Forestry

Winter Burning

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Here are some pictures treating slash piles following the summers fuel reduction projects. Unfortunately, it was too wet to effectively burn and we found the piles to be not covered correctly. So, hopefully we will get a second chance this winter for things to dry out enough to burn.

Widowmaker

Watch out! This right here is no joke. A “widowmaker” is any freely hanging branch, limb or tree, that can fall on you. Trees store a ton of water and even a little 6″ limb can weigh hundreds of pounds. Widowmaker accidents make up 10% of deaths related to logging in the US.

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The tree in the picture once had a forked top and the another stem was laying on the ground to the left. This is why foresters like to mark forked top trees in selection logging, as they are very vulnerable to wind-throw and rot. And as shown here, somewhat dramatically, they can cause havoc for neighboring trees and obviously cause a safety threat. Not sure of the trusty old hardhat will help when that thing goes…

Paul Bunyan

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Coming home from mom’s in Oregon we stopped by the Trees of Mystery, a favorite road side attraction on the 101. On a busy day they even have Paul talking to the guests and waving his huge hand. “Hey there, young girl in the pink shirt!”

I was always fond of Paul Bunyan, who I think of as our northwest version of John Henry. A champion of the working man who muscled his way ahead of technology. While John Henry could beat the stream shovel with his 9-pound hammer, old Paul Bunyan took on the chainsaw with his mighty axe.

As it turns out, Paul Bunyan has his roots in French-Canadian folklore, most likely from the woods of north eastern America. Eventually he made his way to the Dakotas where he becomes famous for cutting millions of feet of timber in the winter of the “blue snow”. And of course his trusty blue ox.

Eventually Paul met up with good-ole American marketing when the Red River Lumber Company incorporated Paul as a mascot in 1914. The new Paul Bunyan was ridiculously tall and the blue ox was affectionately named “Babe”. Apparently his camp stove and hotcake griddle were so large that it was greased by men using sides of bacon for skates! This is the Bunyan who was eventually memorialized in the Disney cartoons from the 1950s I watched as a kid.

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‘Timber!’

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.

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.

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.

Grizzly Creek

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Here are some pictures from way up near the headwaters of Grizzly Creek. The forest is right on the redwood transition areas where redwood and coastal Douglas-fir and oak woodlands collide. The combination of good soils, heavy rain, and persistent fog make these areas very productive for trees.

These mountain streams may look small, but once the rains start they really pick up. Most of the headwater areas transition to open grasslands, and as result the peak flows into these streams is enormous. Flows tend to be flashy and can be very intense right after big rains.

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This particular forest came with an interesting story. Most of the surrounding areas where logged in the 1960s. Apparently as they moved into this stand, there was a horrible accident, costing one of the loggers their life. The crew backed out after the accident, leaving this area unlogged. And so it has stood until now. And so it will remain, now that a northern spotted owl has found its home here.

Island Diversity

As you travel east and into higher elevations, the forests begin to transition to a mixed conifer type, which is generally defined as Douglas-fir and/or true fir with pine and various hardwoods. Mixed conifer forests are pretty complex and can vary widely across the interior of the state, but thats another story.

Diversity. This forest has it all; Douglas-fir, pondersosa pine, incense cedar, Oregon white oak, live oak, tan oak and madrone.

Serious Diversity. This forest has it all; Douglas-fir, pondersosa pine, incense cedar, Oregon white oak, live oak, tan oak and madrone.

Only the eastern and more remote portions of Humboldt county have these types of forests, though occasionally you may find islands of habitats that resemble mixed conifer and form unique areas on the landscape. (e.g. willow creek, south fork mountain, etc.) This place is near the pilot drainage and is nestled within a thousand acre oak woodland, where just about 10 acres have developed into this unique forest island.

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Here is another example of what I would say was natural encroachment of oak woodlands, or better put, succession. There are a few aged white oak trees, but they are in severe decline. Most of the woody debris on the ground and standing snags are white oak, a last testament of what was there a few hundred years ago. This forest obviously developed with fire as all the trees have layers of fire scars, including this madrone.

Did I say madrone?

Did I say madrone?

This tree is massive. Its crown is at least 50' feet in diameter.

This tree is massive. Its crown is at least 100′ feet in diameter.

Final Stages of Encroachment

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Here is a good view of a stand that has almost fully transitioned from a black oak forest to a Douglas-fir stand. Encroachment began in this stand in the 1960s and finally the last of the taller oaks are reaching the end of their lives. Over then next ten or so years the oak stems will loose all of their limbs and begin to feel the pull of gravity as their root masses die. Many species of insects and fungus will invade these trees and speed up the fall. Once on the ground, the boles will persist for decades as the forest recyclers slowly and consistently do their work.

