The Field Day at Half Moon Bend Restoration Demonstration site (Sept 25, 2013) seems to have been a success with about 50 people turning out for the event.  Participants came from conservation groups and agencies, local governments, farming and forestry.  Not that it went off without a hitch – recent rains prevented us from driving in, giving us all some exercise but less time to take a self-guided tour of the plots, but we still saw a lot of interaction and discussion among participants.

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The purpose of this demonstration project overall and key objectives for the Field Day were to:

  • help broaden the communication and involvement among and between the conservation, farm and forest landowner communities
  • illustrate a variety of management approaches to restoring bottomland hardwood forest communities
  • expand the time frame considered in restoration projects beyond the planting and establishment phase 

All this is reflected in the makeup of the projects partnership which includes Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (the landowner), to local farm conservationists, OSU Extension, Benton SWCD and Myer Memorial Trust.

 

The Field Day had two sections.  Tools and Practices for Restoration covered by local farmers Marvin Gilmour and Peter Kenagy, and Ed Peachy, OSU Department of Horticulture.  Marvin and Peter gave the history of the site, discussed some of the site preparation and establishment management decisions made, and where things might be headed, all from their perspective with over 40 years of familiarity they each have with the site.  Ed discussed principals of effective site preparation and his herbicide screening research, some of which resulted in a Special Local Needs lable for Sure Guard pre emergent herbicide (Flumioxazin) now available for weed control in restoration plantings.

 

Growing and managing hardwood riparian forests was covered by Glenn Ahrens   and  Brad Withrow-Robinson  both with OSU Forestry and Natural Resources Extension.  Glenn discussed the natural history and adaptive strategies of hardwoods, and how that is reflected in successful establishment practices.  He drew on lessons learned from research he was involved in back in the 1990s on nursery and planting practices for hardwoods. Brad led a discussion identifying specific ecological functions provided by the adjacent mature forest, reviewed how trees and shrubs grow and respond to competition and how that affects future stand conditions and functions. That was then applied to the different planting scenarios in the Demo (changing planting density, arrangement in inputs such as irrigation), and how each might tend develop in the next several decades.

 

Photopoint 4A in February 2011
Photopoint 4A in February 2011

All this led to a lively conversation between and among participants and presenters,  although there was not really enough time to cover and thoroughly discuss everything that came up.  Some of the topics discussed included: the relative costs associated with some of the different approaches demonstrated (as well as approaches not demonstrated); the value of involving farmers in the management process (including the decision making); applicability of various approaches to different sized projects in different landscape settings and; the powerful effect of funding processes and entities imposing expectations that do not align with the biology of the system.

 

Photopoint 4A at tour, showing changes.
Photopoint 4A at tour, showing changes.

Some issues also emerged that deserve more coverage in the future, including: more time at the site to explore the different plots and discuss the rational for different densities and arrangements; non-herbicide approaches to planting and establishment; funding constraints; and future maintenance.  

 

I will try to address some of the things in future blogs, and Field Days.

 

Brad Withrow-Robinson,   OSU Extension, Linn Benton and Polk Counties

Spring Planting
Like many of you, I have been busy this spring with a riparian planting project. It is an exciting project to restore about 28 acres of abandoned farm land to gallery forest along the Willamette River.

 
The project is at Half Moon Bend, a Greenway property several miles downstream from Corvallis. It is a challenging site with coarse soils, a nasty collection of perennial and annual weeds and regular, near-annual flooding.

 
This operational restoration project is an unusual collaboration between Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD), Marvin Gilmour and Peter Kenagy (mid-valley farmers and conservationists) with a long connection to and familiarity with the site. The restoration will be done using common farming (and forestry) approaches, equipment and practices. The goal is to create a diverse, structurally complex and functional bottomland forest community in an efficient and cost effective manner, particularly suitable to rural sites. Other partners include the Benton SWCD, and Meyer Memorial Trust which is providing much of the funding for the restoration.

 
Half Moon Bend is also a Demonstration Project, which means it has a structure designed for an educational purpose. The purpose of our demonstration is to help illustrate options and different approaches to a situation in order to facilitate discussion and learning about riparian forest ecology and restoration. So in addition to illustrating an operational approach to restoration using farm practices (directed by Marvin and Peter), this Extension Demonstration is designed to illustrate different approaches to:
• Planting Density (500 to 2500 stems/A)
• Arrangement of species (random v clustered)
• Irrigation (irrigated and non-irrigated)
• Weed control (various)

These appear to be some of the more actively-debated topics among restoration practitioners in my area in the mid-Valley. There are others (planting sequence, planting stock), but there are limits to how many different plots and practices you can put on the ground, keep it operation and not get in trouble with your partners for making things too messy and complicated. At any rate, the plots we have put out should give lots to think about and talk about.

So you can expect that Half Moon Bend will be a frequent topic of this blog, with regular updates on our efforts, the approaches we take and reasoning behind them, and of course the lessons we learn.

Stay tuned.

