By Amy Grotta, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension – Columbia, Washington & Yamhill Counties

Lately on this blog we’ve been discussing ways to grow a diverse forest.  Many small woodland owners are interested in maintaining diversity on their land, yet strive to do it in a way that also brings in income from timber or other means. For these reasons, I was intrigued by the work of Julian Geisel, who recently wrapped up his master’s degree in the College of Forestry at OSU. His research topic, “Management Strategies for Small, Income Generating and Structurally Diverse Forests” is particularly relevant to small woodland owners. Julian’s research focused on private woodlands in western Oregon, representative of the vast majority of the owners that we work with in Extension. I interviewed Julian about his work. Continue reading

By Brad Withrow-Robinson, Forestry & Natural Resources Extension Agent, Benton, Linn and Polk Counties

 

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photo: VMRC

Last month I spent a morning at OSU attending the annual science meeting of the Vegetation Management Research Cooperative (VMRC). It was well worth the time.

The VMRC’s mission includes conducting applied reforestation research of young plantations from seedling establishment through crown closure and, to promote reforestation success. The VMRC’s research has an emphasis on practical, operational vegetation control, and their research is broadly relevant and readily applied to the needs of family forest landowners, so I do try to keep up on their work.
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By Amy Grotta, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension – Columbia, Washington & Yamhill Counties

I don’t need to tell you it’s hot out there today. (Oops! I just did. Sorry.) temp 7.31.15

Between the extreme heat and the very real fire danger, it’s not a good afternoon to be working in the woods.  Rarely do I say I’d rather be in the office than in the field, but today is one of those days that I’m appreciating the air conditioning.

Since everyone is talking about the weather anyhow, it seems appropriate to share some reading material that relates to it, which you can enjoy in the comfort of whatever cool spot you’ve found today.  Oregon Forests and Climate Change is the subject of a little writing project which a number of my Extension colleagues have taken on as a group. Continue reading

A Swiss Needle Cast affected tree
A Swiss Needle Cast affected tree

By Brad Withrow-Robinson, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension, Benton, Linn & Polk Counties

 

The short answer, unfortunately is ”yes”, but the news was clearly mixed when researches and land managers gathered for the Annual Meeting of the Swiss Needle Cast Coop (SNCC) in Corvallis on December 4. They met to review progress in learning more about this native disease, how it affects trees and forests, and how to manage forests in the affected areas.

The meeting included updates on this year’s aerial survey, progress in establishing the next generation of research plots across western Oregon, the effects of thinning and other management activities on foliage retention and growth, and improvements in remote sensing and growth modeling abilities. Some of the things I picked up this year included:

  • The disease is intensifying but not expanding greatly. That is to say, we are certainly seeing more severe disease symptoms in places, but mostly within areas where it has been a problem before, and the footprint of highly affected area does not seem to be growing very dramatically. The disease was detected on over 586,000 acres in 2014, which is up significantly from 18 years earlier (131,000 acres in 1996). The main area of impact remains near the coast, generally within 25 miles, except for an active area around Mary’s Peak.
  • Thinning pre-commercially does seem to help improve needle retention, but only in the healthiest trees and in the lower part of the live crown.
  • Unlike other stressors, such as drought, it seems that SNC-weakened trees are not highly attractive to Douglas-fir beetles.

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By Amy Grotta, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension – Columbia, Washington & Yamhill Counties

A sculpture of DNA among the trees. Photo credit: Aras Bilgen, Flickr Creative Commons
A sculpture of DNA among the trees. Photo credit: Aras Bilgen, Flickr Creative Commons

This week, the closest contest of last November’s election – the GMO labeling initiative – was finally put to rest after a recount.  The measure ultimately failed by a tiny margin, but it did a lot to put GMO’s into the public spotlight. Of course, the ballot measure had to do with food labeling, not trees, but it got me thinking that it might be worth looking at how GMOs relate to forestry.

What is a GMO?

In case you were not following along during election season, let’s start with a definition. A GMO is an organism whose genes have been directly altered by humans, in a laboratory, through genetic engineering within individual cells. GMO methods can be used to modify an organism’s own DNA or to insert DNA from another organism. The modified cells then are regenerated into whole organisms. Reasons for doing this might be to improve crop productivity, disease resistance, the nutritional yield of food plants, or resistance to herbicides to facilitate weed control. From the technology itself to the ways that GMO might be used in society, it quickly becomes obvious why GMOs can be very controversial.

