2019 Tree Farmer of the Year: Shiver River LLC

Benton County Chapter celebrated our 2019 Tree Farmers of the Year on September 21st  at Shiver River Farm with a forest tour and luncheon. Forty three people attended.

Diana Blakney, Sid Picht & KC Thompson welcomed us to their family forestland located on the eastern flank of Marys Peak. We were able to witness the results of long-term family management and their most recent activities including diversity-focused thinning and both riparian and in-stream projects. 

The Shiver River Sibs: KC Thompson, Diana Blakney & Sid Picht

The 171 acre farm has been in the family since 1921. The three Shiver River owners are siblings who inherited the family farm in 2010 from their mother, Emma Virginia Picht. Their mother acted as steward and manager of the family forest from the time her parents stopped farming in the late 1950’s until her death in 2010 at age 90. The siblings have embraced their mother’s goal to “sustain a perpetual forest on the property that can be enjoyed by succeeding generations of the family.”

In 1964, Emma began working with consulting foresters to ensure that her vision of sustainable forest practices became reality. Scott Ferguson of Trout Mountain Forestry has been a part of the property’s forest management since 1984. Scott joined us for the forest tour to share his knowledge and history of the property.

Scott described Shiver River timber as stratified into nine stands of similar forest composition and age. A 2010 cruise showed a total of over two million board feet of merchantable timber, with about 60% of the volume in Douglas-fir and 30% in grand fir.

The owners generally harvest every two to five years, returning to any one stand no more frequently than every ten years. Since 2010, they have conducted three harvests. Depending on the stand conditions, thinning may consist of cutting the larger trees or the smaller trees or a mix. The owners and their foresters believe that a creating or retaining a balance of variable aged trees and variable density is a sustainable management approach. This includes creating openings of one to three acres with at least ten percent of the prior stand retained as legacies. Legacy trees may include older trees, the largest individual trees of each species, hardwoods, uncommon species, snags, or wildlife trees.

We looked at a stand that was thinned over a two-year period in 2013 and 2014. The stand was 40 acres with a well-stocked mix of Douglas-fir and grand fir that was previously thinned in 1997. The most recent thinning was a single tree selection that resulted in single tree openings and a few two or three tree openings. It yielded approximately 333 MBF.

Another stand was salvage logged in the 1960s after damage from the Columbus Day storm. The site has naturally regenerated a structurally diverse timber stand. A short meander out into the woods showed us how lush the forest floor is with organic matter and understory vegetation.

They have only infrequently had a need to replant due to the retention of multiple age classes and variable density that encourages abundant natural regeneration. However, one 5.7 acre well-stocked stand of Douglas-fir that had suffered blowdown due to poorly drained soils, was clear-cut and replanted in 2018.

Because of historical sustainable forest practices, the property exhibits one of the best examples of uneven-aged forest structure in northwest Oregon. The property also had one of the first FSC certified harvests in Oregon.

We carefully tiptoed across the rocks in Griffith Creek (no one slipped in!) and hiked down to the banks of Rock Creek. In August 2014, the owners participated in the Rock Creek Fish Habitat Project with the Marys River Watershed Council. In my time working with the Watershed Council, this was one of my favorite projects and I was asked to share its story with the group. Rock Creek originates from Marys Peak and is one of the coldest sources of streamflow in the Marys River watershed.  To help retain the cool water temperature and to support salmonid habitat on Rock Creek and Griffith Creek, Douglas-fir logs were placed at 15 locations on Shiver River farm and another 25 locations upstream on Corvallis Watershed lands. Each site was selected for its low terraces that could support gravel accumulation and floodplain interaction. Besides supporting spawning habitat, deep gravels help the stream stay cooler as water flows below the surface rather than fully exposed over bedrock. In time, the logs will collect debris that will trap the gravels. But in the short term, much of the debris is being trapped by the most upstream log placements.

Western redcedar and native hardwoods were planted in riparian areas where blackberry were removed. Large stock nursery trees have given them a headstart in competing with lush riparian vegetation – they’re growing vigorously. While the log placements are a short term fix, the planted trees will provide the future large wood for the stream.

Scott shared some of his thoughts on the effects of climate change on our forests. As we all know, the productive forests of Oregon are some of the best natural ecosystems for capturing carbon and removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Scott thinks that the most important thing forest owners can do to combat climate change is to grow trees longer. Growing our conifer forests and plantations to older ages (60-to-80 years old) would increase carbon storage because total annual wood production (MAI in forester jargon) is maximized by growing forest stands to ages of more than 50 years.  Also, clear-cut areas actually “give off” CO2 for the first 10-to-20 years after harvest (from decomposing slash and increased breakdown of organic matter in the soil).

What I found most intriguing was Scott’s discussion of the role of forest soil humus and complex lignin. Older trees in our forests provide future organic material for soils that is qualitatively different from that produced by the decomposition of young trees. The soil humus that is produced by young trees is less stable or less durable than that produced by older trees, which have more complex lignin molecules. Another way of saying this is that young trees decompose more rapidly than older trees.  Shorter rotations in our forest stands will, over time, result in the loss of humus in our forest soils, particularly where the soils are exposed to sun and increased temperatures. Also, soil humus is really good at holding moisture and resisting soil erosion – crucial attributes as our forests become drier in the summer and experience heavier rainfall events in winter. 

None of the three Shiver River owners have a background in forestry. They unapologetically rely on the expertise of Trout Mountain’s foresters, including Scott Ferguson, who assisted their mother in achieving her vision. They also take advantage of the trainings available through the OSU Extension Service, and the many resources available through Oregon State University, OSWA, Marys River Watershed Council, Marys Peak Stewardship Group and others. Diana and her husband Bill have been active in OSWA and have attended many of its sponsored tours. They are also working hard to improve their forestry skills by taking advantage of the OSU Extension workshops. Diana is a recent graduate of the Master Woodland Manager course!

Diana maintains the family’s farm blog: https://www.shiverriver.net. Created by Sid before their mother died, it is now an important communication tool that provides an ongoing historical record, complete with photographs of farm projects and other goings-on to keep the three siblings and the next generation fully engaged.

The siblings’ stewardship exhibits a deep commitment to the land that has profoundly shaped their family for nearly 100 years. Building on that legacy and on their love for each other, this property will likely continue providing pleasure for the family, diverse habitat for fish and wildlife, and a vigorous forest with income to support their sustainable forest practices. The next generation is being actively engaged to make sure this happens.


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