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Planting for tomorrow.

At his 580-acre tree farm in Linn County, Oregon, 80-year-old Robert Mealey is talking with a friend. "I've only planted 150 trees today," says Mealey. Indeed, compared with this tree farmer's standards, 150 trees is a meager day's work. That's because when Mealey spots a piece of land without trees, it's his natural predilection to plant some.

When he got to thinking about Linn County's 100,000 or so acres of unused land, he initiated a planting effort called the Lament Valley Ponderosa Pine Program. This year, approximately 64,000 seedlings have been distributed to 35 landowners. "This program is growing like topsy," he says.

Mealey believes that the 1,500 small tree farms of his county aren't as productive as they could be, so he raised, with the help of local nurseries, 200,000 superior trees and distributed them to those farms--and he's still going.

"He's fixing what went wrong over the past 30 years of forest management," says a Mealey friend, Oregon State University forester Richard Fletcher. Mealey, who is described as a legend in these parts, believes land should be productive, and the income from timber cutting should be given back to the forest. However, he has kept intact 100 acres of 85-year-old trees--the kind of trees that make a log buyer drool.

Mealey lives alone--except for his cat, Sassy, and three saddle horses. Poems about trees are stashed around his house; certificates and awards hang on the walls, Among other honors, he was named Oregon's Outstanding Tree Farmer and is a fellow of the Society of American Foresters.

"I'm always on the job," says Mealey, who spends half of his time planting, pruning, and, on a fun day, riding one of his large, noisy tractors--the prime suspect behind his hearing loss, he claims.

Born in 1912, he recalls following on the heels of his father, who ran a timber company "far back in the hills." Mealey says, "Like most kids raised out in the sticks, it was necessary to get out of there in order to do something with your life." And so he headed to college to study law.

You can take the man out of the forest, but you can't take the forest out of the man. After two years of philosophy, public speaking, and "the rest of it," Mealey transferred to Oregon State University to study forestry.

In 1936, he joined the U.S. Forest Service but resigned 11 years later to assist his father. What was supposed to be a one-year absence stretched into 10, and not until 1957 did he rejoin the agency, starting over again in the ranks of junior forester. In 1974, he retired--sort of,

He bought some land, first in 1947 and again in 1975. Soon after that, he formed the Mealey Timber Company. His four children and 12 grandchildren serve as board members. His son recently retired from the Forest Service, and a granddaughter just graduated from Oregon State University's forestry school.

Although his offspring are scattered across the country, they go home to the Mealey Tree Farm for vacations. "This summer, I hope to have a family get-together--the whole shebang," he says. "We'll probably do some marking, big commercial thinning. We'll have a busy couple of weeks here."

For now, Mealey's busy planting trees for spring--so far more than 5,000. As he stands with Fletcher looking out over the farm, Mealey points out some trees that will be mature in 30 years. He smiles and says, "I'll only be 110 by then."

No doubt Robert Mealey means to keep planting trees.--TRICIA TAYLOR
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Title Annotation:Earthkeepers: Profiles of People Who Make a Difference for Trees and Forests; tree planter Robert Mealey
Author:Taylor, Tricia
Publication:American Forests
Date:May 1, 1992
Previous Article:Wendell Berry.
Next Article:The Lincoln-log syndrome.

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