Starker Forests: deep roots in Oregon State forestry

The Starker family’s roots in the College of Forestry grow deep.  

“We have a very tight integration with the college,” says Randy Hereford, vice president and assistant secretary at Starker Forests, Inc. 

T.J. Starker was one of the first four graduates to earn a degree in forestry from Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University) in 1910. After T.J. worked for the U.S. Forest Service for a few years, he accepted a teaching position in forestry. During his professorship, he helped with the college’s ongoing efforts to acquire lands that eventually became the McDonald-Dunn Research Forest in Corvallis.

T.J. also began making private investments in cutover forests in the Coast Range, and eventually retired from teaching to become a full-time manager of his own forestland. By 1971, he had established Starker Forests, a formal partnership with his son Bruce, Bruce’s wife Betty and their two sons, Bond and Barte. Over the years, the family acquired 85,000 acres, primarily in Benton and Lincoln Counties, with some properties in Linn, Polk and Lane. 

Today, the homegrown timber company’s 11 full-time and two part-time foresters are all Oregon State graduates. One of the things that distinguishes the Philomath-based company is its focus on educating the next generation of foresters. Its president, Bond Starker, serves on the College of Forestry’s Board of Visitors and several other committees and advisory councils at the university. Starker foresters give guest lectures and serve on research boards, faculty search committees and curriculum committees. The company hires several undergraduates for summer work each year, and makes its forests available to faculty for research and teaching, including providing access for class field trips and plots for research projects. 

The family-owned business was established on the principles of active forest management, which includes aggressive reforestation, thinning, soil management and maintaining healthy growing conditions in general. The company makes use of all the modern tools available, such as herbicides and slash burning, to establish their forests. It was a pioneer in using mechanical harvesting equipment.

“We’re professional foresters first,” Hereford says, “so we all believe that forests need to be managed.”

Starker Forests is on a 60-year rotation for their stands. This allows them to better manage their lands and differentiate their product by selling larger logs. One of Starker’s core philosophies is to grow forests, not just trees.

The company says their forestry decisions are made based on the characteristics of the land and individual stands of trees and associated resources using the on-the-ground and landscape level planning expertise their expert, professional staff.

Starker uses clear-cutting to manage its primarily Douglas-fir forests. 

“Clear-cutting leaves the unit exposed to the weather and enables seedlings to get a healthy start,” Hereford says. “We typically replant within a year of harvest, because it reflects one of our critical forest management values. We also try to keep clear-cuts under the 120-acre maximum allowed by the Forest Practices Act.” 

Investing in research has always been a strong value at Starker Forests, which enables the company to be in a continuous improvement mode while contributing to the academic discipline of forestry. “Barte and Bond always wanted us to be on the leading edge of things,” Hereford says, “and they’re more than willing to allow us to invest time and effort into making the company more innovative.”

Hereford emphasizes that the Starker family is also strongly committed to supporting its employees, its contractors, and the community at large. 

“We maintain some essential guidelines that aren’t solely based on economics,” he says.