Punches replaces Oester as area’s OSU forester

John Punches loves trees. He always has.

“I have always been an outdoors person. and one of the great passions of my life is being around growing things,” said Punches who became the OSU Extension Forester for Wallowa, Union and Umatilla counties July 1.

Punches holds associate professor rank with OSU and conducts field appointments and produces educational programs on anything to do with forests.

Much of his work is done in partnership with state and federal agencies.

Punches holds a degree in forestry from Michigan Tech in Houghton, Mich., wood science from Virginia Tech and forest ecosystems from Oregon State.

Prior to coming to La Grande to replace Paul Oester, who retired, Punches spent 24 years in Roseburg, Ore. In his spare time, he enjoys mountain climbing and is a volunteer search and rescue and mountain rescue instructor.

Most of his work in Wallowa County pertains to stewardship issues and fire risk reduction on private property.

In all three counties, property owners rarely own just timberland.

“Typically, they have a home in a forest or on ag lands that has forests or they may end up being people who live in town who are interested in the forests around them,” Punches said.

His job is to help implement best practices using the science OSU has developed.

Once of his primary field questions is “why is my tree dying?” He wrote one of the university’s seminal works on the topic in 2008.

Another topic is reducing fire risk on private property. He’s also available for consultation on federal regulatory issues.

“Sometimes they will say they are hearing that a particular law is changing or a new regulation is forthcoming and how will that impact me,” Punches said.

Extension doesn’t regulate but can help understand how to have a voice in the regulatory process.

One of the hot-button issues over the past few weeks with major wildfires in California has been how to avoid tragedies such as have occurred in far-nothern and far-southern parts of that state.

“In Oregon, we are at risk of catastrophic fires in many areas, not quite like California, but 100 plus years of fire exclusion has done its damage,” Punches said. “We’re finding we can never really replicate the impact of fire in our forests in a way that really maintains the property balance.”

Part of the process is bringing together groups of landowners public and private to come to a consensus.

“We have to recognize that we’re going to have to modify the way our landscape looks to reduce fire hazards,” Punches said. “You can’t mitigate fire and still have the forest look like what we have become accustomed to.”

Extension forester John Punches will host a free class, “So You’ve Got a Forest ... Now What,” 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6 at Wallowa Resources Stewardship Center, 401 NE 1st St, Enterprise.

The classes will feature speakers from Wallowa County who will answer the most common questions new forest owners (or those new to managing their forests) ask. The session will provide an overview of how forestland is assessed and taxed (with emphasis on how to get into the lowest-cost option), how zoning and land use planning rules impact forest management, where to get technical assistance, how to access cost-share for forest improvement and fire risk reduction, when to contact ODF or other agencies for permits or notifications and how to request help developing a forest management plan.

Similar sessions will be offered Dec. 5 in La Grande and Dec. 12 in Pendleton. Preregistration is requested. Call 541-963-1010 or register at bit.ly/2TktrO4.

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