rain gauge
The Extension Office’s rain gauge (on a dry day)

By Paul Wilson, Columbia County Master Woodland Manager

My cats get me up every morning by 7:30.  They get fed.   I check the rain gauge.

Then I record the amount and other observations on a website.  After more than a year, I have a habit.   It’s simple, useful, and fun.

We’re five years into reforesting a clearcut.   The early spring after our first planting was unusually dry, but the effects varied a lot even on our small forest.  Clatskanie averages almost five feet of rain a year. Even so, we lost a lot of site-adapted seedlings because they dried out – in February and March.   Soil differences played a role.  But where we were able to irrigate a bit the trees thrived.

Last fall we saw a blurb in the paper about the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow (CoCoRaHS) network.  When we checked out the CoCoRaHS website there was only one regularly reporting volunteer in Columbia County.  There are official weather stations around – the City of Clatskanie, the Kelso airport, and others, but none seemed to describe what happens right here.    Continue reading

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…

Lately I’ve been immersed in the subject of forest management planning. From developing a website that helps landowners navigate the process of creating a forest management plan; to collaborating on a revised set of management planning guidelines for Oregon; to teaching Mentored Management Planning workshops; this has been a major theme of my work over the past year.

So I was interested to come across a recent article about management planning in the Oregonian. The article described the management plan that is in place for the city of Forest Grove’s 4,200 acre forested watershed, and the positive impacts that having the plan has had on the land. Though this forest is much bigger than those that most small woodland owners manage, the article demonstrated many of the same principles of forest management planning that I use in my courses.

Management planning starts with identifying goals for the site. The number one goal in the case of Forest Grove’s watershed is, not surprisingly, protecting drinking water quality. Biodiversity and sustainable timber management are secondary goals. These goals drive all of the actions called for in the plan – such as road rehabilitation, erosion control, and carefully planned timber harvests.

Forest management planning has evolved over time. In the 1970′s and ’80′s, most forest management plans were concise timber management plans – laying out succinct timelines for planting, weed control, thinning and clearcut harvest to optimize wood production.  Nowadays we take a much more holistic approach. Today’s plans consider all the different resources on a given piece of land – timber, of course; but also recreational resources, streams, fish and wildlife, roads, aesthetics, soils, and much more. We recognize that most landowners value many other aspects of their property as least as much as the timber resource. Well-constructed plans reflect the suite of values of the landowner and place emphasis on them appropriately.

The other important management planning principle that I took note of in the article was the fact that the plan is being updated, ten years after it was originally written. It is a good idea to revisit one’s plan after a time, both to check that the goals are still relevant and to recognize the progress that has been made towards achieving them.

Last week, I traveled to western North Carolina for a natural resources Extension conference. While there, I took a field trip to the Coweeta Hydrological Laboratory – a 5,400 acre experimental forest and the oldest continually running LTER (Long Term Ecological Research) site in the country. Coweeta is famous as the site of groundbreaking studies of how forest management and land use changes affects things like water supply and quality. It was a fascinating tour and if you have an interest in forest science, read on over the next few days as I share some of what I learned and reflect on how it relates back home in Oregon.

Many of the studies at Coweeta are set up as paired watershed studies. Two watersheds of similar size and topography are selected. One is left as a control, and the “treatment” is applied to the other.

What is striking about paired watershed studies is the sheer size of the experiments. Here is a photo from a watershed at Coweeta that has been studied since the 1940’s. Back then, scientists wanted to know whether converting a mixed hardwood forest to a pine plantation would impact the water supply. So, they clearcut the treatment watershed, controlled the regrowing vegetation for a decade, and then planted it back to eastern white pine.

For the first ten years, there was more water in the stream exiting the cut watershed than in the control watershed. But, as soon as the pine was planted, water levels in the stream began to return to normal, and by the time the pines were ten years old, they were using as much water as the control forest. Ever since then, there has been significantly less water in the stream exiting the pine watershed than the hardwood watershed. Why? At the risk of oversimplification, it boils down to a few reasons: 1) pines grow (and thus use water) all through the mild Appalachian winter while the hardwoods lose their leaves and shut down; 2) pines have more foliage surface area than hardwoods, so there’s more capacity for photosynthesis (and, when trees photosynthesize they use water); and 3) pines are less efficient water users than the native hardwood species – sort of like a regular shower head compared to a low-flow one – they both get the job done, but one uses a lot more water. These were an important finding because most of the region’s drinking water originates from these mountain streams.

We have well-known paired watershed studies in Oregon, too. Some are conducted at our “local” LTER, the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest. Other paired watershed studies in the Coast Range at Alsea, and Hinkle Creek, and Trask have informed the development of today’s Forest Practices Act and other best forest management practices. 

To learn more about the research in paired watersheds in Oregon, you can watch a videostream of a recent lecture at OSU. Also this week, as part of the Starker Lecture Series in the OSU College of Forestry, there was a field tour of the Alsea watershed studies. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the tour. Did you go? If so, what did you learn?

Hayes family

Washington County Small Woodlands Association, Build Local Alliance, and OSU Extension are teaming up for a fun and educational forest tour on Saturday, June 23rd in Timber. Spend a day in the coast range at Hyla Woods, owned and managed Peter and Pam Hayes, learning about their family’s approach to caring for their forests, maintaining a healthy ecosystem, and producing high quality wood products for local markets.

