American Tree Farm System Announces Oregon Family as National Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year

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Tree Farmers demonstrate it’s possible to protect forests from catastrophic wildfire in drought-stricken western U.S.

Tree Farmers in forest

Dean and Lyle Defrees

Our family has had a passion for our land and conservation for generations, said Lyle DeFrees.

Today, the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) announced the 2016 National Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year award, will go to the Defrees family of northeast Oregon. Father and son duo, Lyle and Dean Defrees, along with their family, Sharon Defrees, Dallas Hall, Riley Hall, Nathan Defrees, Jess Defrees, Tyler Defrees and Max Patashnik, have been protecting their forested land, the wildlife habitat it provides, and the water supply that runs through it, for more than 100 years.

“We’re truly honored to be chosen as the National Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year,” said Lyle Defrees. “Our family has had a passion for our land and conservation for generations. Most everything we do is to protect our land from fire so it can continue to provide for us, the wildlife in our region, and our fellow Oregonians. We joined ATFS in 1980 because we wanted to be a part of a community of other forest owners that share our interest, where we could learn from them, as well as share our own experiences and help others.”

The Defrees Tree Farm is located in northeast Oregon, a region of the state prone to intense wildfires that have consumed both forest and homes, and affected the watersheds that supply the communities of the state with their drinking water. The Defrees experienced ones of these wildfires firsthand when the Huckleberry Forest Fire of 1986 burned 500 acres of their 2,000-acre Tree Farm. Devastated by the effects, the Defrees committed to protecting their forest and all that it provides from future loss.

They spent the initial years after the fire replanting the acres lost, running into challenges that added to their workload – seedlings were hard to come by and a bark beetle infestation took over sections of their forest. Yet the Defrees persevered, using the ATFS network to seek out advice, connect with experts, and gain more knowledge on forest management. They spent decades building and maintaining defensible fire lanes, thinning their forest to reduce the fuel load that can feed wildfires, and keeping their creek and stream banks well planted to curtail erosion and preserve water quality. With the high costs of this forest management, they would not have been able to do this work without the support of cost-share dollars from National Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

All of the Defrees work has resulted in a tremendous impact on the ground – a fire resilient forest, needed wildlife habitat, healthy creeks and waterways and more.

In addition, the Defrees, as part of ATFS, have been active in their community, mentoring other landowners on the importance of forest management to get ahead of wildfire. They have participated in state advocacy, presented at ATFS events and hosted groups on their land.

“The Defrees family showcases the impact family forest owners can have, when they are able to overcome barriers,” said Tom Martin, President and CEO of the American Forest Foundation, the forest conservation organization that houses the ATFS program. “We have found through our work in the West that landowners want to do the right thing to protect our natural resources, but need help with expertise and cost. Through ATFS and our placed-based work, we are helping landowners overcome these barriers, so we can have more landowners like the Defrees keeping our forests healthy and providing Americans with the clean water, clean air, wood supplies they count on.”

Each year, ATFS, which this year celebrates its 75th anniversary, recognizes four Regional Outstanding Tree Farmers out of the 74,000 Tree Farmers nationwide. This year’s regional awardees include Bobby Watkins of Mississippi; Jug Kann of Wisconsin; and the Eve-Cowles family, of Massachusetts, in addition to the Defrees family.

Awardees have been selected for their dedication and work over the years to protect and provide sustainable wood supplies, wildlife habitat and clean water on their Tree Farms, as well their efforts to promote forest stewardship in the community. The AFF governance and the ATFS community select a National awardee from among the Regional awardees.

“The Defrees family lives a land ethic that predates the 75 year legacy of the American Tree Farm System,” said Scott Hayes, Chair of the Oregon Tree Farm System. “For over a century they have practiced sustainable forest and cattle management. Their storybook tale is about pioneering the West, with a foundation built on family and land. They truly are National Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year.”

The Defrees family will be honored along with the Regional Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year on December 6, at a reception on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the program.

This year’s Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year award is made possible thanks in part to the generous support of Weyerhaeuser.

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Elizabeth Greener
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