The Jungle

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What do the mountains behind Ferndale look like right now? Thick, impenetrable, thorny, brush hell holes? Well, thats what they look like to a human being who is trying walk through them in the summertime. Its absolutely remarkable how persistent and vibrant these forest type are. Diverse in every way: from species composition to forest structure, these forests have it all. Its just not very fun to walk through.

Shoe Tree

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The Shoe Tree. This uncommon variety springs strings up from time to time in across the country side. This one is on Highway 36, and if you spend any time driving over McClellan Mountain you know this tree. There used to another one, just a few miles west of here. It was close to the house that has the big wagon wheel set into wall above the driveway. I picked up a kid hitch hiking once years ago who lived there. He told me his dad started it, but eventually decided to cut it down as it became too much of a “thing”. He told me the final straw was noticing some ice skates in the tree. Well, now the legend lives on, in a place were the falling fruit is less likely to hurt anyone…

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Crazy Trees

Look at this crazy Douglas-fir. This tree is in the stand I wrote about last time. Judging by its appearance, Id sat that this gnarly bastard has been around for a while. It is likely one of the parent trees that ultimately led to the widespread encroachment of this previous woodland.

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I also came across this oddity. Well, at least it is unique to this particular stand and is pushing the extreme western portion of its range. Like the Douglas-fir above this tree appears to be a veteran is quite old. Can you tell what it is?

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Significant Change

Here are more pictures from forest stands that have completely succumbed to conifer encroachment. Prior to fire exclusion, these stands were dominated by California Black Oak. Now, all that is left are a few hold outs which are more or less walking dead in this forest. As you can see, many of the large oak stems left are in serious stages of decay and will likely be on the ground within the next 10 years.

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In Humboldt County, our true oak component is a relatively small portion of our vast forest resource (10-15%), however its value is much more than its spatial area. Most of these woodlands are old and support a diverse array of species such as big game, migrating tropical birds, and a host of small mammals and insects that all contribute to our forests food web.

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Much of the renaming oak woodlands are on a rapid trajectory to a similar fate as the stands pictured above. Sadly our forest regulation and policy is preventing widespread treatment of encroached woodlands. If I was to imagine something the Board of Forestry could do, it would be to create a special designation for oak woodlands in CA, allowing conditional permitting for management within woodlands. This means recognizing the private and public benefit of managing for forest resources that are not centered on forest products (MSP).

High Salt Ground

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This may look like a regular mountain meadow, but it has an interesting history. A local historian told me this story a few years back, hopefully Im remembering it right!

Apparently during the Indian Wars (1850s-1860s), the US carvery had captured a number of Nongatl Indians and were taking them to the Round Valley reservation in Covelo. By some luck, the Indians managed to escape. However their luck was not long lived, as they were attacked by Lassic Indians on their way home. When the survivors made it back to their territory with their tale, they set upon their revenge, with a little help from their neighbors.

It was at High Salt Ground where a coalition of tribes (Nongatls, Whilikuts, and Chilula) gathered before heading south to battle with the Lassic Tribe. This was in 1863.

This is a surprising story (to me) considering the amount of pressure all of the aboriginal people were facing from the US Calvary – who had been fighting with all of the tribes for over a decade. Chief Lassic had many incursions with the foreign invaders himself, being captured and escaping many times. Was this the best time to battle other Indians when they all were being attacked by the whites? Obviously these were people of principle, and when war was need, they were not making any exceptions.

Pilot Rock

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Approximately 40 – 50 miles east of Eureka, Pilot Rock was named by sheep herders who used the landmark to guide them from the coast to inland areas. In the late 1800s there was significant traffic along the major ridges in Humboldt and Trinity County, way more than there is now. Here are some pics I took a little closer to the rock a while back.

If you are interested in this area, check this out: Historic Trails of Pilot Ridge Country by Thomas Keter.

An Overview. Thomas Keter, the author of the paper I linked above, shows this picture in his paper. This is really cool, because you can really see the big picture. Im would be standing right below what is labeled High Salt Ground.  Check it out.

An Overview. Thomas Keter, the author of the paper I linked above, shows this picture in his paper. This is really cool, because you can really see the big picture. When I took the picture of Pilot, I was near what is labeled “High Salt Ground”.

