Dr. Kerry Metlen
Conservancy forest ecologist
by Stephen Anderson
Shattering the forest stillness, Dr. Kerry Metlen’s chain saw neatly slices a horizontal slab from the stump of a long-fallen pine. He’s not making rustic furniture. He’s time-traveling.
A quiet revolution is underway in forest management across the Northwest. Legal battles are giving way to a broad consensus that ecological restoration — especially in the dry forests east and south of the Cascades — is an urgent priority.
Which places Metlen’s science in high demand. In the hills above Ashland, he’s analyzing traces of fire in the rings of fallen giants to help build a portrait of how this forest was once structured and how often it burned.
“The fire scars tell us these ancient trees survived dozens of wildfires,” said Metlen, a Conservancy ecologist. “Generally, ground-hugging fires didn’t kill the bigger trees.”
Around Ashland, a community nestled in national forest, divergent interests have come together around a vision of healthy forests. They’ve won millions in federal forest restoration funds to put people to work thinning overcrowded trees and reintroducing low-intensity burns.
“Our goal is not to recreate a replica of the past,” said Metlen. “But if you want a fire-resilient forest that produces clean water, and fish and wildlife, and keeps the community safer from unnatural wildfire, we’re beginning to see what that looks like."
Stephen Anderson is Oregon director of communications for The Nature Conservancy.