Willamalane Park and Recreation District is raising funds to replant trees affected by the spread of a fungal infection in the orchards where Oregon’s hazelnut industry was born.
George Dorris started the nation’s first commercial filbert farm on his acreage south of Springfield in 1903. The trees flourished in fertile Willamette Valley soils, and Oregon now produces 99 percent of the nation’s crop. (In 1981, Oregon filberts began to be marketed as “hazelnuts,” but the term “filbert” is still used in Springfield.)
Most of the trees planted at Dorris Ranch, now a National Historic Preservation Site and popular public park, were of the ‘Barcelona’ variety — a variety highly susceptible to a fungal infection called eastern filbert blight. The blight infects and kills trees over a period of years.
Willamalane, along with orchardists throughout Oregon, has fought to counter the blight with selective pruning and other methods. But the best way to battle the infections, according to experts at Oregon State University, is to replant orchards with blight-resistant cultivars.
The Oregon State Historic Preservation office has approved a plan to remove trees from affected Dorris Ranch orchards and replant with new varieties, such as ‘Jefferson’, which shares many of the same qualities of ‘Barcelona’ but is resistant to eastern filbert blight.
Willamalane plans to replace the orchards in stages over the next 18 years, at a total cost of $300,000 to $400,000. Some of the funding will come from revenues derived from the filbert harvest.
In addition, Willamalane is asking the public for help in a campaign called “Fight the Blight.”
“As stewards of Dorris Ranch, we need to do everything we can to protect and preserve the historic elements and commercial operation of the orchard,” said Michael Wargo, deputy superintendent.
“You can help Willamalane preserve Dorris Ranch for future generations by contributing to our Fight the Blight campaign,” Wargo said. “As the new trees grow and produce filberts,” Wargo said, “so will the community’s investment in this Springfield icon.”
Contributors to the campaign may sponsor a single tree ($25), a group of five trees ($100), 30 trees ($500), an acre ($2,500), or an entire orchard. (There are 11 separate orchards that will be replanted at Dorris Ranch.) Money raised from this campaign will go into a dedicated fund for Dorris Ranch.
Those interested in more information may contact Bryab Beban, resource development coordinator, at 541-736-4523 or email@example.com.
This spring, crews cleared 1,237 trees from the Cannery and Walnut orchards. Approximately 1,400 to 1,600 new trees will be planted in the fall, including ‘Jefferson’ and the pollinating varieties ‘Yamhill’ and ‘Eta’.
Willamalane will nurse the young trees over the next three years, and then will prepare for another stage of removal and replanting in adjacent orchards as eastern filbert blight infection spreads.
While most of the filbert trees at Dorris Ranch will be replaced over the following two decades, Willamalane plans to preserve four acres of historic ‘Barcelona’ trees in the Road Orchard, near the barn, where George Dorris’ legacy will live on. Maintenance in the Road Orchard will include the use of anti-fungal sprays and selective removal of branches from blight-infested trees.