Eel River

Baby Owls!

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Meet my friend HU563. Ive known her for close to 10 years now. She resides right on the edge of the forest in the Fortuna area. Its amazing how close this owl will get me, some times downright startling. Owls flight is virtually silent, so once your in her territory you may just look up and see this owl perched 2 feet away from you – black eyes staring…

Its been a couple of years since I checked in on this owl and I found her at one of her nesting sites after a few tries. She was by herself and at first appeared to be non-nesting. She ate down the first mouse I offered in seconds. But then she flew off with the second mouse forcing me to scramble up the hill…

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On the edge of a clearing in a little alder grove, she led me to her two fledglings. I have posted several pictures on this blog feeding mice to owls and this is why we do it. First and foremost is nest site protection and correctly establishing where their core area will be. Second is population monitoring, so scientists can track the population and reproductive trends of this species. But for now we can just admire the cute owlets…

Afforestation

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Afforestation is the establishment of a forest or stand of trees in an area where there was no forest. This landowner has established this redwood plantation in what was a brush field/pasture in the past.

Afforestation is different than reforestation, which is replanting areas that were already forests, such as in a clearcut or fire. Since the modern era, humans have greatly reduced the overall forest cover all over the world. In some places dramatically. I found some of these facts interesting about forests in other countries regarding Afforestation:

Iran is considered a low forest cover region of the world with present cover approximating seven percent of the land area. This is a value reduced by an estimated six million hectares of virgin forest, which includes oak, almond and pistachio. Due to soil substrates, it is difficult to achieve afforestation on a large scale compared to other temperate areas endowed with more fertile and less rocky and arid soil conditions. Consequently, most of the afforestation is conducted with non-native species, leading to habitat destruction for native flora and fauna, and resulting in an accelerated loss of biodiversity.

China has deforested most of its historically wooded areas. China reached the point where timber yields declined far below historic levels, due to over-harvesting of trees beyond sustainable yield. Although it has set official goals for reforestation, these goals were set for an 80 year time horizon and are not significantly met by 2008. China is trying to correct these problems by projects as the Green Wall of China, which aims to replant a great deal of forests and halt the expansion of the Gobi desert. A law promulgated in 1981 requires that every school student over the age of 11 plant at least one tree per year. As a result, China currently has the highest afforestation rate of any country or region in the world, with 47,000 square kilometers of afforestation in 2008. However, the forest area per capita is still far lower than the international average.

Here are some interesting facts about forests in the US taken from the State of America’s Forests report by the Society of American Foresters:

• The United States ranks fourth on the list of most forest-rich countries, following the Russian Federation, Brazil, and Canada, with 8 percent of the world’s primary forest.
• The number of acres of forestland in the United States has remained essentially the same during the past century.
• On average, 11 percent of the world’s forestland benefits from some type of conservation effort. In the United States, 20 percent is protected by conservation initiatives.
• Assessments of biodiversity on the nation’s forests have found that the annual rate at which species are listed as threatened or endangered has declined five- fold.
• Historical trends indicate that the standing inventory (the volume of growing stock) of hardwood and softwood tree species in US forests has grown by 49 percent between 1953 and 2006.
• Forest management also has been recognized as an effective means of sequestering carbon over the long term. In the United States, the total amount of carbon sequestered by forests and the creation of wood products during the 1990s was estimated at almost 200 megatons per year, an amount equal to approximately 10 percent of US carbon dioxide emissions.

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 types are. Diverse in every way: from species composition to forest structure, these forests have it all. Its just not very fun to walk through.

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.

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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A Day in the Redwoods

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Here are some pictures from last week. This is a all-aged redwood stand in extremely steep topography. I believe we descended 1000′ feet over 1/4 mile down a ridge we were working off of, which is about 75% slope. Steep.

The forest has a history of intensive management. First logged in the late 1800s, which would have been like a clear cut but small trees were left. The next entry was probably in the 1950s and again a clear cut, but this time they took everything they could feasibly get to. In the 1980s they return and get the last patches with helicopters. And finally a series of selective harvests occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s which were thinning the 40-50 year old stuff regenerated after the 50s cut.

So at this point you have four-five generations of trees over a several hundred acre area. Because the harvests that occurred after 1950s were significantly smaller (20-40 acres compared to 200-500 acres) the environment is not homogenous. With the exception of old growth habitat, which is lacking, most other habitat types are present in a apparently well balanced mosaic. A forest like this is the poster child for the resilience of redwood and for proof that selective logging is a viable method of harvesting. They dont stop growing!

These forests are teeming with life, and you see and hear many varieties of birds throughout the day. I also noticed several flocks of aleutian geese flying over us, a sure sign that winter is getting closer.