Fox hole? Hardwood trees really do seem to make the best cavities. I am always on the lookout for mammals or even bats, which must live in some of these goose pens.
From my naturalist point of view, I believe over time the exclusion of fire is having a profound impact on forest mammals, especially cavity nesters like the Pacific Fisher or porcupine. The Pacific fisher is currently a ‘candidate’ to be placed on the State Endangered Species Lists. Seen one lately? Porcupines?
All of the larger cavities I come across are fire scared. And I get the impression that numerous fires over decades if not a century or two formed them. Now without fire, there is very little recruitment for fire formed cavities, which really puts pressure on the ones that do exist. Its a shame that the vast majority of cavities I see are in the form of large hardwood trees, generally on the verge of collapse from being over topped by Douglas-fir.
Check out some pictures from some recent adventures around a huge outcrop. Needless to say, approaching the edge near the top was sketchy. I wasn’t able to get to the actual top partly because I didn’t have the best boots and because I was alone. While the rock is competent, there are fractures all along the edges and some of it appears unstable.
There is a big difference between the north and south face of the rock. On the north side a creek runs down the edge of the base of the rock forming some pretty cool rock cascades.
The south side is dry and more fractured. Little caves everywhere. The surface is all talus with very little developed soil so most of the veg is live oak and white oaks. The lichen colonies on the trees and rocks are amazing.
Looking off the southeast you see South Fork Mountain. Miles and Miles of wilderness in between.
Here are a few shots from earlier this year. I saw this heard allot, generally in Butler Valley.
It seemed that the bucks were in smaller groups running around the hills. There was no where I went this spring where I did not see evidence of elk. Its impressive how much disturbance they create, although no surprising considering they are the size of horses.
I only could catch a glimpse of them in early morning or late evening. Now their horns are gone and with any luck I will find a few sheds in the coming months.
As more and more studies are being completed, all signs point towards a severe decline in White Oak and Black Oak forests. This appears to be a phenomena that afflicts the entire range of these trees, from California to Canada. While deforestation may still be an issue (think wineries), the common thread throughout the western US is fire exclusion.
We have a pretty accurate picture of historic fire patterns. For woodland areas throughout Humboldt, a fire would burn any given area every 6-15 years. This is going back several thousand years…that is up until the early 1900s. By the 1920s the west had begun to implement a fire prevention policy for forests. In other words, put out forest fires no matter what. As result, we now have some forests that have not had a fire for over 100 years. Frequent fires historically prevented Douglas-fir from encroaching into oak woodlands, as seedlings would die before becoming large enough to withstand the fires.
Now unchecked by fire, we have rapidly growing Douglas-fir replacing oak forests that are hundreds of years old. In the next 20-30 years we will loose tens of thousands of acres of oak woodland. It will not be feasible to “save” all of this forest. Many people are trying, or at least learning how to conserve what they have on their land.
While its impractical, and probably pointless, to be trying to convert established Douglas-fir forests back to oak (assuming they were oak forests pre-fire exclusion), it could be time to be preventing the encroachment were it hasn’t killed the oaks. These oak trees are surprisingly resilient. But they need light to live. Once the Douglas-fir is dominating the overstory, the oaks have no chance. Its do or die for areas in these pictures. I believe in 20 years these oak woodlands will be Douglas-fir timberlands – unless the fir is removed.
Are oak woodlands important? Consider that they are are a less common habitat type in Humboldt, even more so from what has been lost in the past 40 years. Yet these woodlands are the most diverse forests in terms of plants and animals. They are crucial in maintaining our deer and up in coming elk herds. There is a reason the indigenous people of the area favored the oak woodland.
Intrinsically one forest type is not more important then the other. Yet considering the relative abundance of old growth Douglas-fir, I would consider this type important, especially in Humboldt County.
If you can get on some of the prominent ridges and points you can witness killer views. Here we are looking south-ish down across the Mad River and beyond. We can see Black Lassic in the distance!
I was fortunate enough to be in this spot right as a little storm started to form and the clouds really put on a show.
This old timer is still hanging on, although its new neighbors may be sealing its doom. Pictures dont always do it justice, by the diameter of that oak is well over 6 feet.
I walked by this tree, then circled back… Could that hole in the tree be an animals home? Temporary den? We are spending allot more effort looking for the Pacific Fisher which would certainly find comfort in this hollow…
Admittedly I get a bit of adrenaline before I climb up and look in. What if a bear is taking a nap in there? It was certainly big enough to fit a large animal! But it feels right so I peak in. Nothing today, but certainly potential habitat for many forest animals.
Dont let its size fool you, this tree is hundreds of years old.
More pics from the ‘bluff’ with better light. If only I had a real camera!
For all my Turkish friends (do not be offended!)
Even while running away from me the males are lock-step in their dance battle, strutting their tail feathers. The smaller ones on the left are the females, the judges of the competition.
There are a few spots in the Mad where huge bluffs appear out of no where, and are mostly hidden now by all the invading Douglas-fir. You can see the glow from behind the ledge.
Looking off the edge. Can you see the Mad River down there? Be sure to click on the pictures to see the full size. It 5oo feet down at least. This spot is right above the pics in my last post. The bluff Im standing on is 100 feet sheer and the live oak is loving it with its full crown over a south facing ledge.
A few more: