BEAVER - Steve and Julie Pieren own a tree farm in Tillamook County's Nestucca Valley, where together they practice sustainable logging.
Steve fells trees and bucks logs, cutting them to length for the mill. Julie runs the CAT, yarding the logs and decking them, dragging them from the logging site and stacking them in a tidy deck to be loaded onto log trucks.
This year, the couple logged some 10 acres of alder. "Generally speaking, a good stand of alder could bring $6,000 to $8,000 per acre," said Pieren.
This is the first time in three years that the Pierens have logged on their property, largely because timber prices have been so low. But recently, the Chinese export market pulled the domestic market up, making it worth their while to act now.
Steve Pieren is a third-generation Nestucca Valley resident; trees are in his blood.
"I always liked trees," he said. "I used to plant trees on my folks' place on Bay's Creek when I was a kid.
"This country is unique in that you can watch a tree grow in your lifetime."
In the late 1890s, Steve's maternal grandfather, Clyde Browning, walked into the Nestucca Valley from Sheridan on an Indian trail when he was 12 years old.
"He came across country from Missouri to Sheridan on a steam train," Steve said. "His father was killed after the Civil War in a horse accident and there were too many kids at home to feed. So Clyde came West because his older brother had homesteaded a place on the Nestucca [River]."
Like his dad before him, Steve worked in the woods, logging. He was good at it and enjoyed it, but even as a young man, Steve wanted his own tree farm.
In 1975, he bought his first 5 acres, upriver from where he grew up. He planted those acres in Douglas fir, which now are soaring stands of 35-year-old trees. Pieren said he might begin to harvest them in five or 10 years.
"Some people consider 30-year trees ready to harvest," said Steve, "but I think a 50- to 60-year tree is nice."
Steve built the house in the woods where he and Julie live and their three daughters grew up. When an adjacent 35 acres became available, he bought those, too - and planted more trees.
In 1987, he and Julie married.
Julie had grown up on the Miami River and graduated from Neah-Kah-Nie High School in Rockaway Beach. Their fathers worked in the woods together, and Steve and Julie's brother were friends.
Just three months after they married, Steve got a call asking him to set up a logging operation in, of all places, Tasmania and train loggers to use yarder equipment.
He'd been a hook-tender on a yarder a year earlier at a local logging site when a contingent of Australian businessmen came through observing the operation. They planned to set up a logging operation in Tasmania, based upon the industry standard in Oregon.
One of the businessmen struck up a conversation with Steve and wrote down his phone number. "If I get the bid, I'll call you," he told Steve, who forgot about the conversation until the man called a year later.
"I almost hung up on him," Steve said, "because his accent was so thick, he was hard to understand. And it was the middle of the night."
But Steve stayed on the phone long enough to figure out what the caller was talking about. "I told him I would have to ask my wife. He seemed put out that I didn't say yes right then and there. I told him we were newlyweds.
"I really had to ask her if she was willing to move to Tasmania. But she said yes."
"It was the best thing we ever did," said Julie. "We were there two years and eight months. Our daughter, Amy, was born in Tasmania."
When they returned to the Nestucca Valley, they bought "86 acres of logged-over ground," said Steve. This they planted in Douglas fir, hemlock, Western red cedar and redwoods.
"A natural forest is diverse," explained Steve.
"It was first common practice in the industry to plant 100 percent Doug fir based on a model of the forest as a farm, which could be efficiently clear-cut in the future. But then we got Swiss needle cast," a fungus that causes fir trees to drop their needles every year, thus stunting and weakening and sometimes killing them.
"There are people who would argue about why, but I feel we got Swiss needle cast here because we planted thousands of acres of one species of tree and didn't follow nature's model of diversity," said Pieren.
"Because this is our farm, we can plant a variety of trees because we're selectively logging. We can take a few trees here and a few trees there, log small patches. They can't do that in a commercial forest."
The Pierens have "125 acres in timber that was logged-over ground when we bought it, and is close to 100 percent reforested now."
Pieren estimates that since 1975, he, Julie and their three daughters have personally planted 32,000 trees.
The Pieren girls - Amy, Emily and Shannon - grew up in the woods with their folks, using tree boxes for playpens. "The seedlings made a soft bed. It was nice; they couldn't get hurt," said Steve.
The girls now are in college. Amy is studying nursing; Emily wants to be a teacher. Shannon plans to study forestry and eventually run the family tree farm.
In addition to managing his tree farm, Steve is a contract logger. And he owns and operates Steve Pieren Tree Service.
He and his family tend to the tree farm like a garden, carefully managing their timber. "I come home after work and do some trimming. It's relaxing to me," Steve said. "It's not like work, to tend my own trees."
Ultimately, when their timber is harvestable, the Pierens would like to log and replant 5 acres each year. "A good, managed timber site, 60 years old, should produce between 50,000 and 60,000 board feet of lumber per acre," said Pieren.
That would help when the couple is ready to retire.
"And I'd like to have something to pass along," said Steve, "to leave something after I'm gone."