PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Santiam State Forest is on the road to recovery after the Beachie Creek, Lionshead, and Riverside wildfires damaged approximately 16,600 of the forest’s 47,465 acres. 

At a State Forests Advisory Committee meeting Tuesday, Oregon Department of Forestry officials said crews are now in the process of salvaging burned timber and replanting the forest.  

“We still have a long road ahead of us, but the work is beginning,” Shannon Loffelmacher, ODF unit forester at the Lyons office, said before she explained how much progress has been made.

According to Loffelmacher, seedling tree planting is about 43% complete for the season. Before the fire, ODF had ordered 240,000 seedlings, a combination of douglas fir and western red cedar. After the fire, they increased their seedling supply to 400,000. 

With vast area that now needs to be replanted and limited seedlings, Loffelmacher said the department of forestry decided to adjust their tree spacing to replant the Santiam State Forest. Instead of planting the usual 435 trees per acre, they’re now spreading the seedlings out more and will only plant 360 trees per acre.     

“The reason we did that was to just try to cover some more ground. I still feel, personally, really good at planting 360 trees per acre,” Loffelmacher said. 

She also explained 5,400 acres that were burned are in areas with “operability issues.” This includes land that didn’t have many trees growing on it, was prone to landslides, and housed administrative sites. On these areas with “operability issues,” ODF is dropping douglas fir, western red cedar, and noble fir seeds from a helicopter. As of Tuesday, Loffelmacher said the aerial reseeding project was 10% complete.  

She also said they’re working to repair damaged areas of the 190 miles of road that are inside the fire perimeter. ODF has awarded work-order contracts to two companies to repair the roads and the first begins this week. 

The state has also been moving forward with salvaging burned wood. Timber that burned in the fire that is old enough to be used for lumber can be sold. The state conducted its first auction of timber salvaged from the Santiam State Forest Tuesday. ODF says just less than two thirds of the money made from the sale goes back to the counties where it was harvested. These funds are often put toward things like education, health care, road maintenance, and parks. 

During Tuesday’s meeting, Doug Heiken, conservation and restoration coordinator for Oregon Wild, asked the council why they were salvaging the timber instead of allowing it to naturally decay? He argued the dead trees have a tremendous ecological value if they’re left on the land.  

Ron Zilli, deputy division chief for the Oregon State Forests, reassured Heiken that only about 2,500 – 3,000 acres of timber is salvageable. Many of the trees that burned were either too young or too old to be put to use. 

KOIN 6 News asked if ODF planned to broadcast burn areas with young burned trees to better clear the area for seedlings. ODF said they don’t plan to do this.    

At the meeting, ODF also presented other public comments they’d collected about the fire damage in the Santiam State Forest. When it comes to salvage logging, people said they were concerned about disturbing natural reforestation, lost potential for carbon retention in burned forests, and logging in older forests. 

Other common requests from the public were to reopen unburned areas south of Highway 22 and to avoid single-species replanting. 

ODF employees at the meeting said they were impressed with the amount of public comment they received. None of the comments were addressed at the meeting. KOIN 6 News asked ODF if they plan to address them in the future. Jason Cox, a public affairs employee with ODF, said the agency does not plan to publicly address each concern, but will incorporate some of the feedback in its final Implementation Plan. 

Zilli said ODF plans to continue moving forward with its three-phase approach: assessment, recovery, and restoration. In its Draft Implementation Plan Major Revision for the North Cascade District, which includes the Santiam State Forest, ODF says it plans to monitor how the forest is responding to salvage, reforestation, and other restoration activities to see if their management strategies need to be adjusted. 

A date has not been set for the next State Forests Advisory Committee meeting, but Cox said they typically would hold their next meeting in April. The public is welcome to attend.