New possibilities for Salmonberry Lake

Dunn's Salamanders Salmonberry Reservoir St. Helens Tree Farm Columbia County Oregon

I’m excited to learn that Columbia County’s new parks and facilities director, Riley Baker, is looking to work with the city of St. Helens to set up Salmonberry Lake as a county park.

County hires new leader for parks and facilities

Salmonberry Lake (also called Salmonberry Reservoir) is one of the best birdwatching spots in interior Columbia County and holds a diversity of wildlife.

The city of St. Helens has discussed a multi-use trail system centered on Salmonberry Lake. They (we?) own 2,400 acres off of Pittsburgh Road, using it for timber harvesting and casual recreation. While the logging roads are already available to walk, the new proposal includes designated campgrounds and a formal trail system for hikers, bikers, horses, and ATVs.

This work could be funded by a grant from the Regional Trails Program. In 2019 about $70,000 in seed money to start planning the process came from the Columbia County Economic Team, the city of St. Helens, and private contributors. We wish Riley Baker and the Parks staff the best of luck and hope the plans come to fruition.

Our family lives just four miles from the property and visits it often. I want to give one perspective on how the land could serve the public going forward.

Right now there are signs for a new timber sale on the property.

Timber Sale Smith Salmonberry Reservoir St. Helens Tree Farm

This is not surprising – profit from timber sales is a city revenue source. In fact the entrance to the land goes through a recent clearcut.

Healthy clearcuts are part of a strong forest. They introduce forest succession, bringing variety to the habitat. They provide more sunlight and new food sources. But clearcuts have become too prevalent in Columbia County – almost every tract of land is cut over and over, with as little as 40 years between clearings. Mature forest is now rare.

And this does not bode well for wildlife or for tourism.

The issue is that the effects of a clearcut will last for many decades. Here is a 10-15 year old forest in the middle of the property. We call this stage reproduction or “reprod”.

st. helens tree farm salmonberry reservoir reprod reproduction columbia county

The dense Douglas Fir, bordered in Scotch Broom, is poor habitat for most animals. It’s also disliked by hikers – there’s no shade, it’s not pretty, and there’s little plant diversity. No one is going to make a drive to hike or bike through a bunch of reprod. It can take up to 20 years for forests to grow out of this stage, meaning that every time a tract is cut, that area will be scarred by clearcut and reprod for two decades into the future.

Another section of the forest is around 25 years old:

st. helens tree farm salmonberry reservoir young forest columbia county

The forest structure is more pleasing to the eye – now we have natural understory, we have canopy, we have shade. The ground cover is favorable to amphibians and birds can fly among the branches. However, it still gives the impression of a young forest and is rather plain.

Look at the difference with another ten years of growth:

st. helens tree farm salmonberry reservoir young forest columbia county

The forest to the right is around 35 years old. Shady, green, diverse (and yes, a nice spring day makes it look even more beautiful). The girth of the trees is pleasing to the eye. This is the kind of forest that could bring in hikers and bikers from north Portland or Longview, the kind of forest that supports woodpeckers and large owls and other denizens of maturing woods. If we want our forest to be an attraction, this is our starting point.

How long is such forest allowed to remain there? If forests are cut at 50 years of age, then we are only enjoying this stage for around 15 years. If they are cut at 40 years then we’ve hardly spent any time with the nice growth at all.

Of course, we can do better than that.

mature tree Salmonberry Reservoir St. Helens Tree Farm Columbia County Oregon lake

The tree Sophia is leaning on is over 75 years old. Forests made of trees this large hardly large exist in Columbia County. And even 75 years is mere second-growth. The true old-growth forests, 200-year-old trees of 3-4 feet in diameter, are gone.

My petition to the city is to let some of this forest grow. Leave tracks of the 40+ year-old trees alone. Continue clear-cutting and selling trees from portions of the St. Helens Tree Farm, but allow sections along the projected trails to develop. If we want to create an in-demand hiking, biking, and camping experience, if we want to support the mature forest biodiversity that has become rare in this county, then some selective preservation of these older forests is the best path forward.

For another trip report and information on how to get to Salmonberry Lake and the St. Helens Tree Farm property, see:

Morning stroll around Salmonberry Reservoir

Published by Jonathan

Educator, Herpetologist, Hiker.

One thought on “New possibilities for Salmonberry Lake

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