We know you’re all feeling isolated right now. So are we. It’s true that as a wildlife biologist I spend a lot of time by myself in the woods. I actually love being alone – when it’s by choice. Now that we’re supposed to self-isolate, I want nothing more than to lead wildlife tours and bring folks into the woods with me! I hope we can all be together in the woods again soon. Until then, I thought you might have some extra time to read. The following is a reminder about some of the educational resources the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI) has available for you to learn about forest wildlife right now, from the comfort of your home.
Our Wildlife in Managed Forests series of publications is updated frequently with relevant information that stems from research conducted by our partners at the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement (NCASI), Oregon State University, (OSU) and the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station (PNW), to name a few.
Have you ever wondered about forest carnivores? We encourage you to take a look at our Fisher and Humboldt Marten publication. It will teach you a bit about the biology of these fascinating forest carnivores, and it highlights current research aimed at learning more about these creatures’ habitat needs, along with management recommendations for forest landowners.
Beyond having plenty of time to read about forest wildlife, another activity many can still do is bird-watch from their kitchen windows. We have two resources that will teach you more about forest-dwelling songbirds. First is our Early Seral-Associated Songbirds publication, and second is our Guide to Priority Plant and Animal Species in Oregon Forests booklet. The Early Seral-Associated Songbirds publication discusses habitat requirements for songbirds that rely on young forests, also known as early seral habitats, which are often created as the result of wildfires or logging. This publication has a lot of great pictures, and some of the species are commonly found in urban environments too, such as the white-crowned sparrow or the spotted towhee. The Guide to Priority Plant and Animal Species also has many great pictures, and can be used to learn about forest-dwelling wildlife.
If you’re a forest landowner, it’s also a great time to think about plans for your forest. Our Oregon Forests as Habitat publication has recommendations for every age of forest that can be incorporated into your forest management plan. Beyond the recommendations in Oregon Forests as Habitat, you can find many more resources for forest landowners on OFRI’s KnowYourForest.org website. Additionally, we partner with the Woodland Fish and Wildlife Project, a cooperative effort between state agencies, federal agencies and universities to provide information on fish and wildlife management to private woodland owners and managers, to write short publications on a variety of wildlife topics. If you’re interested in wildlife-friendly forest-fire fuels reduction, cavity-nesting birds and many topics in between, we suggest checking out their website.
We hope to see you all out in the forest as soon as we get through this.
Fran Cafferata Coe,
OFRI Contract Certified Wildlife Biologist®
Across our state, our country and around the world, we’re being asked to do our part to stop the spread of the coronavirus by staying at home. Infectious disease experts indicate that social distancing is the only effective weapon we have in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. In a time of shared suffering and crisis, staying at home doesn’t feel like enough. Our rational minds tell us that this is the right thing to do, but our hearts and souls struggle at our inability to do more to help others.
I'm one of the lucky ones who gets to stay home and telework. I feel the inner battle between my mind and my heart. It isn’t productive to think about what I can’t do, so my thoughts have turned to things that I can do. I’ve ticked off some of the easy things, like donating to my local food pantry and offering to shop for a neighbor.
I started to think about random acts of kindness, and right now seems like the perfect time to step those up – but I also think about the things we take for granted. These are basics like electricity, running water, trash collection, fresh food and, yes, toilet paper.
Along with health care workers, who we know are putting themselves at risk on the front lines of this battle, there are countless other “essential” workers who get up each day and make sure life continues for the rest of us.
I'm so grateful to the people who continue to go to work each day and keep our country running. A lot of these workers don’t often hear a simple “thank you.” So in addition to staying at home and being kind to each other, I think we should all start practicing “deliberate acts of gratitude.” Things like leaving a note of thanks for your trash collector or drawing a chalk message thanking your postal carrier. These are things we can do while staying at home, flattening the curve and maintaining social distance.
