- Associated Press - Sunday, May 22, 2016

SWEET HOME, Ore. (AP) - Robin Miller has spent virtually all of his adult life working around trees.

For many years, he harvested them as a logger, providing building materials for thousands of homes across North America. And for the last 40 years, he’s grown them, nurturing thousands of Douglas fir and Valley Ponderosa pine trees - many of them as seedlings planted with his own hands - on a 107-acre hillside between Holley and Crawfordsville.

And he wants the public to know that small woodland owners like himself most often use selective harvesting methods to ensure the long-term health and sustainability of their timber stands. Clear cuts, often the center of controversy, are saved for when stands of trees have reached maturity, the Albany Democrat-Herald reported (https://bit.ly/1XzUfrj).

“My dad originally owned this property,” the 76-year-old Miller said before a day of tree-thinning on a recent sunny spring day. “It was mostly brush and he ended up basically giving it away. I was always a tree person, so for me, it was a sad day.”

But in 1974, Miller got an opportunity to buy the property, and he jumped at the chance.

“There were no hand-planted trees on the place until I came around,” Miller said, adding that the stand was poor and interspersed with hardwoods.

According to Miller, the stand now ranges from 10-plus years old to the mid-70s. A few trees are more than 100 years old.

“I’ve mostly got Douglas fir, but there are some areas, where the ground is clay and it’s not good for them,” he said. “So, I have some pine, too.”

Miller tends his trees on an almost daily basis, rolling his well-used Dodge Dakota pickup up a long, tree-lined driveway toward a small wooden retreat he built to escape from the rain.

“I’m a tree person,” he said. “When I plant a tree, in my mind I can see the day it’s a big tree. It’s just in my nature.”

Because he doesn’t harvest many trees annually, Miller said he cash-flows the operation by doing the work himself and using old equipment. The skidder he uses to haul downed trees to a landing where they’re loaded onto waiting trucks is a 1969 model that needs a shot of “go juice” - ether starting fluid - to get its diesel engine running.

Miller said his latest round of selective harvesting was necessitated by recent drought.

“Look at the top of that tree,” Miller said, pointing upward. Most of the Douglas fir’s needles were bright green, but the top three feet of needles were turning brown. Miller believes that’s a sign of stress caused by last summer’s drought and extremely hot weather, plus a similar spurt of hot, dry weather four or five years ago.

“Can the trees come out of it?” he asked, rhetorically. “Sometimes, but most of the time, they end up dying.”

Last summer, Oregon State University forester Glenn Ahrens noted that “browning,” or “die-back,” was noticeable in trees throughout the state, but the drought was especially hard on Douglas fir species. (See related story on page AX.)

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Miller’s longtime friend, Ed Fortner, was helping for a week or so on the harvest job. Fortner, 61, spent 40 years as a timber faller before recently retiring.

“We like to help each other,” Fortner said of the work.

And as the day begins, Fortner demonstrates that dropping a tall tree is more than just firing up a chainsaw and making the cut. He was going to cut about 1,000 trees in all.

“I want to lay them down without breaking them and I also want to lay them down so they are in the same direction,” he said. “It makes it easier and faster to pick them up off the ground.”

Miller said he didn’t want to harvest these trees, but it doesn’t make sense to let them die and be left standing when they still have monetary value.

Surprisingly, for a man who values his solitude among the trees, Miller once spent three years running a Dairy Queen ice cream shop in Redmond and dealt with the public every day.

“I wore a white shirt and white slacks,” he said. “But most of my life I’ve been a logger. I guess you could call me a combination tree farmer and logger today. It takes the right mindset to do this and it can’t all be about making money.”

Miller says that over the past 40 years he has thinned enough trees to pay off the property’s mortgage.

“Some companies believe in clear-cutting trees that are 30 to 35 years old,” he said. “But to me, that’s just when the trees really start putting on volume.”

He believes stands should be thinned in the 30-year range - removing smaller, less vigorous trees to allow better trees room and nutrients to grow to their potential.

And then, when the stand is mature - say, 60 to 80 years old - that’s when a clear-cut is the proper method of harvesting, in most cases.

In addition to enjoying watching his trees grow, Miller also enjoys seeing wildlife including turkeys, deer, elk, bobcats and even snakes.

“I like to do things my way,” he said. “I’m a little slow, but it saves money. Plus, I really enjoy just being on the property.”

Miller has three grown daughters and says the future of his tree farm is hard to predict.

“I don’t want to sell it to anyone who is just going to cut the trees down and run off,” he said. “I want someone who is going to take care of the place and ideally, let me bum around here for a while.”

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Information from: Albany Democrat-Herald, https://www.dhonline.com

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