Beachie Creek fire recovery at Silver Falls State Park

As part of the recovery from the 2020 Beachie Creek fire, we are working on a project in the southeast corner of Silver Falls. It will involve removing trees. We agree this 9,000+ acre park is one of the most-treasured places in Oregon’s state park system. It was even considered for the national park system in the 1930s, but the feds took a pass on it, partly because most of the area had been logged and replanted over and over.

You can still see some of this history on the landscape, especially in the less-visited corners of the park. Trees were planted tightly together, aiming to grow trees like a crop rather than encourage a diverse, natural, healthy forest. We’ve spent decades nudging the park back to the natural path, one patch at a time. A mix of Douglas-fir, hemlock, and a healthy understory of shrubs, flowers, and native grasses have a harder time getting a foothold in areas that were overplanted.

Our goal is to create conditions that will help these overstocked forest areas mature into a healthy old-growth forest with minimal human intervention. Because of how the land was managed nearly 100 years ago, stopping all management cold turkey would lead to overly dense conditions that increase risks of fire, reduce overall forest health, and slow the processes that would lead to healthy old growth conditions, so we’ve been picking and choosing areas to receive help getting back to a natural state.

The project will involve removing some of the trees in a couple of patches totaling about 100 acres (read the brief to the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Commission). The 2020 Beachie Creek fire killed and damaged trees in the park, including areas that needed this kind of reset from its pre-park logging history. We’re leaving some of the dead trees standing, and removing others, then replanting Douglas-fir seedlings. The size and shape of the project areas will encourage hemlock and other trees to regrow and is a faster route to the goal: a healthy, diverse forest. Such a place will be better able to naturally withstand future fires and other calamities.

We have had small fires in the park where we just left the area to recover naturally. Abandoning this area, though, would make it more vulnerable, and that seems irresponsible given that past human management introduced unnatural weaknesses in the first place.

As we get the trails through the burned area re-opened (hopefully by spring 2022), you’ll see this area recover, too, just like we will. We know some people still feel that all burned areas should be left totally alone. Our goals and actions in this area are limited and focused on achieving forest diversity, reducing future wildfire intensity, and helping this stand of trees move toward an older forest structure, sooner rather than later.