Benton County family forest landowner Ed Easterling, seen here describing his efforts to improve habitat for threatened and endangered species, has been selected 2022 American Tree Farm System's Western Region Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year. (Photo provided by Oregon Department of Forestry)

Sustainable forest management earned local landowner Ed Easterling a noteworthy honor as the American Tree Farm System’s 2022 Western Regional Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year, the Oregon Department of Forestry reported.

Each year, American Tree Farm System honors individuals from each of four regions (Northeastern, North Central, Southern and Western) who go above and beyond the commitment to sustainable forest management. There are 11 states in the Western Region.

Ed Easterling (Photo provided by Oregon Department of Forestry)

Easterling’s Crestmont Farm Family has been under his stewardship for over 15 years. The family forest consists of three adjoining properties totaling approximately 1,600 acres. In 2021 he was honored as the Oregon Tree Farm System’s Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year.

Each property — Crestmont Farm, Crestmont Ranch and Crestmont Land Trust — has unique ecological and forest types and therefore, distinct management objectives. Crestmont Farm focuses on timber and silvopasture grazing; Crestmont Ranch is managed for oak woodlands, savanna, and pasture and forest grazing for cattle; and Crestmont Land Trust emphasizes public recreation, education, research and habitat conservation. 

Biodiversity and ecological integrity are integral parts of management across the Crestmont Farm Family. Easterling’s overall management objectives include:

• Integrating agricultural production with habitat management to concurrently produce income while enhancing habitat for native plant species, wildlife, and people.

• Creating long-term economic value by producing materials that support the improvement of people’s lives.

• Demonstrating responsible natural resource stewardship.

The Crestmont Farm property brings together a broad mosaic of traditional timber plantations, mixed-species naturally regenerated forests, oak woodlands, multiple riparian zones, open pastures and grazed oak savannas, and critical habitat for threatened, endangered and declining species of animals and plants.

The Crestmont Ranch property with its grazing cattle in managed woodlands is a way that Easterling integrates cattle and timber production that complements its unique ecosystem. The benefits include increasing wildlife diversity, improving water quality, adding organic matter to improve soil properties, creating easier access for harvesting trees, and storing carbon.

Easterling founded Crestmont Land Trust in 2012 as a nonprofit land trust with a mission to own and manage self-sustaining habitats with a charitable, recreational, educational and research focus. The trust currently owns 172 acres between the Marys River and Fitton Green, a Benton County natural area. The property has a mosaic of habitat types, which promotes high biodiversity. The area is recognized for having some of the highest quality upland prairie and oak woodlands, with the largest extent of remnant upland prairie and Fender’s blue butterfly and Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly habitat in Benton County.

Easterling brings passion, drive and creativity to tree farming with unique ways to successfully integrate habitat management and timber production. He has hosted multiple tours and events, promoting education and collaborating with organizations to promote tree farming.

As with all successful restoration landowners, he is an active participant with his field team and has invited resource agencies to the Crestmont Farm Family property for advice on management techniques and funding opportunities.

“Engaging multiple supportive partners can help stretch limited resources by accelerating timelines and increasing scale,” he said. 

Crestmont Farm Family is enrolled in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and has entered into two Safe Harbor Agreements, which provide support and protection for landowners who assist with the recovery of endangered species. Tom Snyder of USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service helped Easterling see how conservation and agriculture can work collaboratively and provided funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

Benton Soil and Water Conservation District has been involved by procuring an Oregon Watershed Enhancement Program restoration grant. These varied sources provide the funds and technical expertise to enhance and restore historic upland prairie, oak savanna and woodlands on the property by removing invasive species, most encroaching fir trees, thinning oak habitats for healthy woodlands and savanna, providing site preparation, seeding of native grasses and forbs, and replacing and repairing culverts to open and improve fish passageways.

Easterling’s approach to conservation on the land can be described as energetic and filled with enthusiastic optimism. His advice to other landowners considering restoration is: “Enjoy the process because restoration can take many years and stopping midway can leave the situation worse. Be willing to bring in partners for technical and financial help, and be open to experimentation.”

In the past five years, he has focused on improving the quality of plantations and naturally grown stands, harvesting merchantable timber, reforestation, enhancing habitat and developing and maintaining access and logistics.

American Tree Farm System and its state chapters operate an internationally recognized forest certification program overseen by and for family forest landowners to promote sustainable forest management through education, recognition and assistance.

The Oregon Tree Farm System and the Oregon Department of Forestry share the goal of family forest landowners voluntarily improving the health of their forests. Both provide assistance in the development of forest management plans using a jointly developed plan template.