Although a significant challenge, successful planting and establishment is of course only the first step towards restoring a forest. Moist tropical forests tend to have much higher tree species richness and diversity than do our temperate forests. While a forest in the Coast Range or Cascades of Oregon may have a dozen or so trees and shrubs (and is often dominated by just a few tree species) a similar area hill evergreen forest in Northern Thailand may have 100 to 150 species.
Replicating or recreating this diverse forest in one fell swoop at planting is impractical, or impossible. There are significant challenges of producing so many species in the nursery and also, many species seem poorly adapted to the harsh conditions of abandoned farm fields, and simply do not survive and prosper. Restoring a forest means restoring conditions and processes which in turn help create the forest.
After screening over 400 species, FORRU selected about 20 hardy species to plant as the “framework” for the future forest structure and processes. Species were selected according to their suitability to nursery production, survival and growth in abandoned field conditions, as well as to represent different growth forms and several successional stages. A great many of the selected framework species bear fruit, which is meant to encourage birds to visit the site in the hopes that they will carry in other native species. This is a key idea behind the framework species approach (adapted from Australia): along with changing the physical environment (light, leaf litter and organic matter) to favor establishment and survival of additional species, the planting needs to encourage mechanisms that deliver those species to the site. Initial findings are promising, with an increase in the number of birds and small mammals observed, and over 70 additional tree species recruited to the study plots.
But what will be the fate of those new seedlings? Does their presence today tell us what the future forest will be?
Most foresters and woodland owners in Oregon have seen a carpet of seedlings emerge on the forest floor following a thinning or other disturbance that lets more light reach the ground and maybe exposes some soil. Douglas-fir, grand fir, hemlock, alder and maple may all show up in abundance. Familiarity with our local species tell us that the fate of these seedlings is not the same. Douglas-fir generally will not grow to maturity in those conditions, while the hemlock or maple might.
Hathai (my graduate student) is trying to develop a similar understanding of the trees which make up the hill evergreen forests in Thailand. Her work on the regeneration dynamics of trees in the understory should help people here in Thailand have a better idea of the likely fate of the seedlings, and if their arrival heralds development of more complex and diverse forests in the future. Her work may also suggest ways to manage the plantings to best meet the restoration/management goals.

 

If you have called or emailed me recently, you have received an “out of office” message saying I would be away in February. The full story is that I am in the mountains of Northern Thailand, helping my graduate student, Hathai, with her dissertation research on forest regeneration dynamics of understory trees. Her work is part of a bigger effort at Chiang Mai University (CMU) to study how to restore diverse, seasonally-dry tropical forests.
Thailand has lost over half its forest areas in the last 40 years to unsustainable timber harvest practices and land use conversion. In the mountains of Northern Thailand, most forest loss and degradation is driven by a history of shifting agriculture. Abandoned after farming, much of this land becomes dominated by aggressive invasive perennial weeds which prevent forest regeneration both by directly competing with seedlings and also by feeding widespread fires each dry season (March-May). These fires are not part of the natural fire regime, but are human-origin fires that kill many of the young seedlings getting established naturally, or as part of planting efforts. This favors and perpetuates the weed communities rather than native forests.
The Forest Restoration Research Unit (FORRU) at CMU has been working on this restoration challenge for the past two decades. The FORRU team began their work with basic research on local forest trees, studying life cycles, flowering and fruiting phenology. Likewise, they tackled challenges in nursery production by testing germination and nursery cultural requirements to help them grow and plant viable seedlings. All very much as was done in the Oregon four or five decades ago.
Success in the field came by both controlling the weeds in the plantations for several years after planting (no surprise to us in Oregon) and very importantly, through rigorous and on-going community-level fire suppression.


This work has paid off, and they have made great progress in learning how to begin to put forests back on the landscape.

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One of the more exciting projects I have been doing over the past couple years, is working with a group of mid-valley farmers to improve fish and wildlife habitat on their farms.
The participants are 3rd, 4th and 5th generation farmers making their livings growing a diverse mix of crops including vegetables, fruits, nuts and grass seed and specialty seed.

Most farm along the Willamette or a major tributary, and have some substantial piece of land which is not being cropped – some legacy native habitat, such as bottomland riparian gallery forest, slough, wetland or oak woodland – which their family has kept over the years. So their farms generally have some highly functional elements of habitat, while also having many opportunities to conserve and enhance others.
All think that farming and wildlife are compatible, are investigating that, and are interested in finding ways to integrate the two more effectively.

These landowners – farmers- have a lot in common with the family forest landowners I work with in the foothills and mountains on each side of the Valley. Both groups are generally trying to manage their property in a sustainable way, for a diverse set of multiple objectives (income and wildlife habitat and a place they live, etc) and want to leave it as a legacy for another generation.
Although the details differ, many approaches to effective management and stewardship apply in both settings. After all, managing a riparian forest involves many of the same concepts, tools and practices as managing a mixed upland forest. Much of we have learned “upslope” about planning, vegetation management (including invasive weeds), the selection, handling and planting of seedlings, can be adapted and applied to the situation on the valley floor, no need to reinvent it, thus saving time, money and effort.
My interest in the project (which includes this blog) is to help landowners and the groups they work with explore ways to make wildlife part of viable, sustainable family farm operations, and maybe even find ways in which improved habitat management can make a positive contribution to farm operations.