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

In the past, I’ve written about various smartphone “apps” of interest to woodland owners (if you missed them, you can read these past articles here).  Here is another, released last week just in time for the peak of our spring wildflowers.

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The Oregon Wildflowers app helps the user to identify and learn about nearly 1,000 wildflower species found in our state. There are two main ways to use the app. If you think you know the plant’s common name, you can find it in an alphabetical listing and then view photos and a description. Or, to identify an unknown plant, you can narrow it down by choosing the geographic region, habitat type, flower color, leaf traits, and other characteristics to arrive at a few options. Continue reading

Last week, we kicked off our Master Woodland Manager training in northwest Oregon. Over the next six months the class will explore many aspects of small woodlands management and the trainees will come away with a better understanding of their own lands as well as a foundation from which to assist others.

We started out with a field tour where we investigated the environmental factors that influence forest growth on a given site. In particular, we wanted to see how variations in climate, topography and soil shape species composition, forest productivity, and management opportunities.

We went to five different sites, at various elevations and topographic positions from the uplands to the Valley floor. Despite the sites all being within a four-mile radius, we saw striking differences in the vegetation. The uppermost site supported a fast-growing stand of Douglas-fir and red alder. Further along, we came upon a rocky, south-facing site dominated by madrone and some not-as-fast-growing Douglas-fir; but this was just a few hundred yards from another site where the madrone were gone. Calculating the site index revealed that the Douglas-fir here were growing faster.

As we traveled down the watershed, the steep slopes along an upland creek supported alder and western redcedar. But on the flats further down the watershed, at our last stop on the Valley floor, the dominant species were Oregon white oak, Oregon ash, and valley ponderosa pine; the Douglas-fir at this last stop looked like they had caught a bad case of the crud.

Prior to the field tour, we spent some time learning how to find information about soils. The Web Soil Survey is a really handy tool for identifying soil types and learning about their properties. Using the Web Soil Survey, we mapped out our field sites and found some possible clues to our site differences. According to our soils map, the madrone were growing on a gravelly Saum soil, whereas the taller firs down the road were on the more productive Jory soil.

soil map

A recently formed gully at the latter site gave us the opportunity to see the soil profile which revealed a deep silty clay loam.

Jory soil profile

Jory phone screenRecently I’ve discovered SoilWeb, which has become one of my favorite natural resources-related mobile apps, available for both the iPhone and Android. Using your phone’s GPS capability, SoilWeb accesses the soil data from the Web Soil Survey for the soil right underneath your feet. That is, assuming A) that you are in a place where you can get a phone signal and B) that the soil maps accurately reflect the soil on your site. As we learned on our field trip, soil types as mapped often contain unmapped pockets of other soils.  The SoilWeb app doesn’t give you everything you can find on Web Soil Survey, but you can quickly ascertain the soil texture as well as the expected depth, drainage, and other important features.

The takeaway from our tour was that what’s growing on your forest can be a clue to your site’s underlying environmental influences, and vice-versa. The growing number of applications such as SoilWeb makes it easier to be a site “sleuth”, finding those clues and piecing together the puzzle.

Amy Grotta

Indian plum flowering

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.

Phenology? It is the timing of seasonal events in the life of a plant or animal. For plants, important phenological events include bud break, flowering, fruiting, or leaf drop. For animals, they are things like migration or egg hatch. These events have a predictable annual sequence that is tied to weather and climate patterns and ensures the survival of the species. Plants have adapted to their local environments such that they do not leaf out if they are likely to be damaged by frost; nectar-feeding insects’ life cycles are tied to the plants that they feed on.

Why phenology? Other than appreciating those first signs of spring, there are many practical ways that phenology ties into forest function and forest management. Here are a few examples that come to mind for me. Do you use herbicides around newly planted trees to control brush? Then you may monitor when your seedlings break and set buds so as not to chemically damage them. Do you rely on non-chemical methods of weed control such as mowing? Then you pay attention to when your target plants flower and set seed so that you can time your actions accordingly for best results. And, the timing of these events varies across the range of a particular plant species. That is why we have seed zones to ensure that when it comes to reforestation we “plant local”.

In the face of climate change, scientists are paying particular attention to phenology and interactions among species. For example, if due to an earlier spring, a nectar-feeding bird species begins to migrate earlier, but the phenology of a plant species in its summer range does not change, then the bird may not have a food source and the plant may not get pollinated.

Like tracking precipitation through CoCoRaHS, which I wrote about a few months back, tracking phenology is easy to do in your own woodland or even your own backyard. You choose a species from the many that are in the Nature’s Notebook database. You create an online account. Then you start observing your chosen species. This is another example of citizen science, where collectively the power of thousands of individuals gathering data can inform scientists and contribute to their research.

Oh yes…to the app. Nature’s Notebook has an App for Android and iPhone so that you can submit your observations right on your smartphone. How convenient! No need to remember to log into your computer when you get home. Just bring your phone out with you to the woods. I am using the app on my iPhone. It’s pretty basic, but it gets the job done.

Extension programs across the country are starting to adopt Nature’s Notebook with their volunteers. I’ve given some thought to this; hence my toe-dipping experiment. If you are a phenology tracker or become inspired to be one through this post, I’d love to hear from you. Comment on the blog, or send me an email.

Amy Grotta

I’m starting a new series of posts for those of you, like me, that (for better or worse) are smartphone and tablet users. More often than not these days, there are a few participants in my Extension workshops taking notes on their iPads*. And smartphones…well, with nearly half of all U.S. adults owning a smartphone, they are a fact of life.

There’s an app for just about everything, including forestry and natural resources. I thought I’d share some of the apps that I’ve found useful, starting with this post. A caveat – I have an iPhone 4 (sorry Android users) so can’t download some recent app versions only compatible with Androids or iPhone 5, or other devices.

With much of western Oregon under a flood watch today, let’s look at a couple of apps that allow you to monitor your local river levels. The one that I like is FloodWatch. It pulls in real-time data from USGS stream gages, including stream height, rainfall totals, and allows the user to compare to flood stages.

Another similar app is River Data. This one presents the actual charts from the USGS, and though it is not as user friendly in my opinion, there is lots more data. With this app you can also access water quality data like temperature, turbidity from some gages.

It’s interesting to compare the trends over the past 7 days from some of our local watersheds of varying sizes. What can these hydrographs tell you about the differences in these river systems? (Click on the image to enlarge it.) If unfamiliar with hydrographs, time is charted on the horizontal axis and the water data (in this case, river height) is on the vertical.

Do you have a favorite natural resources related app? Send me your suggestions for future posts…or better yet, send me your own review.

*Let’s hope they were taking notes, and not playing Angry Birds…