Ben Deumling: Managing woodlands in a changing climate

Submitted photo ##
Brown needles on  a dying Douglas fir in Polk County’s Zena Forest.
Submitted photo ## Brown needles on a dying Douglas fir in Polk County’s Zena Forest.


I have been watching trees grow for 32 years in my family’s Zena Forest, nestled nearby in the Eola Hills. And I have gotten to know it well during that time.

Guest Writer

Ben Deumling founded the Zena Forest Products sawmill and millwork operation in 2007. He was inspired by a desire to protect the family’s 1,300-acre woodland, the largest left in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, in addition to generating sustainable family income. Holder of a B.A. in environmental studies and politics from Whitman College, he applied knowledge of natural resource policy and forest management to guide the Eola Hlls venture. For more information, call 503-687-2626 or visit www.zenaforest.com.

Over the last 10 years, I have noticed some significant changes in the trees and the forest as a whole, and not for the better.

All forests are inherently dynamic. They are constantly changing as the ecosystem moves through a succession of cycles.

The changes we have observed over the last decade, though, are orders of magnitude larger than what one might expect from a forest in our region.  

I have seen large-scale die-offs, primarily of Douglas fir. Springtime has taken on an element of apprehension for local nature observers, as the lush bright green of new growth on the tips of the fir branches is interspersed with red tips, signifying the first outward sign of a tree starting to die.

Over the past decade, changes in our climate have produced longer, hotter and drier summers, coupled with less frequent but more intense winter rains. These are the local symptoms of global climate change, which entails an intensification of weather patterns, pushing both rain and drought to new extremes.

The climate changes have directly coincided with increased mortality in our local Douglas fir stands. Drought and heat stress weaken the tree’s immune system, making it more susceptible to pathogens and bug infestations destined to finish the job.

Since 2015, our local Zena Forest, the largest contiguous patch of woodland left in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, has lost nearly 10 percent of its Douglas fir. The composition of the forest is changing, whether we like it or not.

Good tree cover is essential to a healthy forest ecosystem. Keeping the ground shaded with a healthy complement of understory shrubs not only provides habitat for a wide range of important species, but serves to hold moisture in the soil well into our dry summers, slowly releasing water into our local streams.

To this end, we have been experimenting with the planting of less traditional tree species to replace the fir we are losing.

Both Oregon white oak and Ponderosa pine are native to the Willamette Valley, and historically grew in much greater abundance. These trees tolerate a wide range of growing conditions and display much greater fire resistance, so have proven viable replacements.

Anticipating this changing climate, we started planting incense cedar as well 15 years ago.

Though not native to the Mid-Valley, its historical range encompasses the dry rocky hillsides of southern Oregon. It has thrived in our forest, nestled in the Eola  Hills west of Salem, thanks to increasingly drier and warmer growing conditions.

In an effort to enable our forest to thrive for future centuries, despite the dramatic effects of climate change, we try to predict which trees will find growing conditions favorable years from now. That has also led us to start planting coast redwood and giant sequoia, already showing great promise.

There is very little known about how climate change will affect local forest ecosystems. Scientists are just starting to explore these questions.

We need to foster more professional as well as citizen science to advance our understanding. Forests naturally adapt to changing climate, but on a very gradual time scale.

Forests provide a critical suite of benefits to Oregonians.

As land managers, we have the opportunity to anticipate change and manage accordingly. With careful planning, we will continue to have patches of forest throughout the Willamette Valley.  

Climate change is not static. The patterns we are currently experiencing will most assuredly continue to become more severe.

That makes forest stewardship an exercise in long-term forward thinking. We need to anticipate whether the trees we plant in 2019 will grow well here in 50 years or more.

I am not ready to begin planting palm trees, but given the climate predictions on our horizon, that might not be as crazy as it sounds. With the uncertainty of our climate future, we need to maximize the diversity and complexity of tree species populating our local forest ecosystem, and that is exactly what we are trying to do here in the Zena Forest.




Great article. Thank you.

Don Dix

The title -- Managing Woodlands in a Changing Climate -- begs this question -- was there a time when 'a changing climate' didn't effect anything woodland or forest?

The author then goes on to state 'Climate change is not static'. That's akin to 'jumbo shrimp' -- an oxymoron. Correctly stated, the climate is not static, never has been. Climate change was a movement of goalposts when 'global warming' wasn't cooperating, and conveniently covers any shift, up, down, or sideways (but when there's a cold snap, that's weather, yet a heat wave is climate change, right?)

It amazes me that people believe a miniscule sample of climate without regard to any historical climate of the same area ( ie: Las Vegas was a swampy marshland long ago -- the name means meadow or fertile plains -- were they wrong? -- no!). Actual observations of historical climate prove false the claims of the 'drama queens' promoting human influence, but there's no money in the truth, so we are being forced to live the lie. It's old, but the proper method would be 'follow the money'!


Don. Ben talks about the speed of change. He has 'skin-the-game' as they say because of he owns the woodlands he is talking about. He also has pertinent education. He sees the effects in a just ten year, which is fast for forest change. He isn't whining. He is doing something about it. And you use it for political posturing about how it is all a lie to make money.

Don Dix

Mike -- You point out the author has a pertinent education (a B.A. in environmental studies), as if that seals the deal. My perspective is that history, which is an actual account without speculation and guesses, proves the climate has never been stable, and humans had nothing to do with any change.