Fractured Earth

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This is one of those ‘wow’ landslides. The river in the background is the East Branch South Fork Eel River and just above where you can see the water is where Tom Long Creek joins it. This massive slide actually went all the way across the canyon, completely damming Tom Long, causing the laws of physics to work overtime for months. Eventually the water downcut back through the mountain of debris and the channel found its place. This is great vantage and while vertical perspective is really hard (especially looking down), if you can see the tree heights, and the shadow of the wall I am standing on, you can start to grasp the enormity of it all. The edge of the shadow is approximately 200 – 300 feet straight down from where I am standing.

Albino Redwood – 150 Feet Up

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Following a lead I received last year I went looking for another albino in Founders Grove, about 100 feet from where I found this one. It was rumored to be about 100 feet away and 100 feet higher in the canopy. So with some binoculars I set to looking up and after a while I found it!

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My attempt to take the picture through binoculars…

Pilot Creek

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The confluence of Pilot and the Mad River. One of the critical tributaries of the Mad River. There are resident rainbow trout that spawn in Pilot Creek but do not migrate to the ocean. A natural migration barrier prevents summer steelhead from reaching this region of the Mad, though every so often winter steelhead can get through the barrier. This explains why you may notice rainbow trout may have either white or red flesh: white from the resident trout and red being the ocean going winter steelhead.

Grays Falls

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I was recently driving on 299 after a sort of “day killer”, meaning I had to go way out somewhere to work for 2 hours and found my self at 1 PM with nothing to do. Then I passed by Grays Falls and remembered a fellow blogger had recently mentioned that spot (Thanks Ross!). So I doubled back and walked down to the falls.

More like rapids than a true waterfall, but a neat spot just the same. The steep cliffs on either side of the Trinity are really impressive. The trail is a easy enough walk, although it is a little slippery in spots. It was raining lightly when I was there, and think the river was up from melting snow in the highlands. You can also take a short trail down to the banks of the river, which goes though a pretty Douglas-fir forests. If you want to go there, just look for the sign on the 299 near Burnt Ranch.

Our Famous Spotted Owl

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A owl with his yearly offering. There are thousands of spotted owl sites in California, and many of them are visited every year to determine nesting status. Only about 50% of the total NSO habitat in California is even being surveyed, which means there could be as many as 8,000 spotted owls in CA. While logging in the 1950s-1960s severely effected NSO nesting habitat, it would appear at least in CA, that the NSO has made a impressive recovery. Especially in forests of the Wildcat (behind Ferndale) where there the Spotted Owl thrives at densities 2-3 times higher other areas in the Pacific North West.

The Grandfather Tree

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This is the largest Douglas-fir tree I have ever seen (in Humboldt County). And I have never seen such ridiculous limbs. The limbs themselves are like 4′ feet in diameter and 80′ tall! The fact that it can support all that weight is a testament to the structural integrity of Douglas-fir.

What causes that swelling of limbs at the base? In general we find that tree structure is strongly correlated to its environment. Open grown trees photosynthesize more allowing for larger, more frequent limbs. And it is not uncommon to find these old, wolfy trees throughout the region with large limbs near the base. Often times these trees are hidden in younger forests that have emerged more recently, as is the case with the Grandfather Tree.

Many forests in Humboldt where previously woodlands, dotted with the occasional Douglas-fir. Prior to 1920, the forests were mostly white oak, black oak and grasslands. Of course all forests have minor smatterings of other species. All waiting for their moment. When the light or climate conditions change they may get a chance to turn the tide.

When fire was removed from the system, new forests quickly emerged. The new forests grew up in single regeneration events, so their structure tends to be uniform. Because they grow up so dense, they crowd each other out. Many die and the trees that win drop their lower limbs early, stretching upwards to out compete their neighbors.

But that is only part of the story. Genetics ultimately are the major player in tree structure, however it can be harder to notice to the casual observer. The Douglas-fir genome is very complex and after a few hours of reading about it online, I needed to take some advil! In short, conifer genomes are long and extremely complex. A product of being hundreds of millions of years old. In general the variation is subtle and difficult to notice, but occasionally you can find pockets of trees that all share some common characteristic such as sweep or taper.

All of these trees share genes that favor larger than average limbs. But it is rare to find trees with the kind of structure as the Grandfather Tree. Not surprisingly, there is a definite cohort of trees with large lower branches scattered in the surrounding forest for hundreds of acres around this tree.