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Mist nets are set up in the pre-dawn light where birds move around during normal feeding activities
Mist nets are set up in the pre-dawn light where birds move around during normal feeding activities

 

By Brad Withrow-Robinson, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension, Benton, Linn & Polk Counties

I often try to write stories that make a connection between the birds you find in a place and the habitat conditions there. Because habitat is something we can create or alter by our forest practices, this illustrates an opportunity for interested landowners to manage their properties to improve woodland habitat conditions for particular birds. While we focus on birds, it is an illustration that applies to all woodland fauna. Animals tend to be quite responsive to habitat conditions.

Birds are fun, abundant and easy to observe by watching and listening, which makes them a good group of animals for landowners to key in on. In fact, lots of what we know about birds, and how they use different places (migratory arrivals and departure, where the feed and nest) has been gained through careful observation.

But capturing and banding birds is another important tool available to researchers that lets them add another layer of information. By capturing birds, we can learn about their general condition (weight, fat reserves) gender and age distribution, that gives insight on things such as general health or their readiness for breeding or migration. And when lucky enough to recapture a banded bird, we learn valuable details about how they have moved and fared in the time between captures. Continue reading

Feel like spring to you? It did to me earlier this week on a sunny walk in the woods. I spotted new leaves on many of our native shrubs, including Indian plum, huckleberry, elderberry, red flowering currant and salmonberry. These caught my attention particularly because I’ve just started dipping a toe in a new project – tracking phenology of a couple of our forest plant species through the National Phenology Network’s Nature’s Notebook. Continue reading

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.

 

Brad Withrow-Robinson

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.

Brad Withrow-Robinson

One of the guiding principles of the Extension Service is to be a source of research-based information. Research-based? Meaning that the information we provide is not supposed to be based on rumor or anecdotes, but is supported by science.

University researchers are obviously an important source of our research-based information. Nonetheless I believe that “research” and “science” come in many forms and on many scales. Many woodland owners like to experiment on their own forests to come up with management techniques that work for them.

I’ve found this especially to be the case when it comes to preventing deer and elk damage to western redcedar seedlings: from painting seedlings blue to scare tactics, I think I may have heard it all. Are these experiments “research”? Maybe – it depends on how they are set up and measured.

Western redcedar and Sitka spruce in the same planting hole. Photo by Glenn Ahrens

Recently a forest owner wrote to ask about one such browse deterrent method whereby a cedar and a spruce seedling are planted together (see photo). (The hypothesis: the animals are deterred by the sharp spruce needles; the spruce thereby protects the cedar; eventually, when the cedar has grown above browsing height, the spruce is carefully cut away.) The individual wanted some specific guidance on how to do this, and wanted to see a demonstration site. Although we know that people have tried this method, to our knowledge none of these plantings were carried out in a scientifically valid way. We can provide a hypothesis on how things might turn out, but to date we do not have research-based information to provide. Instead, we can only rely on anecdotal evidence.

I’m a strong advocate for woodland owners contributing to our collective knowledge of woodland management by trying out different techniques on their own properties. However, there are several important design factors to keep in mind if you want to call your experiments “research”:

  • Have a control. Suppose you planted 100 cedar/spruce in the same hole, but did not plant any cedar without spruce. If the cedar are not browsed, it is not possible to know whether the spruce had any effect. It might just be that the deer were not hungry that year. In a controlled experiment, you leave a portion of the area untreated, or without the variable whose effect you are trying to test.
  • Have a large enough sample size. Suppose you only plant five spruce/cedar combinations, and of them, two cedars are browsed and three are unbrowsed. It is hard to draw a conclusion from five seedlings. Was the treatment 60% effective, or did the two browsed trees happen to be unluckily planted right along a deer trail? If you had planted 50 spruce/cedar combos, and only two were browsed, then it is easier to say that the technique is effective.
  • Replicate. What works on a north slope in Columbia County may not be effective on a south slope in the Willamette Valley; what works in a dry year may not work in a wet year. By repeating the entire experiment in more than one year or on more than one site, you can draw conclusions that have more power. This is probably the hardest one for small woodland owners to pull off individually. However, collectively there are a lot of experimenters out there. What if we could compile the results from everyone’s scientifically valid experiments? Then we might have some real research-based information (and some real value to all you frustrated cedar growers).