News-Register file photo##
News-Register file photo##
Courtesy YSWCD##View of Miller Woods from above that shows a more open canopy following the completion of a forest management project.
Courtesy YSWCD##View of Miller Woods from above that shows a more open canopy following the completion of a forest management project.
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Michael Crabtree: A healthier Miller Woods

The Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District (district) completed a much needed thinning project at our Miller Woods property last summer. Managing a forest for the overall health of the trees, understory plants and wildlife habitat may not always be apparent to everyone utilizing the property. On that note, I hope to expand on the motives the District used in determining the best plan for the forest management project completed last summer.

Miller Woods, a unique property owned by the District, is open to the public and enjoyed as a popular venue for walkers, runners, outdoor education and other uses. The 130-acre property, was bequeathed to the district by Frieda Miller in 2004. There are 94 forested acres, with varying stands of trees managed for timber and wildlife, and 36 acres in pasture and hay land.

As a representative of the District, overseeing the long range forest management plan at Miller Woods is something I take very seriously. Following through with the promises made to Frieda Miller, that we would maintain forest management, is paramount to us all. My job was to review the compilation of a forest analysis conducted by our district staff and volunteers along with feedback from OSU Extension Service and Master Woodland Managers regarding the best management plan for this special property. The collected data and observations all confirmed diminishing understory plants and a slowing of tree growth in crowded stands. Upon presenting the information to the district board, they voted unanimously to move forward in 2015 with a thinning project.

Protecting wildlife and water resources, minimizing soil compaction and disturbance to the forest floor were my key priorities for the project. I knew achieving these priorities would require high-tech, low-impact cutting-edge equipment operated by the most experienced and credible personnel in the industry. I was pleased to have found all my requirements in Miller Timber Services of Philomath, right in our own backyard. They were contracted to remove lower quality trees and thin the overstocked tree stands to create proper spacing that would promote healthy tree growth.

As I look at the property now, I am extremely pleased with every aspect of the project. Slash is breaking down relatively quickly, and understory plants are rebounding well. Most defective, dead or dying trees have been removed, leaving a healthy forest structure that will continue to improve. The areas that did not support Douglas fir will be planted in other species, such as Willamette Valley Ponderosa pine, Western Red cedar and Oregon ash. These healthy species will fill in the forested area beautifully over time.

They say seeing is believing, and we purposely created three variable density plots for educational purposes. One plot remained as is. No thinning was conducted. The second plot received 30 percent more thinning than recommended, and the third plot received 30 percent less than recommended. As time marches on, visitors and students will be able to see the various results on each plot. Not wanting to waste an opportunity to share a gentler way to approach thinning trees in our forest, James Riedman, Miller Woods property manager, the OSU Extension Service, Miller Timber Services and I were able to conduct many educational tours during the process which allowed firsthand viewing of these high-tech machines in action.

And one last note. In addition to improving the health of the forest and increasing wildlife habitat, with the sale of the harvested timber, we are able to help offset property maintenance costs and begin the infrastructure for permanent restroom facilities! With thousands of students, volunteers, organization members and educational leaders visiting every year, this has been the biggest request by the public. As parents with two small children visiting on a regular basis, this is one improvement my wife and I will definitely appreciate.

I’d like to express thanks to you, our Miller Woods visitors, for your patience during the closure. Also, a huge thank you to our dedicated volunteers who worked diligently to clear the trails so they would be ready to welcome hikers and visitors. And to you folks who have yet to visit this beautiful jewel just five miles from downtown McMinnville, what are you waiting for? Come on up!

Michael Crabtree has worked for the Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District since 2005. He deals with private landowners and land managers to help them incorporate sound conservation practices with their land management activities. Michael also oversees land management operations on district-owned and operated properties. Miller Woods is one of the properties he oversees.

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