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Take a look in the bottom right corner of the picture. See the smaller tree with the large limbs? Another grandkid tree.

In forests that have been intensively managed, logged and replanted many times, genes like this are on the decline. Much research has gone into developing Douglas-fir seedlings that will grow straight, tall trees with little taper. While this is good for wood production, it may not be the best for the trees long term strategy, which is to persist in a variety of climates and micro-sites. Not to mention the obvious value complex crown structure provides to wildlife, which has evolved along side these genetically diverse forests. Something to think about as we walk around these forests we call home.

Mad River Rocks!

What the? Thats what I thought when I had the incredible fortune to pass through some rare country in the Middle Mad River. Out of no where this rock shoots up from the river.

What the? Thats what I thought when I had the incredible fortune to pass through some rare country in the Middle Mad River. Out of nowhere this rock shoots up from the river.

No Name. At least no white man name on the map. It barley appears on the map, and grossly underestimates its prominence.  I made a gross estimate with my laser; 285 ft from the top to the bottom.

No Name. At least no white man name on the map. In fact it barley appears on the map, and grossly underestimates its prominence. I made a gross estimate with my laser; 285 ft from the top to the bottom.

I am wondering if that white spot is a nest. Or whitewash from a nest above it. This is excellent peregrine falcon habitat.

I am wondering if that white spot is a nest. Or whitewash from a nest above it. This is excellent peregrine falcon habitat.

Of course I had terrible light (as usual). If Im lucky Ill have a second chance! But you just dont get the full feeling without the stiched version.

Of course I had terrible light (as usual). If Im lucky Ill have a second chance! But you just dont get the full feeling without the stiched version.

Return to the Chasm of Death

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I love this spot – a beautiful yet dangerous perch. I was fortunate enough to return last month to plant some trees in a near-by logging unit. Of course being near this area, I had to take a quick hike to this spot to look down on the Mad River. As I took these pictures though, I could hear a horrible cry echoing up from the canyon. Im pretty sure it was a cow, who had either wandered down too far and gotten stuck on a cliff – or had slipped to the bottom and some how survived. I could not see where it was, but it was down at the bottom for sure, and tragically that spelled certain doom for the poor animal. After seeing this area from below during summer steelhead surveys, I can tell you there is no way to get up, without swimming down the river to a better spot – and that is all but impossible in the winter.

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Terrain like this reminds us of the stark realities of life and death. As humans we somehow find beauty in this chaos. This is what pushes us to hike to inhospitable locations, climb mountains and cliffs, and visit harsh environments. I certainly had empathy for the suffering animal, but also could acknowledge the boon to other creatures that would inevitably benefit from its demise.

How Rugged?

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Our coastal hills can be extremely rugged. The lower Eel especially within the sandstone bluff formations. Away from the cliffs on the beach… are more cliffs. You just cant see them because they are covered in a think jungle of trees and brush. The mountains behind Ferndale and Centerville have some of the most rugged forests in the county.

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One interesting feature that I encounter in the lower Eel River areas are extremely steep ridges that are surprisingly narrow. Here above Ferndale a ridge gradually rises; a sheer sandstone bluff to the south and a steep hillside to the north. The ridge is 3-5 feet wide, which is actually somewhat nerve-wracking, being that the bluff is at least 200 feet vertical. And the other side is not much better. The ridge also had a unique, windblown micro environment. These nooks and crannies are where bio-diversity is going to be highest is a forest. And sure enough, manzanita in a spruce forest!

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Old Growth Live Oak

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One of the neat things about working as a forester is passing through the hard to get to places. Not just off the path, but on rock faces, landslides, stream canyons, etc. Topography and geology can create a impressive diversity of habitats within a forest. This chaotic assemblage of micro sites is one of Humboldt Counties trademarks.

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Old growth live oak stands like this one are not uncommon in our region, at least where access is difficult. These trees can cling to these rock outcrops for centuries. These places tend to be very harsh. Poor soils and exposure to high winds can stunt tree growth and beat a tree down. They can persist, but will never grow very large. Occasionally they are sheltered from such effects and you can find huge live oaks that almost defy imagination.

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Here is another one. This tree is just ridiculous. There were a few more like it nearby, but this one had the perfect crown. Its like a plasma globe of branches reaching out for the power of the sun. Nooks and Crannies!

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