The annual OSU Extension/Columbia County Small Woodlands Association summer tour is coming up. This year’s tour happens on Saturday, July 28th at Rod Nastrom’s place in Warren and the program for the day is “Woodland Roads: Best Management Practices”. Two of my Forestry Extension colleagues, Paul Adams and Steve Bowers, will be joining us as instructors for the program. Paul Adams is our Extension Watershed Management Specialist and he has had a long history of working on issues related to forest roads and streams. Steve Bowers, better known to many as the “Treeman”, is our Extension Agent in Douglas County and he brings to this topic his own practical experience as a logger and woodland owner. The two of them will no doubt have plenty of valuable insight to share.

(And, here’s a link to a newly revised Extension publication on the subject of road design for small woodland properties.)

On the tour, we will look at a variety of road designs, surface types, stream crossings, and slopes, and talk about the pros and cons of each. Following the tour will be a picnic lunch graciously provided by CCSWA, and then a firewood processor demonstration in the afternoon. I hope to see many of you there. Click here for a flyer with all the details.

The western tent caterpillar is a native insect to our forests. It population is cyclical. Over a period of two to three years, the population builds up and then crashes as natural parasites and diseases kill them off. Then we don’t see them again for maybe 8 – 10 years.

This week I saw some tent caterpillars in a recently planted site near Clatskanie (see photo). Last month, I saw lots more over by Sisters, where they were all over the bitterbrush around our family’s camping spot (“eew”, proclaimed my 9-year-old). Here on the westside, they prefer hardwoods such as alder, cottonwoods and willows.

While they may look alarming and can substantially defoliate the trees they infest, there’s little cause for alarm. The caterpillars are done feeding by late June, and the affected plants typically regrow a new set of leaves later in the summer. There’s no reason to spray insecticide – the best strategy is to wait it out and let nature take its course.

My guess is that we’ll see more western tent caterpillars in some localized areas next year.

(If you missed them, here’s Part 1 and Part 2. Now for the final installment…)

Coweeta and other LTERs have all kinds of equipment which continuously monitor and record temperature, precipitation, stream flow, water chemistry, and so forth, and thus have compiled valuable long-term records.

This is one of the meteorological stations at H.J. Andrews forest, but the one at Coweeta looks pretty much the same. Photo by Al Levno

At Coweeta, these records date back to 1934, and two climate trends are evident from the data that’s been collected since then. First, there’s been an upward trend in temperature since around 1980 (before that, there was no discernible trend). Second, with respect to rainfall, the wettest years have been getting wetter, and the driest years have been getting drier. They collect data on rainfall chemistry too; and interestingly, they started seeing a sharp drop in sulfate concentrations around 1990 – coincident with the passage of the Clean Air Act which was enacted in response to sulfur dioxide deposition (a.k.a. acid rain).

The biggest takeaway I left Coweeta with was an appreciation for the value and power of long-term observation. Forests grow slowly, and so we need to be really patient if we want to understand how they work. This is one of the reasons why the network of LTER sites across the country is so valuable.

This leads to some further musings. One, as a family forest landowner, you probably don’t have access to fancy monitoring equipment, or a Ph.D. scientist (or two or three) for hire. However, you do have a place that you observe on a fairly regular basis and you and your family may have a long-term connection to that place. Your observations, and more importantly your recording of your observations, have power. You can monitor changes on your property for your own purposes – wildlife sightings, stream changes – whatever fits your interests. For example, if you attend the upcoming June 23rd tour at Hyla Woods, you’ll learn how the host family has been monitoring birds in different forest types on their property for years.

Additionally, there are opportunities to contribute your locally collected data to larger networks to help scientists understand long-term and large-scale patterns of change. Some examples include the National Phenology Network, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS), and the Oregon Invasive Species Hotline.

The final thought – partly because nature is full of long-term processes, our scientific understanding evolves over time, and sometimes what seems like a pattern or a clear result in the short term turns out to be different in the long term. I suppose that’s why forest management practices are based on the “best available science” of the time, but as time passes we might revisit and revise what is considered a best management practice. If those scientists who planted the pine watershed at Coweeta had stopped their experiment after ten years, they would have come to false conclusions about different tree species’ water use. And if climate scientists looked at trends over just a decade or two, they would certainly also miss the big picture.

A dead hemlock at Coweeta

In Part 1, I reflected on whole-watershed-sized forest science experiments that have informed present-day management practices and understanding of water cycling through forests. But what happens when a factor beyond our control changes the forest ecosystem, creating a quasi-experiment of its own? That’s what is happening right now in the southeast U.S. due to an aggressive non-native insect.

Traveling through the hills of North Carolina, it was hard not to see the impact of the hemlock woolly adelgid. This miniscule leafsucking insect came from Asia and was first detected at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory about 10 years ago. Because the hemlock woolly adelgid has no natural predators here in the U.S. and because eastern hemlocks have low natural resistance to it, it is pretty much sucking its way through the eastern hemlock range. Nearly all the eastern hemlocks I saw on my trip were either dead or dying.
hemlock woolly adelgid: Photo from

For the record, we have hemlock woolly adelgids here in Oregon also, but they don’t cause much harm to Oregon’s two native hemlock species, western hemlock and mountain hemlock. The scientist who led our tour at Coweeta described why, tossing around fancy terms I haven’t uttered much since graduate school such as stylet, petiole and parenchyma. Basically what it boils down to is that the insects cannot penetrate the leaf structure of our west coast hemlock species very easily.

But back east, the hemlock woolly adelgid is leading to the loss of an entire component of the forest ecosystem throughout the Appalachian region. What is the impact when a tree species is lost from the landscape? Many scientists are trying to answer that question, looking at everything from soil chemistry to aquatic habitat to understory species composition.

Dead hemlocks in North Carolina. Photo from

Unfortunately the hemlock woolly adelgid is not the only non-native insect to create such widespread impact. While on a family trip to Wisconsin last summer, I heard a lot about the emerald ash borer, another invader from Asia which is killing ash trees throughout the midwest. Unlike the hemlock woolly adelgid, the emerald ash borer hasn’t shown up on the west coast yet (that we know of). If it arrived, would it wipe out our Oregon ash trees? I hope we don’t have to find out.

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?

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.

Oregon Forest Resources Institute is sponsoring a “Bat Chat”, Saturday May 5th at 1 pm at the World Forestry Center in Portland. The speakers will feature how wildlife biologists, researchers and land managers can work together to leave and create bat habitat on the landscape. Of interest to those interested in enhancing bat habitat on their land and to bat lovers in general. Click here for the details.

The spring edition of Tall Timber Topics is here. Inside you will find a page full of upcoming event listings, log  market updates, and even a little bit of tree poetry.

I am interested in your feedback on our newsletter. What kinds of information would you like to see? Suggestions on the format? Post your comments or send me an email.

Here’s an announcement for what looks to be a great field tour in Clackamas County on Saturday, April 7th.

“This field tour will cover principles and practices of vegetation management for establishing and maintaining trees in forestry and forest restoration. Key topics include vegetation management with herbicides, nonchemical methods and integrated pest management approaches for selecting and combining methods. Field sites will feature common situations and important weeds that compete for site resources.”
For more information or questions, call Jean at the Clackamas County Extension office, 503-655-8631.

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.