Ore. family finds a use for their tree farm as an outdoor classroom

Ore. family finds a use for their tree farm as an outdoor classroom | The Republic.

EUGENE, Ore. — Just getting to the Bauman Family Tree Farm in the hills south of Spencer Butte is like taking a trip to the past: Turn off the main road, drive up the gravel lane and over a cattle guard and watch out for the quail that dart out of the brush and then run along ahead in the tracks.

When you come to a metal gate, open it and continue through, but be sure to lock it again to keep cattle from straying. At the barn, turn left and drive across the field. Once you go under the big oak tree, you’ll see the house that Tom Bauman and his wife, Lindsay Reaves, built for their move to the historic property two years ago.

Behind the house the forest rises, 673 acres of timber that provided a living for generations of early Lane County families, most recently Tom Bauman’s. In front of the house Reaves has created a “cat garden,” a whimsical indulgence to keep cats from straying into the woods that would have been unthinkable in bygone days when felines were valued for their ability to hold down rodents rather than their role as pampered companions. Several roofed shelters stand in a nearby meadow, and wooden railings flank a small year-round creek, all for the comfort and safety of hundreds of schoolchildren who visit the tree farm each year.

The Bauman property embodies the pressures on much of the county’s timber lands, from full-time resource to hanging onto the family legacy to finding a balance between production and preservation.

Three generations of the Bauman family have been stewards of just over a section of forest land in the Crow valley southwest of Eugene, starting early in 1941 when Henry Bauman, grandfather of the current owners, brothers Bob and Tom Bauman, bought an initial 554 acres of timber rights from then-owner George Gates for $9,000. He paid $1,000 down, agreed to make monthly payments of $1.50 per thousand board feet of harvested timber and also rented a 2-acre mill site for five years, at $50 per year.

With the help of his son and partner Chet, Bauman built a steam-powered sawmill and the pair, with four hired hands, began felling and milling lumber. By the end of the year they had shipped two railroad cars full of finished lumber. But early in December that year, Pearl Harbor had been bombed, the United States had entered World War II, and that changed everything.

For the duration of the war, because of fuel and manpower shortages, production dropped; the Southern Pacific Railroad was the family’s bread-and-butter customer. When it became obvious that the timber harvest could not be finished during the original five-year timeline, in 1945 the Baumans paid Gates $7,000 to buy the land and timber outright.

About the same time, they picked up several parcels or timber rights from other area landowners.

In 1950, Henry sold his interest in the business to Chet; Bob was 4 years old then and Tom was 2. Both boys grew up roaming the forested areas, cleaning the sawmill and lubricating the machinery and even planting trees for a penny apiece. Until their early 20s, both worked in the family forest.

In 1955, Chet Bauman converted the sawmill to diesel from steam and continued to produce 10,000 board feet of lumber every day. In 1967, he built a wigwam burner to burn waste from the mill, but five years later the use of the burners was outlawed, and he closed the sawmill. The wigwam burner remains, but the mill slowly has been dismantled, and the tree farm’s operation shifted to selling logs to other local mills.

In adulthood, Bob Bauman moved to Canada, and Tom Bauman continued to work on the tree farm, logging and planting for his father, eventually buying the logging equipment and managing the timber business under contract to the family lumber company.

In 2000, as Bob and Tom’s parents aged, the lumber company was dissolved, and the family put the property and timber into a limited partnership. In 2005, after the death four months apart of their parents, Chet and Catherine Bauman, Bob and Tom Bauman became equal owners of the family property.

Bob Bauman remained in Canada, and Tom Bauman and Lindsay Reaves began plans to build a house on part of the property zoned for agricultural use, in large part using lumber Tom milled from the family’s forest.

Aware of the many financial and logistical obstacles to keeping small tree farms in the family as the generations pass and balancing the need for income production with environmental conservation, Tom and Lindsay began looking for ways to keep the Bauman Family Tree Farm active in timber production but also develop a stewardship plan to preserve it as a natural resource.

Four years ago, they linked up with Forests Today and Forever, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating youths about the importance of forest habitat, soil and water resources, wildlife and the conflicting pressures — income generation, recreational use and environmental protection — that affect the future of both public and privately held timber resources.

“We have no children, so we are interested in finding some other way to make sure the Bauman Family Tree Farm can remain productive but still be preserved as a forest ecosystem,” Reaves said.

“Working with Forests Today and Forever seemed like an ideal fit.”

Working with the help of the organization and many volunteers, the couple put up a series of covered shelters in a “learning meadow” not far from their house, built trails through the forest and installed wooden railings along the stream, with stopping points where students can learn about soil, erosion, fish and other water life as well as riparian zones, the area where land and streams meet.

About 1,000 students from Eugene-Springfield area schools visit the Bauman Family Tree Farm each year, said LaRae Ash, program coordinator for the 21-year-old nonprofit forest group.

“Forests Today and Forever provides a four- to six-week curriculum that is math and science based to middle-school teachers who are interested in exposing their students to the issues small woodland owners face, the importance of working forests and also protection of these forests as important parts of the environment,” Ash said. “Our group is supported by grants, donations and volunteers, and we provide the curriculum and even the transportation for the schools that participate — there is no cost to them.”

Many of the volunteers who work with the program are from the state Department of Fish & Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management and the Small Woodlands Association, she said. Others are retired educators and parents, she said.

Students in the program receive a student workbook and student field datasheets for their visit to the tree farm. They learn how to estimate the kinds and numbers of trees in a plot, calculate timber volumes, and how to design a stream that includes a complete salmon habitat. They study the natural stages of forest growth and how the overall forest environment changes through decades and centuries. During the Forest Field Day, they do a wildlife inventory, identify types and productivity of soils, study the real stream environment and ponder the different activities that might be proposed for using the forest and how those interests can collide within families that share ownership of forests through generations.

For Tom Bauman and Lindsay Reaves, the answer to that question lies in their wish to bequeath their half-ownership of the Bauman Tree Family Farm to Forests Today and Forever as an educational resource facility.

“We want them to take on management of the tree farm, and our goal is a capital campaign to buy the other half of the ownership to be able to make it all happen,” Reaves said.

In the meantime, her husband tends the tree farm, they both work on improving the Forest Field Day habitat, and she continues to work on the house and take care of the cat garden for the black cats, Bat and Bat 2, orange Samhain (Irish-Gaelic for “Halloween”) and a calico called Rootie.

“When I was building the house — I was my own contractor — there was lots of stuff around, and the cats kept going in and out of everything,” Reaves said. “So, I put in a little culvert for them to crawl through, and lots of rocks and things to climb on, lots of places for water dishes and plants that are as native as possible and also can serve as instant cat toys for them to play with.”

Living so close to the forest means cats who stray are vulnerable to predators who live there, and she wanted the cat garden to appeal to her brood and, hopefully, keep them closer to home.

“They do seem to spend more time hanging around the cat garden,” Reaves said. “It seems to be working.”

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