Once Scorched by Devastating Wildfires, Tillamook Forest Gets Healthier


Oregon’s Departments of Forestry and Fish & Wildlife collaborate to improve threatened fish habitat and tree diversity in the Tillamook State Forest.

GALES CREEK – Staff from both ODF and ODFW teamed up to plant 1,000 Western red cedar seedlings in a mile-long stretch of Gales Creek over the past two years. As these trees grow, they’ll provide shade to help maintain cool water – vital to native upper Willamette steelhead that are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Tillamook State Forest project highlights the challenges the forest continues to face nearly 70 years after the last of several devastating forest fires in that area.

“We know that climate change will continue to ravage the natural resources that make Oregon a beautiful and bountiful place to call home,” said Governor Kate Brown. “Which is why it’s so incredible to see collaboration between state agencies to recover what we’ve lost in the Tillamook Burn. Because of the work in the Tillamook State Forest, Willamette steelhead will swim and spawn in Gales Creek again.”

This is the latest step in a multi-year effort to improve aquatic habitat conditions in this portion of the Tillamook. As trees grow old, die and fall over into streams, the fallen trees (wood recruitment) create pools and side channels where fish can spawn, while their offspring can find shelter from predators and refuge from strong winter creek flows. This process generally occurs naturally, but this particular area – burned in the 20th century in one of the devastating fires known as the Tillamook Burn – didn’t have the volume of older trees one might find in other areas. ODF and ODFW chose wood to place into the stream, which should help speed up the wood recruitment process that Mother Nature normally takes care of.

Garrett Armstrong of ODF climbs a steep embankment to plant a Western red cedar tree in the bank.

With this phase of the project, the trees were replaced tenfold with Western red cedar, a species that is well-suited to resist the root rot afflicting much of the Douglas fir planted in that area after the Burn.

Chelsey Peters, a reforestation specialist for ODF, was already able to see positive effects from the 2018 portion of the stream enhancement project.

“You could actually see a beaver dam and some fresh cut saplings from beaver,” Peters said. “That’s one of the cool things about doing these projects. It’s not just for the fish. It contributes to all kinds of wildlife diversity.”

“The current COVID-19 pandemic has made clear how interconnected Oregon lives, our homes, and our communities really are,” Governor Brown said. “Humans and their natural surroundings are all in this world together, and we have to commit to preserving our beautiful Oregon for generations to come.”

The video below documents an earlier phase of the project placing logs in Gales Creek.

About Author

Jason Cox is a Public Affairs Specialist at the Oregon Department of Forestry.

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