“This was a labor of love,” said Evan Smith, senior vice president for conservation ventures with The Conservation Fund.
Eight years ago, he and others started working on a plan to return an over-harvested timber stand to a more balanced working landscape. In 2010, the 48,000-acre Gilchrist Forest became Oregon’s first new state forest in more than 60 years.
Before that? The Eastern Oregon forest was managed with a light touch, until intense logging entered in the 1990s. Back then, whole stands were cleared and harvested, ending with the landowners filing bankruptcy. That’s when Smith stepped on the scene. The national nonprofit secured the property with the intent of transferring it to the state as a working landscape. It’s a young forest, which is expected given its rough past. Like the trees, the local timber economy will grow back, too. But the story wasn’t over in 2010. The Conservation Fund secured an additional 28,000 acres of adjoining forest land with the hope of adding to the Gilchrist Forest. In 2015, the final property was sold to the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), completing the multi-year conservation transaction.
“The Oregon Department of Forestry is the ideal manager of a property like this,” said Smith.
The ODF will manage the land to provide long term benefits to wildlife habitat, timber jobs, recreation, and revenue to support local government services. Funding for the roughly $25 million project included federal Forest Legacy funds and state lottery revenue dollars. “The forest in northern Klamath County is slowly returning,” Smith said. “You can almost see the curve of the horizon from the viewpoint up there. It’s an important piece of the conservation landscape and an awesome achievement.”
“Thanks to the support and vision of the community, the Board of Forestry, The Conservation Fund and others, we can celebrate the beginning of a great new era for these forests.” Former Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski.