Tree Farmer of the Year will be announced at the Oregon Tree Farm System’s annual meeting in Portland on Nov. 23.

The OTFS is a member of the American Tree Farm System, a national community of 87,000 tree farmers managing 27 million acres of family forestlands.