I'm sure if we all put our minds to it, we can think of wonderful ways to thank the essential workers. Here is a short but by no means complete list of the workers we can reach out to with a deliberate act of gratitude:
• trash collectors
• utility workers
• grocery store clerks
• agricultural workers
• truck and delivery drivers
• paper mill workers
• gas station attendants
My role at OFRI deeply connects me to the forest sector in Oregon. I am honored and humbled to work with the people in this sector. The team at OFRI put together this short video to thank the employees at the Georgia Pacific mill in Wauna, Ore. They are working around the clock to manufacture toilet paper to meet unprecedented demand in Oregon and beyond.
My challenge to you is to find a way to thank these employees and other essential workers, and share it with us on our Twitter, Facebook or Instagram accounts. We’ll share these with our followers, and hopefully these acts of gratitude will reach far beyond our individual efforts.
If you’ve been watching much TV or spending time on social media during your stay-at-home, social-distancing time, you may have had the pleasure of seeing one or more of OFRI’s educational ads. We’ve been focusing on reforestation after timber harvest, and frequently tout the fact that every year Oregon forest landowners plant 40 million seedlings. Many people believe this fact at face value, but some have questions.
The two most common questions are:
• How is it possible to plant 40 million trees every year?
• Are they all Douglas-fir, like you show in the ads?
To answer the first question, 40 million seedlings may seem like a lot, but a good tree planter plants 1,000 to 1,200 seedlings per day. Planting season is generally from Dec. 1 to March 31, which is about 88 work days. If each tree planter plants 1,000 trees per day for 88 days, that’s 88,000 trees per tree planter per year. It would thus take 455 tree planters about 88 days to plant 40 million trees. That seems pretty doable – but it isn’t easy work. Most of the work of tree planting takes place in cold and rainy weather, on steep and rugged terrain. My hat goes off to the tree planters who put each seedling in the ground by hand.
To answer the second question, not all of the 40 million trees planted in Oregon’s forests each year are Douglas-fir. Doug-fir is the most common tree planted in Oregon, however. That’s because as a native tree species it is well adapted to most of the sites where planting is done. Another reason is that most planting is done after logging on private lands. Oregon’s forest protection laws require private landowners to replant trees after harvesting timber. Most timber harvest involves logging Douglas-fir trees, which often end up at mills that use them to make lumber or plywood. A primary tenet of Oregon’s law requiring reforestation is to replant the same species that were removed in most cases, unless there’s a good reason not to.
Some situations where Douglas-fir is not the best species to plant are in areas that have diseases such as laminated root rot or Swiss needle cast. Both these diseases are common in western Oregon, and both either primarily or exclusively attack Douglas-fir. On the north Oregon coast, where Swiss needle cast is most common and can severely limit Douglas-fir growth, reforestation typically involves planting western hemlock, Sitka spruce and western redcedar. In the Coast Range and the Cascades, the most common root disease is laminated root rot. This disease kills all the Douglas-fir trees in pockets that are a quarter-acre or larger. Reforestation of laminated root rot pockets generally involves planting western redcedar, which is resistant to the disease, or red alder, which is immune.
Even where Douglas-fir is the preferred species to plant, many forest landowners enjoy having a mix of species in their forests and often mix in other conifers. A mixed-species stand of trees may be more resistant to diseases and insects, which usually favor one species over another. Forests with a mix of tree species may also attract a larger variety of wildlife. Western redcedar is commonly planted along streams and even in the understory of thinned Douglas-fir stands. Folks who are trying to develop multi-story stands usually plant shade-tolerant conifers such as western hemlock, grand fir and western redcedar beneath an overstory of Douglas-fir. That’s because Doug-fir is not shade-tolerant and doesn’t do well as an understory tree.
In addition to the sites in western Oregon where Douglas-fir is the predominant species, there’s also some timber harvest – and thus, tree planting – in southwestern Oregon. The forests in southwestern Oregon are fairly complex and often have a mix of four or five species of conifer, including ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, incense cedar, western white pine, Jeffrey pine and white fir. These forests are generally planted with a mix of species after logging. In recent years, drought has led to poor survival of some species, and ponderosa pine and incense cedar have been favored over Douglas-fir and white fir.
East of the Cascades, many of the forests are primarily ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine or a mix of conifers. These forests are often selectively logged, and no tree planting is usually required. In fact, many of these forests have too many trees. Tree planting on Oregon’s east side is primarily done after wildfire if most of the trees in an area are killed. In those cases, a mix of species is planted that mirrors the mix present before the fire.
