July 23, 2004
Serving Western Deschutes County
Sisters, Oregon

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Creating a new forest from ashes of B&B Fire
By Jim Fisher, Correspondent

Gary Lovegren surveys salvage logging site. photo by Jim Fisher

Travelers driving into Central Oregon on Highway 20 can look down over Blue Lake at the eastern base of the Cascades and see the first signs of forest restoration after the devastating B&B Complex Fire of 2003.

The Lovegren Estate, which owns 117 acres in the area, is completing salvage operations of fire-killed timber on their lands. Some 300,000 board feet of timber have been removed this summer with logs transported to mills in Gilchrist, Sweet Home and Maupin, according to family spokesman Gary Lovegren.

The land may look bare now with only 20 to 25 green trees that escaped the fire scattered over the hillside and snags left for wildlife habitat, but that is expected to change.

Limited raking of debris, stump piling, and grass seeding will be done this fall, Lovegren said.

"Because seedlings for our elevation are not readily available for planting, we will contract with a forest nursery to grow seedlings for us. That will take two years," Lovegren said.

"Besides grass seeding, we will try planting some native shrubs this fall. We want to develop a greenbelt close in where plantings will receive water to help survival."

On August 19, 2003, lightning started two separate wildfires, one near Booth Lake in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness and another on Bear Butte to the north. Dry fuels and strong erratic winds caused the fires to spread rapidly in every direction.

The fires eventually burned together, covering 90,769 acres before being contained on September 26.

August 21 is the day that Lovegren remembers.

As a fire captain with the Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire Rural Protection District, he was in charge of fire control actions at Blue Lake and the west end of Suttle Lake. Camp Caldera, Camp Davidson and his own home were threatened. Quick action by firefighters saved all buildings, but almost all of the timber owned by the Lovegrens was destroyed.

Over the years, the family had done thinning of trees, built firebreaks, and constructed fire-safe homes. However, the intensity of the B&B Complex Fire was overwhelming.

"The first day that we were allowed back into our homes, our family gathered and made the decision to restore the lands," Lovegren said. "At that time, everything seemed to be against us. Log prices were low, only mills at John Day and Medford were buying logs, and the quality of the logs to be salvaged was not great. We couldn't make it pay at that time."

Still, Lovegren sought advice from both the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) and the U.S. Forest Service. The department regulates forest practices on private land and offered advice on getting a cruise of the timber to learn the volume to be salvaged. They also explained how other forest resources could be protected.

By this spring, the situation had improved. Log prices were up. A contract logger recommended by the Forest Service visited the site and he agreed to take on the job.

With a background in logging in California and southern Oregon, Lovegren was amazed at how logging operations had improved.

"There were only three men working instead of the six or eight needed when I was logging," he said. "One was on the bulldozer, one in a limbing machine and one ran a skidder. Each sat in an enclosed air-conditioned cab that they never left and in 10 days, they had salvage-logged our 100 acres."

Stu Otto, forest practices forester with the Oregon Department of Forestry, speaks highly of what the Lovegren family has done.

"They have responded very positively to a bad situation where they lost most of their timber resource," Otto said. "By quickly salvaging the fire-killed timber, they have recovered any value that would have been lost and put that value and more back into rehabilitating the land."

Soil conditions on the land created both "good news" and "bad news." On the plus side, the cinder soil did not create any erosion problems during salvage logging.

However, the soil is quick to lose moisture and provides few nutrients for growing commercial timber. The trees grow slowly with a strong taper from base to top.

All of the species found here originally, including ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, white fir and some tamarack, will be replanted, plus white pine and lodgepole pine.

The Lovegren family purchased this land in 1960 and ran it as a summer resort until 1975 when they added winter sports and made it a year-round resort. In 1995, they sold 87 acres, keeping 117 acres. Despite the fire damage, the family will still follow their long-range plan to develop five-acre homesites for family members, keeping 40 acres as managed forestland.

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