Desolation Creek is a 13,400 acre privately-owned working forest with modest seasonal grazing opportunities. It is located in the North Fork John Day River Watershed in Grant County, Oregon. The property contains many miles of creek habitat for Chinook salmon, steelhead and federally listed bull trout. It is an essential source of spring water for other wildlife during the dry summer months.

 Photo Credit: Sam Beebe

Fisherman Crossing Desolation Creek in Early Summer. Photo Credit: Sam Beebe

The property was purchased by Ecotrust Forest Management, a for-profit forestland investment company in 2014 to explore a model that would integrate timber production with valuable ecosystem services – like clean water, wildlife habitat and carbon storage. With the acquisition of the Desolation Creek property, more than 95% of the watershed is now providing jobs for rural communities, returns for investors and improved environmental outcomes.

Ecological and Economic Need

Desolation Creek was subject to overharvesting over many decades, which resulted in the removal of the most valuable trees for lumber. The forest has become overstocked with low value trees that are not fit for commercial harvest, making it prone to severe wildfire. This impacts local mills, as a steady supply of high quality logs is a critical component of a viable milling business.

Photo Credit: Bettina von Hagen

Cows Grazing on the Property in Early Summer. Photo Credit: Bettina von Hagen

Project Activities

The first year of a 10-year forest restoration plan was 2014. Currently, Ecotrust Forest Management is studying the land to determine grassland quality, tree species diversity, riparian health and biodiversity. It is also examining the presence of invasive species and identifying jobs that might be supported through restoration activities.

Ecotrust Forest Management plans to manage the land for low impact grazing, recreation and forestry activities that benefit the local community and the environment, like thinning and biomass production. It is currently identifying local businesses and processing infrastructure that can utilize woody biomass produced during thinning activities.

Photo Credit:  Elaine Eisenbraun

Local Youth Crews Study Grazing Techniques. Photo Credit: Elaine Eisenbraun

Project Outcomes

During the tenure of ownership, the ecological goals for the forest are improved water quality, riparian habitat, grassland health, invasive species control, reduction of severe wildfire risk and improved over-all forest health. The economic goals are to break even on forest restoration activities and to support the local biomass processing sector with ongoing biomass supply and investment in local processing facilities.

This Project is Replicable

There are millions of acres across the West that share the same challenging conditions as Desolation Creek. With appropriate investment, Ecotrust Forest Management’s integrated model for restoration of working forestland is replicable across the state.