The study of climate on Earth (since late 1800s) is akin to a newborn when compared to the age of the Earth. Somehow, that facts escapes under the guise of fear mongering.

The 5th Assessment Report (IPCC) contains 73 computer model predictions, with varying degrees of warming in all. Every one of those models were proven wrong simply by observation of the 5 official temperature datasets, which the IPCC uses to measure temperature. The questions are -- at what point does one stop faithfully believing the predictions when none have materialized to date? -- how many 'tipping points' (no arctic ice by 2013) or 'points of no return' (2001 snowless winters) must be proven wrong until reality sets in?

And you accuse me of 'political posturing'? Exactly where did my response mention anything political? I have no personal political affiliation, but I do have a degree in history, which backfills my climate knowledge. In fact, the author has the 'political degree', so just maybe the 'political posturing' accusation is misplaced -- or used to divert attention from stark reality.


Don Dix it's just too bad you had to dump on someone who is working his land and noticing changes. What an ego.


The climate control people use every method they know of to scare people into believing their story’s. I saw trees just like the one in the picture in 1969 setting chokers in the coast range. The world has evolved for millions of years and that’s a fact. I have a question for all you environmentalists. Where did all the dinosaurs go with man having no impact on the earth at that Time? We have taken great strides in this country in the last forty years in cleaning up the messes that were made before us. No matter how hard the extremists try we can’t bring the earth back to what it was 500 or 1000 years ago. Foreign countries dump waste into the environment at a way higher rate than this country. A good start for all you tree huggers would to leave our forests to people that know how to manage them for fires and harvest. That would be loggers and timber companies. Don Dix I’m right in your corner.


Ben is trying to anticipate the 50 year future as a forest manager. Like farmers, fisherman, and foresters every where who depend on predictions. He is doing what he has to do for him and his family. Don do you think he should not plan his crop (a 50 year crop) without using available information?


The environmentalists ran half the loggers out of this country in the early 70’s with the spotted owl conspiracy theory and that turned out to be a hoax. If we were at 75% of the 1950’s and 1960’s logging this state wouldn’t have to worry about the Democrats trying to tax us to death because we would be rolling in money as a state. Not every issue is about the environment it’s about political control. If the gentleman with this forest can see 50 years in the future he must be some kind of genius.

Don Dix

Turvey -- So disagreeing with an assessment and producing evidence that support that position is 'dumping' on someone? Interesting! If you can actually refute any statements, please, let it fly.


He was inspired by a desire to protect the family’s 1,300-acre woodland, the largest left in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, fact check !!! not the largest!

Don Dix

Mike -- the information that is available on the climate of the future is conveniently hedged and predictions are all over the map. It would be somewhat foolish to put any faith into an evaluation (of nearly any subject) that employs words such as 'might', 'could', 'possibly', 'may', etc.

In 2014 NASA boldly declared it to be the hottest year (by .02C), besides the fact those readings were well within NASA's margin of error (0.1C). NASA later admitted the statement came with a 38% level of confidence. 38% yes, we are right -- 62% no, we are wrong? From this perspective, not much critical thinking necessary to make that choice!


Don. So a farmer has to plant, but weather forecast gives 95% chance of rain. Should the farmer risk his tractor and his crop? It is a 'might', a 'could', a 'may'. Farmers aren't fools. They have to make decisions and they use available information. I know you think anyone who talks about changing climate needs to be schooled in way 'it ain't so'.

Don Dix

Mike -- From the playbook of the warming mongers -- weather isn't climate, unless it promotes the cause. And farmers usually have their own set of parameters to proceed with operations -- and any forecast is subject to change. Even the groundhog predictions are on par with the experts.

My argument isn't climate stability, it's that climate change is a normal phenomenon since Earth's inception. Take the last 2000 years -- The Roman Warm Period around 0 AD was followed by a cooling known as the Dark Ages (500 AD). The Medieval Warm Period began roughly 900 AD until 1300 (farming on Greenland). Then the Little Ice Age (low Sun activity) lowered temps and made Greenland an ice cube. About 1800 the Sun awoke and for the last 200 years there has been a gradual warming. All 5 of these climate events were the natural process of the Earth, each lasting 400-500 years. During these events the temps varied up and down 4+ degrees, and none were influenced by human activity.

So, after knowing Earth has had these climate swings, why are only the last 200 years of warming the fault of man? CO2 (the villain) is blamed for the present warming, and yet this trace gas didn't have a role in either of the previous warm periods that were at least as warm as today's temps.

The question that is never answered without deflection is -- since it was warmer and colder in spurts throughout the last 2000 years (in this history sample) and C02 wasn't a factor, why is it (CO2) now the culprit? My opinion is simple -- a truthful answer won't support the hypothesis.


Don Dix I'm not even thinking facts or fiction. My point was that this man wrote an opinion article about the way he is seeing fit to run his farm given the information he has and you have chosen to use his article for your own soap box. Ego. I would hope instead to see comments on what other farms are doing and what other people have seen, not some diatribe on fact verses fiction.

Don Dix

Tuvey -- 'opinion article' -- by nature, subject to alternative opinions -- but not in your personal judgment -- you have a nice day, sir/madam!

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