Meanwhile the Douglas-fir canopy will close in around the space previously occupied by the oaks and the little remaining areas of filtered light on the forest floor will become dark. This will also effect the shrub and ground cover component of the forest, severely limiting what can grow there in the absence of light.

Its interesting how the full encroachment cycle changes the bio-diversity of stand over time. It would seem that during the last phases of transition, like in the photo, the diversity is highest. This is in part due to the vertical structure offered by the overstory conifer, the decaying oak trees in the mid canopy, and the collection of downed wood on the forest floor. There are also pockets of shrubs that still receive light where the fir canopy has not closed in. Oak snags make potential cavities for numerous birds and mammals. The fallen trees become home to hosts of insects that in turn are feasted on by many of the locals.

While I generally speak of this encroachment as a negative, there is certainly a positive, or at least productive element to this process from a forest health prospective. In a truly “natural” setting, there would be recruitment of oak woodlands somewhere near-by while this process was occurring, creating the balance of habitats over the landscape. However in our fire starved environment, Douglas-fir encroachment is occurring much more frequently than the rate oak stands are developing. In fact, very little oak stands are developing at all in Humboldt County. This is why, I believe, that there is an urgency to prevent encroachment into woodlands.

East Fork Willow Creek

Old Growth in East Fork Willow Creek.

Old Growth in East Fork Willow Creek.

I have wanted to hike around this forest for years. You can see this area from the highway and can access it pretty easily from the East Fork Camp ground when its open. I happened to have some extra time last month and hiked up into the forest a little west of the camp ground from the 299.

This is one of the largest pacific yew trees I have ever seen. I find it impressive that it is living right off the highway turnout.

This is one of the largest pacific yew trees I have ever seen. I find it impressive that it is living right off the highway turnout.

This forest has it all. Douglas-fir, tanoak, madrone, golden chinquapin, and more. The understory has the same species where light allows, as well as the occasional pacific yew. Sword fern and huckleberry make up the bulk of the ground cover. Eventually I saw a huge tree that appeared to be the biggest in the area.

After tromping around for a bit, one tree caught my eye.

After tromping around for a bit, one tree caught my eye.

I only has a few hours, and Id like to get in here someday and explore a little more thoroughly. The campground looks like a nice escape from a hot summer and even in this dry summer we are gearing up for, I bet the East Fork will keep water.

Forest Panorama

Forest Panorama

2013 – Year in Pictures

So 2013 has come and gone. Happy New Year! I put up my 2013 gallery page and had a real hard time finding my favorite picture of the year. Looking back, I think my hike up to Blue Rock was the coolest thing I did, with the Mad River steelhead dive coming in close second. Here is the view from Blue Rock:

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Be sure to look though the 2013 page now added to the top of the blog.

Oak Woodlands: The Last of the Great Old Growth Forests

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When we think of old growth, we tend to think of the redwoods or the great Douglas-fir forests of the north west. You probably do not think of oak woodlands of when you hear the term old growth. They do not have the spotted owl or marbled murrelet to enshrine them into the sacred. But perhaps they should. Oak woodlands are known for their biodiversity, and support a huge array of plants and animals – all – year long, including foraging habitat for rare and important animals like the pacific fisher and the northern goshawk.

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These larger trees are several hundred years old. In this healthy woodland, we see a forest comprised of all ages, so hopefully there will be ongoing recruitment of larger oaks as the older trees reach the end of their lifespans. In Humboldt County, we are concerned that many stands of oaks have been lost to encroachment and regeneration of oaks may be in trouble because of our fire policies.

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In the past, old growth has been at risk from development and timber harvesting. This was true of most areas of the north west, and still is in many parts of the world. In the case of woodland, ironically harvesting may be the savior of the oak. Conifer forests have made a significant recovery since society began to care and conserve for older aged forests on the landscape. Woodlands have been generally overlooked however, and we are only beginning to understand the consequences of the loss of oak stands. The time is now to start aggressively reclaiming these woodlands and preventing encroachment from destroying some of the last remaining old forests in northern California.

First Snow

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I had the pleasure of working around 4,000′ feet up in the Mad River on Friday. This is how the day started, around 8:15 here, with a nice powder shower.

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Within a few hours about an inch accumulated. Officially snow at this point.

