Welcome to the Siskiyou Woodlands newsletter

The Siskiyou Woodlands newsletter is brought to you by Forestry and Natural Resources program at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center. Here you’ll find articles and blog posts of interest to the woodlands community, news about upcoming events and classes, links to new publications, and more. Comments and feedback are most welcome. To subscribe, click here.

After the Fires

This has been a devastating, tragic month for the Rogue Valley and the state of Oregon.  I know that members of our local small woodlands community have been or continue to be directly affected by the Almeda, Obenchain, and Slater fires, as have many of our friends, colleagues and neighbors.  There has been loss of life and thousands of homes and structures burned to the ground, including over 2,300 housing units in the Almeda fire alone. And as of this writing, there are several large wildfires around the state that are still burning. For those still threatened by the fires we hope for your safety and the protection of your homes and properties; for those who have lost so much our hearts go out to you.  For firefighters and other first responders, thank you for your dedication and service.  

Last week, the Jackson Josephine Small Woodlands Association and OSU Extension held a webinar on Community and Landowner Wildfire Preparedness with Chris Chambers, Wildfire Division Chief, Ashland Fire and Rescue. Chris helped fight the Almeda fire and told a dramatic and compelling story about the fire, with important insights for home and neighborhood fire protection. A recording of the webinar is available on the Past Events page on this website.

The OSU Extension Service is working with partners on statewide basis to develop webinars and online tools for landowners affected by the fires. This is an outgrowth of the new Forestry & Natural Resources Extension Fire Program. This program will soon deploy regional fire specialists around Oregon, including one based here at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center. More on that soon.

Locally, the Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District has convened several agencies and organization to identify resources, assess damages, and develop plans to assist agricultural and forest producers affected by the fires. Meanwhile, the Rogue Valley Council of Governments is spearheading an effort to restore the Bear Creek Greenway that will no doubt include consideration of future fire potential.

On a personal note, my family’s home in Phoenix survived the fire, but it was a close call, and many of our neighbors were not as lucky. We feel extremely fortunate – and concerned about the many, many folks in our community who lost their homes. I’m taking another look at our home ignition zone and re-thinking things like wood fending and bark dust.

Bees in the Woods

The declining health of bee populations has been in the news lately, and no wonder since about 70% of the world’s 100 most important food crops are bee-pollinated.   Oregon hosts more than 500 bee species, of which perhaps 300 species live in or use forest habitats.  While most Oregon trees are wind-pollinated, many forest understory shrubs and flowers depend on bees and other pollinators to complete their life cycles.  Forests also provide habitat for bees that pollinate agricultural crops.  Until recently the role of forests as bee habitat has mostly been overlooked, but that is starting to change. 

Bee pollinating lupine
Bee and lupine. Photo courtesy Christine Buhl, ODF

In general, forests provide two things for bees: nesting habitat, and floral resources (nectaries).  Most bees nest in bare ground, but they are also found in stumps, old twigs, and even tree cavities, giving new meaning to the term “cavity nester”!  This lovely infographic from the Oregon Bee Project provides some interesting examples of forest nesting habitat. 

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Many of our local shrubs and forb (wildflower) species provide abundant resources – nectar and/or pollen – for bees and a myriad of other pollinators such as butterflies, bats, hummingbirds, flies, and beetles.  This publication provides a good introduction to native pollinator plants in the Klamath-Siskiyou region. 

Currently there’s tremendous interest in the forestry world in the relationships between forest habitats and bees.  But at this stage, surprisingly little is known about this topic.  For example, a recent literature review in the Journal of Forestry by OSU’s Jim Rivers and others found only 14 papers across four countries that were relevant to pollinator use of managed forests. 

One intriguing finding emerging from recent research is that disturbances such as fire and timber harvest may actually increase the abundance and diversity of wild bees.  For example, a study after the Douglas Complex fires in southern Douglas County found 20 times the number bees and 11 times the number of bees species for the most severely burned sites compared to the least severely burned sites.  Another study in NW Oregon found increased bee abundance and diversity following intensive biomass removal on a site after timber harvest.  Recently disturbed sites often have exposed, bare ground suitable for nesting, woody nesting materials and open conditions favorable for growth of understory forage plants, both shrubs and forbs, so it makes sense that these sites would be good for bees.  However, much remains to be learned about the relationships between forest management and bee populations.

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Recently burned forests provide abundant nesting and floral resources for wild bees.

Southern Oregon contains a diverse mix of closed and open conifer-dominated forests, mixed evergreen forests, oak woodlands, chaparral, and other vegetation types, often occurring in a patchy matrix with lots of “edge habitat” (where two or more habitat types meet).  This should make for good bee habitat, but to my knowledge, there’s been little study of local forest-pollinator relationships. 

On the new Collins Demonstration Forest, we’re hoping to sow a diverse pollinator seed mix in several areas as well as monitor local bee populations, to see what’s out there.  If you’re interested in participating or finding out more, let me know.   Meanwhile, join us for the Forest Bees presentation on Feb. 20

Resources:

A good place to start is the Oregon Bee Project’s Foresters page.  Check here for pollinator forage plant lists and habitat guidelines. 