Finally, as every reforestation forester will tell you, just because you only plant one species doesn’t mean you’ll only have one species in your new forest. Shade-tolerant species such as grand fir, western hemlock and western redcedar commonly seed in naturally after logging, and become part of the next forest regardless of what species is planted. Hardwood trees and shrubs not only seed into freshly logged areas, but also sprout from the roots or stumps of parent plants. The forester’s next job after planting and getting trees to survive to be teenagers is often to thin the stand to reduce overcrowding. Thinning is a great opportunity to balance the species mix of a forest.
So, to end where I started:
• YES – 40 million trees are planted in Oregon forests every year.
• NO – they are not all Douglas-fir.
For the forest,
Director of Forestry
Forest health is a human construct and it can best be promoted by human actions. A forest is healthy or unhealthy because we define it as such. On its own, a forest has no concept of health.
This was the premise of my closing remarks at the end of the first day of Oregon State University’s “Forest Health in Oregon: State of the State 2020” conference, held Feb. 26-27 on the university’s campus in Corvallis. Here is a summary of what I said:
The drivers of forest health in my human construct are forest condition, forest disturbance, ecological reaction and human reaction. I will discuss each of the drivers in turn:
Federal forests encompass about 60% of Oregon’s forests, or nearly 18 million acres. The Nature Conservancy estimates that over 5.6 million acres of these forests have been identified as fire-adapted forests in need of restoration. These forests are generally overstocked and ready to burn. U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis data show that federal forests account for 1.5 billion cubic feet of growth per year. This is over 50% of the total forest growth in Oregon of 2.8 billion cubic feet. Of this federal forest growth, 8% is harvested, 36% is counted as mortality and 56% is net change or additional volume on these already overcrowded federal forests. These overcrowded forests are fire-prone and prone to infestations from insects such as bark beetles. These forests are also very sensitive to drought and climate change.
Forest disturbance can be human-caused, such as logging, thinning and prescribed burning, or natural, such as wind storms and lightning-caused wildfires. Human-caused disturbances–unless it’s an accidental human-caused wildfire–can often be designed to achieve certain outcomes such as fire fuels reduction, increased fire-resiliency and managed smoke. Natural disturbances are much less objective-oriented, often leading to stand replacement fires and unwanted smoke.
“Ecological reaction” is the functional response of the ecosystem parts and process to the disturbance. A good example is the Biscuit and Chetco Bar fires, which burned in southwest Oregon with similar footprints in 2002 and 2013. These lightning-caused fires burned in overstocked forests at the dry time of the year. They appeared to be catastrophic from a human perspective. However, from an ecological perspective, they were moderate- and mixed-severity fires that reset the successional cycle and started a new forest with a clean slate.
To most people, a healthy forest is one with mostly live trees and low risk of fire. Wildfire is seen as destructive. The media often uses the word “catastrophic” when talking of wildfire. Smoke intrusion into Oregon cities is a major health issue. Human-driven forest disturbance is also often seen in a negative light. Logging and burning are perceived as bad. However with education and collaboration, people can understand that human-caused disturbance can lead to a healthy forest and can achieve social objectives.
So, back to my premise:
Forest health is a human construct. Benefits from the forest, including clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat and forest products, may be produced to a greater degree in forests with fewer diseases, damaging insects, invasive species and wildfire. Human needs are better met in such a forest, and so we deem these “healthy forests.”
Forest management by humans can improve the health of the forest. Thinning, prescribed burning and invasive species control can all promote healthier forests. Human support for active forest management can be driven by its perception as promoting forest health.
Or, in the words of an old bumper sticker I have on my bulletin board, “A healthy forest is no accident.”
Now that you have read my closing remarks, you might be interested in some of the topics that were covered at the recent forest health conference. The conference presentations are available as downloadable PDFs here. A great summary of the topics covered during the conference was recently published by the Forest Service and the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF). The publication is called Forest Health Highlights in Oregon – 2019. Download a copy here. More forest health resources are also available at the ODF forest health page.
For the forest,
Director of Forestry