Blog

Nov 05 2012

A Special Harvest for the Ace Hotel

By KC

One of the reasons the Ace Hotel is so enduringly cool is its commitment to sustainability. Case in point: The enhancements being made to guest rooms in the downtown Portland hotel.

Custom woodwork is being crafted in-house to add texture and warmth--and a little storage and privacy--to the rooms.  
 
The folks at the Ace are using fir that is locally harvested and FSC 100%, but its story goes much deeper than that: It is part of an oak grove restoration project being undertaken by Sarah Deumling at Zena Forest, just west of Salem.

 The fir is being cleared from the forest to allow neighboring oak trees to grow to their full potential.  The fir and the oak took root at the same time, about 50 to 60 years ago, when the cleared pasture was allowed to revert back to its preferred wooded state. Fir grows much faster than oak, however, and the fir trees are shading out the oaks and, ultimately, killing them.

By selectively harvesting the fir and leaving the oaks to grow, Deumling is ensuring a continual supply of valuable hardwood lumber for her family to mill decades down the road while preserving endangered oak habitat -- a far-sighted plan that is far too uncommon in forest management.

In true Zena style, the harvest of the fir is being undertaken with the utmost care. Logs are pulled from the woods in a way that minimizes damage to the understory and deliberately preserves the integrity of the soil.

As the logging progresses, the forest canopy opens up, allowing ample rays of sunlight to reach the oaks for the first time in decades (see photo at left). And with the exception of the scattered stumps remaining in the soil, it is hard to tell that logging has even occurred: The forest is still lush, green, and rife with life.

A Bit About Oak
Oregon White Oak is native to the Willamette Valley and historically was the most common species of tree found in the area. It prefers the open grassland savannahs that were cultivated by Native Americans with frequent-but-small fires.

After settlement, however, oak began to decline as groves were cleared to make way for pasture and cropland, and then plantations of Douglas fir. Today it remains in only about 5% of its historical range. Its current biggest threat is the conversion of woodland to other land uses including vineyards and housing developments.

Oregon White Oak's hardwood is beautiful and durable, but Oregonians have had a preference for importing oak from the East Coast for flooring and furniture. As a result, the millions of local oak trees cleared during the conversion of the native forest to more profitable uses resulted in oak being viewed as a "trash tree," and most frequently "dumped down the canyon," as the local saying goes, or sent to chip yards.

 Zena Forest and other modern-day pioneers of sustainable forestry are working to change that view and encourage the cultivation and local use of Oregon White Oak.  Through the creation of a market for the wood, foresters and landowners in the Willamette Valley are encouraged to preserve existing trees and plant new ones.

Photo at right: A mature Oregon White Oak stretches its limbs in the sun at Zena Forest.