I’d also recommend the OSU PolliNation Podcast interview with Dr. Jim Rivers, an OSU scientist who is engaged in research on bees in forests. 

My pines are infested with bark beetles – now what?

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Driving into the Collins Forest early last winter I glanced up into the canopy and saw a disheartening sight.  A dozen large ponderosa pine trees had “bark shavings” and red foliage from top to bottom or tops that appeared to be dying.  These were the familiar signs and symptoms of a bark beetle infestation.  What to do?  This unfortunate situation is one that many forest landowners are confronted with from time to time.  The basic options are:

  • Do nothing
  • Cut down the trees and dispose of the material by burning or chipping
  • Cut down the trees and remove them from the site

Each of these can be an appropriate response, depending on the situation.  Is there a market for the wood?  Will it pay its way out of the woods?  How much volume is there – enough to interest a logger?  Is there good access?  Is the terrain steep?  Is disposal of the material by burning or chipping feasible?  Are there nearby dwellings or structures at risk from a falling beetle-killed tree?  Are bark beetle larvae or adult beetles still present in the standing trees?  What are the consequences of not removing the infested trees – or removing them?   The answers to these questions will help determine which option is chosen.

In SW Oregon, the western pine beetle (WPB) and the ips beetle are the bark beetles of greatest concern for ponderosa pine.  Mountain pine beetles and red turpentine beetles may also be present.  Sometimes a single tree may host more than one species of bark beetle. 

The western pine beetle infests ponderosa pine greater than 6” DBH, usually trees that are stressed from drought, root disease or other factors and/or are growing on overly dense sites.  The foliage of infested trees turn light green, then yellow, then rusty brown and finally falls off.  A tell-tale sign of WPB infestation is the “bark-shaved” look – caused by woodpeckers hunting for beetle larvae.  The ips beetle attacks the tops of larger trees and smaller, pole-sized trees. 

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Do nothing?  For some, this idea may appear heretical – an invitation for the problem to spread and grow worse.  However, in many cases when the issue is discovered, the trees are already dead and the bark beetles are long gone.  It can be difficult to tell if a tree still harbors bark beetle larvae.  During the summer months, when there can be multiple generations of the WPB, the beetles often leave the tree before the foliage fades in color.  If the tree turns color in winter, the beetles usually are still present. 

Many recently killed trees will contain other beetle larvae – typically, those of wood borers.  These insects are not tree killers but rather are the “clean-up crew” that initiate the process of wood decomposition. 

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Felled beetle-killed ponderosa pine tree.  Note bark shaving and blue stain in sapwood.  The staining is caused by a fungus carried by the beetle.  The fungus plus up the water conducting tissues of the tree, hastening tree death. 

Removal of trees no longer containing bark beetles does not provide a forest health benefit.  Left standing, the trees will provide valuable wildlife habitat.  Removal is warranted if there is a fuels concern or if they would damage something if they fell. 

Cutting down beetle-killed trees is a common practice.  If bark beetles are still present in the trees before they are felled, cutting down the tree won’t by itself prevent beetle emergence.  Knocking off the bark, cutting up the tree and piling and burning it, or chipping it, are all ways of destroying bark beetle “habitat” and preventing beetle spread. 

In our case, about half the trees had bark shavings, indicating WPB attack, and the other half had dead or dying tops, indicative of ips beetle attack.  The trees were all in the 18” to 32” diameter range – nice large trees that we just hated to lose.  However, they were growing along a driveway and a few were located near a large storage shed, so there was a definite hazard to consider.  The trees started to fade in color in the late fall, and close examination of affected trees suggested that beetle larvae were still present inside at least some of the trees.  Removal of the trees could then – in theory – prevent spread to adjacent ponderosa pine trees that we were concerned about. 

But it was late January, only a month or two before beetle emergence, so we would have to act quickly.  A rough tally suggested that the dozen trees totaled about 7,500 board feet – three loads on a self-loading log truck. 

Which local mills wanted ponderosa pine trees?  Not many, apparently.  In fact, it appeared that basically no one was interested in ponderosa pine at that time.  Finally, we secured a local logger who was skilled, conscientious and, fortunately, had a purchase order for ponderosa pine that was about to expire.  The price was not great, however.

An additional complicating factor in this “sanitation-salvage” operation was the risk posed by generating fresh ponderosa pine slash.  The ips bark beetle is known to infest fresh pine slash, generally material in the 3” – 10” diameter range that is generated from January through July.  The beetle then emerges from the slash and may attack standing green trees.  The risk is greatest in drought years. 

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Ips beetles attack the tops of large trees and pole-sized trees.  Fresh pine slash, as in the foreground, is breeding material.  The problem is worse in drought years.  Photo: Donald Owen, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Bugwood.org

We would remove the boles of the trees down to a 6” small end diameter and take the logs and any resident beetles to the mill.  But what about all of the leftover material, the tree tops and large limbs that are 3” in diameter and larger?  This turns out to be quite a volume of potential ips habitat.  We dealt with this by including removal off-site of the leftover 3” – 10” material in the logging contract.   Since this had no value, it was an additional cost.