 

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While the powder is dry(ish), I was just about as soaked through at the end of the day as a rainy day.

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My hands still hurt!

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Mad River rocks!

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By 4 PM, there was a good 3-4 inches on the ground. Enough to make the drive down the hill a little precarious. You really do appreciate through-cuts when sliding down logging roads in a pick-up. I stopped to take a quick shot of this buck, who although it looks like hes looking right at me, is totally oblivious, staring at the doe who was behind the oak tree to the right.

How Old are Those Trees?

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The tight rings of this stump caught my eye. The two yellow pencils represent 100 years from the edge of the bark, and then another 78 rings to the red pencil. That is 278 years to where the heart wood column had rotted out. I took a few measurements to come up with a average of 18 rings per inch in the central part of the stump – and measured approximately 6 inches to the theoretical pith. That makes for a total age of 386. Wow!

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In the 1950s-1960s large tracts of privately held land where harvested on South Fork Mountain. The evidence is still present, in the form of stumps (obviously), old porcelain signs like this one, and cull logs left on landings.

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Fortunately, most of the USFS held stands in the upper elevations of South Fork Mountain have been left intact. Due to the short growing season in the sub-alpine areas (+4,000′ elevation), trees can take along time to mature. The true fir trees in this picture are well over 6 feet in diameter. Based on the age of the stumps on adjacent private lands, these trees are easily close to 400 years old. Food for thought next time you are on Route 1 and wondering about the old growth stands you are driving or hunting through.

More South Fork Mountain Diversity

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There are not many places in Humboldt County with this type of forest. I typically find chinquapin mixed in tanoak/Doug-fir associations and almost always as a minor component of the overall composition. These stands on South Fork have clusters of old, gnarly groves mixed with true fir and sugar pine.

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As small as the world can seem at times, you can still appreciate the vast expanse of forest in this part of CA. Most of the land in the picture is part of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest which is a forest of about 1 million acres.

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Here is a stitched panorama. Its a great view of the South Fork Trinity River. Hyampom would be off to the right eventually, 5 or so miles up river.

Want to learn more about the unique golden chinquapin? Chrysolepis chrysophylla

Incense-cedar

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From Silvics of North America:
Incense-cedar (Libocedrus decurrens) is the only species from the small genus Libocedrus that is native to the United States. Increasingly, it is placed in a segregate genus Calocedrus. Incense-cedar grows with several conifer species on a variety of soils, generally on western slopes where summer conditions are dry. It is long-lived and grows slowly.

Points from the Past

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So we have seen these historic sites and objects, some close to 100 years old. However people have existed in the same areas for much longer. These sites, while a little harder to find, have persisted for centuries – some for thousands of years. I think the oldest recorded site in California is over 10,000 years old! In the picture above we found two archaeological sites in this valley and believe that it is likely that there are probably more sites deeper down in the ground. Hundreds of years of erosion and soil development essentially cap sites. Here are two of the artifacts that were discovered close to the surface.

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Continuing my historic theme, here is another cool find from a similar site a few miles away from the ‘china’ site. In the mid to late 1800s, there was widespread homesteading throughout Humboldt County. Many of these homesteads where set up by larger sheep/cattle operations, who helped people apply for their patents and then over time bought them out. This is how many of the large ranches acquired their large acreages. As result, there are many abandoned homesteads on ranches today that are nothing more than scattered debris of what ever was left behind.

Fuels Project

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Here is a shot (stitched) from a recent project where we are thinning the understory of the forest. There are many places where the stem density is very high and the brush layers connect to the over-story and create higher fire hazards. By removing fuel ladders and thinning out dense thickets of redwood and tanoak, the fire risk is reduced and forest productivity increased. Here we are piling the debris to be burned next year. After the burn we will be planting all the gaps with redwood. Historically the stand was logged intensively with no regard to the regeneration of the stand, which in turn shifted the species composition heavily towards tanoak. This landowner wants to restore the stand to a redwood dominated forest.

If you click to enlarge the image you can see where they have completed the piling on the left, and where they are still cutting on the right. Hard work my friends!

Machines of the Past

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Came across a 1950s era yarding machine in pretty good shape. These things were very common in this region, are are essentially a improvement on the ‘stream donkey’. This one appears to have come to rest in the headwaters of Grizzly Creek for unknown reasons. The engine was made by none other than Hercules, who produced over 1 million industrial grade engines foe the US military during their 24-hours a day operations in WWII. It looked like someone tried to get this thing running not too long ago, as evidenced by some newer looking hoses and a modern battery.

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