I recently was at a conference on “Wildlife in Managed Forests” sponsored by the Oregon Society of American Foresters and the Oregon chapter of The Wildlife Society. Speakers discussed current research on wildlife damage and wildlife habitat enhancement projects across western Oregon and Washington. There was far too much interesting stuff for this short article, so in this post I will focus on one recurring theme of the meeting. It’s one of the easiest and most effective ways to maintain a wildlife-friendly forest: retaining dead wood as snags (standing dead trees) or downed wood (on the ground). I’ll return to some other topics later.

Evidence of pileated woodpecker foraging on a snag

Nearly 100 species of animals in Oregon (mostly birds) use snags. First, birds such as woodpeckers forage on insects living in these trees and then excavate cavities in them for nesting. Later, these cavities are used by other bird and mammals for nesting and shelter. Raptors such as hawks may also use snags as perches, from which they can prey on voles or other mammals that might damage seedlings.

With snags, the rule of thumb is “bigger is better” – smaller diameter snags will only be used by smaller animals and do not last as long. So if scattered trees die on your property, consider leaving them for wildlife, keeping safety in mind. Snags can also be created artificially during harvest. Mechanical harvesters can top trees up to 20 feet or so, and so can create a snag out of a tree with a defect down low but a merchantable top. The second best option, if you cannot safely cut the tree up high, is to fell the tree and leave the defective portion in the woods where wildlife will use it. Now it has become “downed wood.”

Just a few days after the workshop, I was out visiting with a landowner near Rainier. A small harvest had just been completed, and the logger had left a big, defective log alongside the unit (shown in photo below). The owner wondered, could it have been sold as a pulp log? Should she see if someone wanted it for firewood? I suggested that the log was already providing value, and probably more than what might have ended up in her wallet from these potential uses. Downed wood is used for cover, travel corridors, breeding spaces, and are especially important for amphibians such as newts.

The naturally regenerated alder in the background had come in after a harvest that had left little to no wood on the ground. The foreground will soon be planted back to conifers, which will take decades to reach a size that will provide a new source of snags or downed wood. By carrying over some downed wood like the log in the photo from one forest generation to the next, you can ensure some continuity of these wildlife-friendly habitat elements. Consider not disturbing down logs that are already in your forest – they are playing an important role, and besides, your equipment may take a beating if you try to move them or run them over!

Have you created or left snags or downed wood on your property? Do you have evidence of wildlife using these structures? I would like to create a photo gallery. Send me a photo of dead wood in your forest with a description of how it came to be or who you think is using it. If I get enough responses, I’ll share them all in a future article.

For more information on managing for wildlife, check out “Wildlife in Managed Forests: Oregon Forests as Habitat” published by the Oregon Forest Resources Institute. You can find it and many other publications about forest wildlife at KnowYourForest.org.

Amy Grotta

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

The holidays are winding down; gifts given and received, time spent with friends and family; Christmas trees soon will be un-decorated (and some will be repurposed for the fish).

Our rain gauge, officially known as OR-CB-16

This year I bought our Extension office a holiday gift: a CoCoRaHS rain gauge. CoCoRaHS stands for Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network. It is a national network of citizens who collect and report precipitation data using a standardized system. Having data collection points dispersed all across a region helps scientists understand localized weather patterns. In Oregon, the CoCoRaHS project is supported by the Oregon Climate Service, which is housed at OSU.

We set up our rain gauge a few weeks ago in a clearing outside our office. We put the data recording form on the fridge in kitchen. The first willing person goes out and checks the gauge in the morning. And now our data shows up on the CoCoRaHS map!

Based on our few weeks’ experience, participating in CoCoRaHS has been fun, easy, and educational. If you want to get in on it, the CoCoRaHS website has all the information you need to get started. We also plan to do some local workshops next year for Master Gardeners and woodland owners to help populate the map with more data points. Stay tuned for the dates and details.

As thoughts turn to the New Year, I’m pleased to announce that we will have a new contributor to this blog in 2013. Brad Withrow-Robinson, Forestry & Natural Resources Extension Agent for Linn, Benton and Polk Counties will be sharing the writing with me and sharing his insights on woodland management with all of you. You can share, too. Pass TreeTopics along to a friend, and pass your article suggestions on to us.

With warm wishes for a happy 2013,

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.

Continue reading

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.

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).

Here are a couple of upcoming events for small acreage owners, or for those who have multiple activities (farm, livestock, forest) on their land. Click on the program headers for more information.

Small Farms School – Sept. 8th – at Clackamas Community College. An all-day event for beginning farmers and small acreage landowners. Field and classroom workshops will address small farm topics such as crop and livestock production, direct marketing, small-scale equipment, and soil and water conservation.

Rural Living Field Day – Oct. 13 – Echo Glen Farms, North Plains. A fun event for rural landowners with educational topics including wildlife and pollinator habitat, invasive weeds, small scale agriculture, woodland management, livestock and pasture management, and more. Sponsored by West Multnomah, Tualatin and Columbia Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

And also, a bit further afield but sounds like a fun and interesting program…

Family Forest Fair and BBQ – Sept. 15th – near Brownsville. The Oregon Woodland Cooperative invites you to celebrate the Co-op’s recent accomplishments and learn about their latest projects to help small woodland owners diversify their income. Free! Hands-on demonstrations including bundled firewood, specialty milling, medicinals, truffles, figured wood, walking tours and more.

Submitted by Glenn Ahrens, OSU Extension Forester, Clackamas, Marion & Hood River Counties

Alder flea beetles are particularly active this summer as they go about their business of skeletonizing leaves on red alder trees. I have seen this come and go over the years, and generally flea beetles are not a serious threat. Flea beetle flare-ups in the forest usually run their course after 2-3 years, after which their population crashes – similar to western tent caterpillar infestations. Healthy alder trees with good vigor are usually not seriously affected. Stressed alder trees – particularly those in dense thickets – may die after 2-3 consecutive years of flea beetle infestation. If you like your red alder trees and want to promote “good vigor” the best way is to 1) avoid growing alder on poor alder sites and 2) keep trees well-spaced to ensure large healthy crowns.

That is the question we asked concert goers in downtown Portland last week. The nonprofit organization Ecotrust hosted the music and invited groups to attend with educational booths related to the theme “Treasuring Forests.” At the OSU Extension table, we talked to members of the crowd about the Hopkins Demonstration Forest, the Women Owning Woodlands Network, and the important role that the 70,000 Oregon family forest owners play in our state.

As a conversation starter, we put up a flipchart and invited people to give us their definition of sustainable forestry. A few brave souls took on the challenge.

(Click on the photo to enlarge)

This led to some interesting interactions.

My own view is that sustainable forestry is a much larger and more nuanced concept than anything captured on the flipchart. But I think it’s always instructive to hear what non-forest owners perceive and understand about forestry.

So, what does sustainable forestry mean to you? And, more importantly, two follow up questions: Are you able to implement your vision of sustainable forestry on your land? If not, what is standing in the way?

I invite you to write your thoughts on the virtual flipchart, a.k.a. the comments section of this post.

The Summer 2012 edition of Tall Timber Topics is in the mail, but you can read it here first. In this issue of our quarterly newsletter:

  • Upcoming events: Summer Woodland Tour and Fall Mentored Management Planning Shortcourse
  • Tips for Seeding Woodland Roads
  • Know Your Birds (Swainson’s Thrush) and Your Trees (Bigleaf Maple)
  • Christmas Tree Tips: Insect Pests
  • Research Brief: Biofuels
  • New Publications from the OSU Extension catalog

Thanks for reading!