In the end, the operation was completed by early March.  We were very lucky to find someone who could do the work and had a market for the pine logs, and who was willing to do all the extra cleanup.  We didn’t make any money – in fact, there was a relatively small net cost.  But, we were able to salvage the logs, reduce the potential falling hazard, and reduce the risk of beetle spread to nearby trees.  The fact that the trees were close together and access was easy made a big difference.  Had the affected trees been on a remote, steep hillside, our approach would likely have been different. 

A final note: Your best bet to reduce the threat of bark beetles is to maintain healthy, vigorous trees.  That is usually accomplished by thinning to reduce stand densities.  Sanitation/salvage of beetle-infested trees can play a role in specific situations, but is not a viable long term strategy for improving forest health. 

Some great resources from the Oregon Department of Forestry:

Video-Bark Beetles Intro Part 1

Video-Bark Beetles in Pine

Fact sheet-Western pine beetle

Fact sheet-Ips beetle

Oregon Department of Forestry Cost Share and Incentive Programs (Southwest Oregon)

Oregon Department of Forestry Cost Share & Incentive Programs (Southwest Oregon)

By Nick Haile, Oregon Department of Forestry

Stand improvement and other forestry work is expensive. Participation in cost-share programs can reduce costs and provide technical assistance to landowners. Technical forestry knowledge and technical assistance for forest landowners in Jackson and Josephine County is available through Oregon Department of Forestry free of charge.

  • Forest Management Plan Development
  • Wildfire Preparedness & Defensible Space
  • Forest Fragmentation
  • Wildlife Habitat Improvement
  • Timber Harvesting
  • Invasive Plants & Insect Controls
  • Forest Road Development
  • Surface Water/Erosion Issues
  • Planting & Reforestation
  • Small Woodlands Contacts, etc.

Stewardship Forest Management Plan

Funds may be available through the Stewardship Plan Program for up to 75% of the cost of a consultant-written Stewardship Plan. This plan is tailored specifically to a landowner’s property to provide a long term big picture plan to achieve their goals and objectives. The typical out-of-pocket cost to the owner is $250-$500 depending on acreage. Management plans are extremely useful and are required for some other cost share programs. Landowners interested in cost share assistance for stewardship plans should contact ODF. For more information, contact Stewardship Forester Nick Haile 541 664 3328 (Southwest Oregon District-ODF).

ODF Bark Beetle Mitigation

For landowners interested in reducing susceptibility to bark beetle attacks there is 50% cost share for Bark Beetle Mitigation available. Funds for bark beetle mitigation are limited and should focus on prevention of bark beetles or mitigation of an ongoing outbreak. The activities include thinning of overstocked conifer stands and slash treatment. Areas adjacent to current bark beetle outbreaks or those in imminent threat will receive highest priority. Project specifications and technical assistance is available through the local ODF office. Contact Stewardship Forester Nick Haile 541 664 3328 (Southwest Oregon District-ODF).

FSA Emergency Forest Restoration Program

The Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP) is available and can cover the costs of reseeding, site prep, reforestation, and slash treatment on burned or drought effected acres. For more information, contact the Farm Service Agency at 541 776 4276. SWO-ODF Cost Share & Incentive Programs

FSA Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program

For those interested in riparian management, restoration, streamside plantings and filter strips, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) can help eligible properties. The program covers 75% of the cost of the planting as well as a rental payment for the acres enrolled in the program. For more information, contact the Farm Service Agency at 541 776 4276.

NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) administers a variety of conservation programs for forestland owners. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) offers cost share funding for a variety of practices to maintain healthy forest and upland watershed that could include site preparation, tree/shrub planting, thinning, pruning, slash treatment, fuel breaks, post-fire rehabilitation, and reforestation. A management plan is required to participate in this program, but can be cost-shared through EQIP as well. For more information, call the NRCS at 541 423 6175

Fuel Reduction & FIREWISE

Landowners seeking financial assistance for fuels reduction and creating defensible space around their homesites may be eligible for a rebate through the Oregon Department of Forestry or their local rural fire district. Generally, funds are available for the 1-acre homesite; in some cases, funds may be provided for non-commercial thinning and slash reduction beyond the 1-acre homesite. Those interested should contact the Department of Forestry prior to beginning work to arrange for a site visit. Availability of funds depends on the status of grants and may vary from area to area. Contact your local ODF office, Jackson County call 541 664 3328; Josephine County call 541 474 3152)

ODF has assistance through Title III funding for neighborhoods who are Firewise or are working to become Firewise. The Firewise Communities USA recognition program is designed to get landowners involved in modifying the home ignition zone to prevent loss of property during wildfires. The funding provides a coordinator to assist landowners with assessments and provide recommendations. There is also funding for a fuels reduction crew to perform vegetation management within the home ignition zone (up to 200 ft. from home site) for the purpose of fire hazard reduction. For information contact Contact your local ODF office, Jackson County call 541 664 3328; Josephine County call 541 474 3152)