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Community forest grant from the U.S. Forest Service will help nurture nature project in Eagle Creek

ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - David Bugni surveys a parcel of land that the Trust for Public Land and the Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District are in the process of purchasing from Weyerhaeuser. In the background are Eagle Fern Park and forestland owned by Portland General Electric.

By definition, an old-growth forest doesn't happen overnight, but an Estacada resident is working to create and nurture habitats in Eagle Creek beneficial to vegetation, fish and amenities like recreation trails.

To develop this community forest, David Bugni is collaborating with the Clackamas Soil and Water District, the Trust for Public Land and several other organizations. In September, the project received a community forest grant from the U.S. Forest Service for $550,000. Of the nine grants awarded across the country, the Eagle Creek project was the only one funded in Oregon.

The grant will go toward the purchase of a 319-acre forest parcel owned by Weyerhaeuser and neighbored by Eagle Fern Park, along with wooded lands owned by Portland General Electric and the Bureau of Land Management. Those involved hope to collaborate with the owners of the neighboring natural areas to create a cohesive and community-driven management plan for the 1,000 acres of forestlands.

Bugni decided to pursue the project once he discovered that the Weyerhaeuser parcel was for sale.

"Instead of private ownership, why not get a public entity to buy it and make it part of a public use area?" he asked, noting that Weyerhaeuser had harvested and subsequently replanted on the land. "Most people live in urban areas. The chance for people to get to experience something like this is not very common."

Through the sale process, the Trust for Public Land will purchase the property from Weyerhaeuser and immediately sell it to the Clackamas Soil and Water District at cost. The property was appraised at $1.3 million, and the grant will reduce the district's acquisition cost to $750,000.

The sale is in its due diligence phase, and those involved hope to have it finalized by the end of January 2019. The grant stipulates that the sale must be complete in March.

The people's land

Those involved with the Eagle Creek project described the opportunities for community involvement as significant. Along with being a public use area, the forest will have a public advisory committee to develop a management plan.

"It's local engagement, and creating a community resource," noted Tom Salzer, manager of the Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District.

Owen Wozniak, formerly of the Trust for Public Land and now working in private consulting, added that the project is a chance for local residents to become involved with the forest in unique ways.CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: DAVID BUGNI - Suter Creek is pictured at its confluence of the north fork of Eagle Creek. Both creeks run through the property that will become the Eagle Creek Community Forest.

"What this is really about is opportunities for local residents to have a direct say in the management of a really incredible forest," Wozniak said. "The community has a real input on management. What does the community want to see? What is possible?"

The public advisory committee will be led by Bugni and include local community members and representatives from Clackamas County Parks and Forest, Clackamas River Basin Council, Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District, Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Metro regional government, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon State University Extension Service, Portland General Electric, The Trust for Public Land and the U.S. Forest Service.

John Esler of Portland General Electric noted that the company acquired 366 acres in the area in 2002. He added that PGE would be interested in participating in the community forest management plan provided the details were clearly determined.

"It sounds like a really cool opportunity to tie into a bigger parcel of land," he said, noting that the main objectives for the PGE-owned land thus far have been to remove invasive species and protect it from logging.

Esler noted that the sections of the land could potentially have different functions.

'Incredible jewel'

Those involved with the Eagle Creek project said the forest management plan will focus on recreation, habitat restoration and careful harvests to promote diverse plant species. Though the plan has yet to be developed, Salzer noted that early conversations have focused on connecting to trails at neighboring Eagle Fern Park and creating more protective shading along several creeks and streams running through the parcel.

"Eagle Fern Park is such an incredible jewel, and (the community forest) could be a potential launching point for an expanded trail network," Salzer said.

Victor Harshman, a ranger at Eagle Fern Park, described the possibility of expanding the park's trail system as "huge."

"We have four miles now, and that could expand to 10 or 15 (miles) easily," he said.

Salzer noted that the land purchased from Weyerhaeuser is several decades away from a commercial harvest, with the long-term goal to change the composition of the land, which is now home to numerous Douglas firs.

"There are a lot of species already present, and we'll take out the mature douglas firs when it's time," he said.

The property, which is home to a stretch of Suter Creek and several other streams, also presents several opportunities to improve habitats for salmon and other fish.

"The property is at the nexus of all of these creeks," Bugni said. "There's nothing like it. It's a special place."

Those involved with the project are also eager to see old-growth forest characteristics present at Eagle Fern Park extend across the new community forest.

"It's rare to have a property like this. There are huge trees that you don't see everywhere else," Harshman said.

Salzer noted that there will be "no real dramatic change overnight" but the forest

would develop and evolve with time.

"It will take 40-50 years for the forest to grow and evolve," he said.

Bugni also described developing the community forest as a long-term project.

"I might not be around to see it," he said, "but my kids might be."

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