In the Real World:

Goebel Tree Farm

This case study has been provided by Sustainable Northwest.

Leo Goebel was a school teacher who spent summers logging or working for the Forest Service. Bob Jackson was a forester and licensed surveyor who worked for timber companies, timber cruising and surveying. The two men had known each other for 20 years, when, in 1970, they bought a 160-acre parcel in Wallowa County. They bought the land as an investment, but things turned out differently than they had planned. Managing their land became an ongoing experiment and a commitment that brought years of work and public recognition.

At the time of purchase, the standing volume on their parcel was 1.9 million board feet. After 25 years of harvesting, they still retain close to two million standing board feet, and they have cut a total of two million feet in a steady annual flow of timber, which is exceptional for their dry, eastern terrain. Their forest is healthy and diverse, containing trees of all ages and many species, with a clear-running stream and a rich variety of birds and mammals.

Goebel and Jackson did not start with an oldgrowth stand. Like most of the forests in eastern Oregon, theirs had been logged. Its Ponderosa pine, particularly, had been cut in the 1920s, and the land had been used for pasture. “From the beginning, we managed it differently,” says Goebel. “In fact, we managed our timber the opposite way the companies and Forest Service that we had both worked for managed their timber. Our jobs (on other lands) were to get logs into the mill as cheaply as possible, cutting the biggest trees, as many per acre as possible. But here, we manage for forest health through thinning and spacing.”

In the early years, they bought salvage sales from the Forest Service in the summer and worked their own land weekends and in the winter, learning as they went and adapting their management practices accordingly. “How we managed in 1975 wasn’t the same as it was in 1970,” Goebel says. “And how we manage today isn’t even the same as it was five years ago.” Four or five years into their work, they were approached by the local state forester who knew and respected their work. He asked the two men to turn their land into a tree farm where others could come to learn from their approach. The Goebel-Jackson Tree Farm was born.

In their management, the two friends emphasize the health of the soil. “The more you care for the soil, the more forms of life it will support,” says Jackson. They fell dead and sick trees and take care not to damage the soil in removal. They leave much of their slash, scattering some to keep the soil cool and regenerate it, and piling some to offer habitat to small mammals and insects — including ants which eat the larvae of some of the budworm and moth forms that have devastated Oregon forests. Knowing that wildlife plays a crucial role in the mechanics of a healthy forest, Goebel and Jackson strive to maintain habitat complexity.

Their management is labor-intensive. They seem to know each pine, fir and larch personally, and, in fact, tag many of their trees to indicate their long-term management plans. They thin to allow the best trees to grow to full capacity. They point out that well-spaced trees are far less vulnerable to pests and disease. Cutting this way, they take down only three to four percent of their trees per year; most will not be cut for a generation or two. Goebel and Jackson also prune many trees up to the live crowns to create better quality, clear lumber.

“If a tree is healthy, then it doesn’t make sense to cut it down,” says Goebel, who is fond of demonstrating to visitors that trees put on progressively more volume per year after their diameters reach 16 to 18 inches. He keeps cross sections of trees and bar graphs to prove it. At exactly the point many foresters judge a tree ready to cut, Goebel and Jackson say it has just begun to be a profitable enterprise.

Their profits are also increased by avoiding planting costs. “We much prefer natural reproduction to planting,” Goebel continues. “It’s site specific. If you bring in trees from outside, they may have come from a different elevation or slope—you don’t know. And since we leave our best trees standing, for us, natural reproduction comes from the best stock. We do get more fir coming in that way, but we can cut it back in our pre-commercial thinning. We do that because we favor a mix of trees, and pine and larch are more resistant to root rot.”

In addition to hosting regular tours, they have received recognition through several awards, including Oregon Tree Farmer of the Year in 1984 and in 1991, and the Outstanding Western Tree Farmer in 1992 from the American Forest Council. Leo Goebel’s son, Ed, won the district Proficiency Award for forest management at the state Future Farmers of America convention in 1982, 1983, and 1984. In 1984, Ed was the state winner in Forest Management and he also won the Star State Agribusinessman Award, all for his work on the tree farm.

“Jackson and Goebel have set an example of resource management creativity for other managers in the Blue Mountains region of northeast Oregon and southeast Washington,” comments Bill Mullarkey of the Blue Mountain Natural Resource Institute in LaGrande.

Goebel Jackson Tree Farm
62309 Wallowa Lake Highway
Joseph, Oregon 97846

At a roundtable discussion during the Seventh American Forest Congress, Bob Jackson had this advice: “For this area, forget about sophisticated or clever forest practices. Spend the time and money on basics: regenerate depleted areas, thin over-stocked areas in stages, and manage downed woody material for rapid decom-position and restoration of soil organic material. In all of it, consider genetic improvement and diversity in a relentless manner.”

Leo Goebel’s family is involved in the management of the tree farm, giving him reason to believe his work will continue past his lifetime, but both Jackson and Goebel take the long-term view, anyway. They are at peace with the fact that many of the trees under their stewardship will not be ready for harvest under their guidelines until after their death.

“My vision is for 300 to 800 years—to have our forest land restored as highly productive, diverse, and sustainable forests,” says Jackson, speaking about more than the land he shares with Leo Goebel.

“I hope there will be people who are willing to do manual labor,” he continues, “people willing to work beyond discouragement, willing to think beyond standards, guidelines and popular ideas, and willing to forego the pretentious and compulsive use of resources.”


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