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

GALES CREEK - Over the past two years, staff from the Oregon Department of Forestry and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife have planted 1,000 western red cedars along a mile-long stretch of Gales Creek in the Tillamook State Forest. 

 “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,” read a state-issued news release from ODF spokesperson Jason Cox. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic set in at the end of the tree planting process, it changed how staff had to operate. 

“Our staff was careful to socially distance during the process,” Cox said in an email to the Gales Creek Journal. 

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“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 in April 2020. “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.”

According to the Oregon Department of Forestry, the tree plantings are part of a multiyear effort in this portion of the Tillamook State Forest. As trees age, die, and fall into streams, pools and side channels are created by the fallen trees where fish can spawn, shelter, and calmer waters in the winter flood season. 

That process, called wood recruitment, is a natural part of a healthy forest ecosystem, but this area — hit hard by the fires of the Tillamook Burn in the first half of the 20th century — doesn’t have the volume of older trees found in other areas, according to the ODF. 

“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,” Cox noted in the news release. 

According to Cox, the western red cedar trees were planted here tenfold to replace the felled wood. Much of the Tillamook Burn was replanted with Douglas Fir, much of which was afflicted with root rot in this area. 

Chelsey Peters, a reforestation specialist for ODF, said that progress from the 2018 portion of the stream enhancement was already visible. 

“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.”