Some of the day’s planned highlights:

  • interactive walking tour featuring forest management, wood marketing and connecting to the consumer, monitoring forest and ecosystem changes, and more;
  • Barbecue lunch;
  • “Goods From the Woods” display of products that originate from family owned forests;
  • “Iron Builder” competition!

Thanks to support from the abovementioned sponsors and the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, there’s no charge for this event (although a cash donation to cover the food is suggested).  However, you must RSVP for the cooks’ and volunteers’ sake. Since parking will be tight, you can catch a bus shuttle to the event from Forest Grove with the OSWA Annual Meeting contingent. Details on that when you RSVP (did I mention you must RSVP?).

I have been working with the Hayes family, Washington County Small Woodlands Association leaders, and folks from the Build Local Alliance to plan this event and I am really excited about it. I think it is going to be an outstanding day filled with learning for forest owners, users of wood, or those who are simply interested in learning about their local forests. Download a flyer here.

From the Oregon Department of Forestry:

An updated 24-page guide to help private forestland owners to improve fish habitat in their streams is now available in electronic form on the ODF web site.

The 2012 edition of the “Private Forest Landowners and the Oregon Plan” guide lists several voluntary measures that forest landowners can take, beyond the basic requirements in the Oregon Forest Practices Act, to accelerate improvements in stream health and promote conditions that can help potentially threatened and endangered fish species thrive.

Four categories of recommendations are offered: improvements within a stream, improvements on stream banks, upland improvements to ensure healthy watersheds, and improving forest road or stream crossings.

During the first decade of the Oregon Plan, Oregon’s private forest landowners have made $ 84 million in voluntary improvements to build better habitats for threatened and endangered fish species. Additional information about the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds is available here.

As a follow up to an article I included in last winter’s newsletter, here’s a story from OSU’s Terra magazine about some research on the effectiveness of beaver relocation projects. In theory, relocating beavers from areas where they are a nuisance to areas where they could contribute to habitat restoration could benefit all involved (including, presumably, the beavers themselves). Do relocated beavers stay put? Do they actually help create fish habitat in their new homes? Read the blog post, or listen to a short podcast.

If you are looking to get outdoors, meet fellow woodland owners, and learn something new, then Saturday, July 23 is the day for you. That day there’s not one, not two, but THREE awesome woodland events to choose from. The hard part may be deciding which one to attend! Here is the rundown:

  • In Vernonia, there’s the Columbia County Small Woodlands Association/OSU Extension Service Summer Woodland Tour & Lunch at the Keasey Tree Farm. Highlights include walking tour and discussion of streamside & upland management, a small scale equipment demo, historic logging exhibit, and a BBQ lunch. Tour begins at 9:00 am. To RSVP, call Bill or Lydia at (503) 556-2014.
  • In Forest Grove, there’s the Washington County Small Woodlands Association summer tour at the Howell Tree Farm, 9 am – 3 pm.  Activities include portable sawmill, firewood processing & pruning demonstrations, stream restoration, walking tour, and a free BBQ lunch courtesy of the Tualatin Soil & Water Conservation District, OSWA and the Oregon Forest Resources Institute. 51075 NW Cox Rd, Forest Grove. For details, contact WCSWA.
  • Further south, in Lafayette is an event from 2-6 pm sponsored by the Build Local Alliance at the Trappist Abbey. Tour topics will include silviculture, invasive species, FSC wood products and markets, and working forest conservation easements. RSVP to info@buildlocalalliance.org.

It’s nothing new for this time of year, but we sure have seen our share of precipitation lately. While we’ve likely seen the last of the snow (finally), more wet weather is in store. Good for planting trees, but maybe causing problems on your roads. Out in the field over the last several weeks, I’ve seen plenty of issues with roads. Here are some examples.

Example #1: A landowner has a steep, winding access road that leads from her house down to her pasture. Adjacent to the road, a culvert underneath a county road feeds into a small field. But heavy rain washed sediment and gravel off the county road and it collected in front of the culvert, diverting water from the field onto the landowners’ access road. Because the road had not been designed with water diversion features, severe erosion ensued. Lesson: Get the water off your road as soon as possible. Use ditches, waterbars, and cross drains to do so.

Example #2: The sidecast fill failed on an industrial haul road high up along a steep slope, sending a landslide that reached almost down to the fish-bearing stream that the landowner had been working hard to restore. In this case, the road was an old one that would have been designed differently under today’s standards, and if it were not for the need to access a harvestable unit in the near future, the landowner would have closed this road a while back.  Lesson: Old roads are often the worst. If you have an old road that is no longer needed, consider closing and restoring it.

Example #3: Busy beavers have created a pond directly upstream of a culvert on a landowner’s property. A timber company has a road easement to access their land in back of this property, and they dynamited the beaver dam in the past to protect the culvert and the road. But the beavers came back, and the pond is even bigger than before. Now the landowners are concerned that a big rain could cause the culvert to plug and the road to fail. Lesson: No easy solution here. Nature’s engineers are crafty. Re-engineering the stream crossing may be the long-term (but expensive) solution.

If any of these situations sound familiar, or if you have other road issues, check with the friendly folks at the NRCS and Soil and Water Conservation District office. They might have some technical and financial assistance to help you out and protect our watershed health at the same time.