KNAPPA — Jed Arnold, a stewardship coordinator with Hampton Lumber, recently walked a 1-year-old timber stand the company owns. The landscape was largely cleared of debris, aside from the burned wooden husks left from a slash pile burn.
Rather than conifers, Arnold was on the lookout for yarrow, lupine, penstemons and other wildflowers the company planted to attract bees in cut stands.
Arnold oversees an 18-acre pilot study by Hampton Lumber providing baseline data to researchers on how forestland owners can help struggling bee populations by creating prime habitat on recent clearcuts.
“David Hampton was the big push behind this,” Arnold said of the company’s co-owner.
Bees and other pollinators — vital to plant, insect and animal biodiversity — have been in drastic decline over the past several decades because of pesticides and habitat loss. David Hampton kept an interest in the issue and thought the company, which manages more than 155,000 acres in Oregon and Washington state to supply its lumber mills, might be able to help.
A recent study led by wildlife biologist Jim Rivers, a professor in Oregon State University’s College of Forestry, indicated the removal of slash and other debris and compacting soil in recently harvested forestlands can create prime habitat for bees. In some areas, researchers found a threefold increase in population diversities in recently harvested stands. Similar research has shown prime pollinator habitat in recently burned areas.
Hampton Lumber linked up with the Oregon Bee Project, an effort started by the state Legislature in 2015 between foresters and scientists at Oregon State University to promote bee health, for advice in creating the best habitat. The company then seeded four different sites and 18 acres with plants for bees to forage.
Andony Melathopoulos, a leader of the bee project in the university’s Extension Service, said that while there have been similar studies on agricultural lands and roadsides, Hampton Lumber is the first major forestland owner he’s heard of doing pollinator research.
“They are aware that there is not a lot of good science around this,” he said. “It’s unknown territory.”
The Oregon Bee Project trained Arnold in species sampling techniques and provided nesting boxes that will eventually be sent to the university for researchers to look at the diversity in the stands. Arnold regularly monitors the pilot study areas, trying to identify species of bees and which plants take the strongest foothold.
“You’ve got to sit down, hold still and really watch the flowers,” Arnold said. “There was one day where there had to have been a dozen different species (of bees) that I saw just in a half an hour.”
Christine Buhl, an entomologist with the state Department of Forestry, said Hampton Lumber’s pilot study will provide baseline data as the bee project tries to create research-based land management practices for others to help pollinators. The project is trying to start more pilot studies in different climates around the state and track the change in bee populations over multiple years as new plants and soil compositions take hold, she said.
The bee project also trains pesticide applicators on best practices to avoid harming bees and runs a citizen science program called the Oregon Bee Atlas, training individuals to identify and report the more than 500 bee species in Oregon. More information is available at oregonbeeproject.org.
Arnold — who previously worked for a soil and water conservation district — credits the family-owned company for taking land stewardship seriously, from building roads to prevent soil erosion and replanting quickly after harvests to helping with stream restoration projects. The company recently worked with state and federal agencies to move the main stem of Big Creek near Knappa to its original channel, opening 13 miles of previously inaccessible spawning habitat for coho salmon and steelhead. Such efforts might fall by the wayside in companies owned by investors and focused more on profit, he said.
This coming winter, Hampton Lumber will expand the pilot study to an additional 20 acres.
“In five to 10 years, the young trees in these study areas will start to shade out the flowers we’re planting now,” Arnold said. “But by then, we should have new patches of wildflowers coming up in nearby sites.”