One of my favorite animals is the pileated woodpecker. What’s not to like about the noisy bird with the zebra-striped head and neck, long bill and distinctive red crest?
The pileated is Oregon’s largest woodpecker, but it’s relatively shy and not commonly seen. So any day I’m walking in a stand of oak or in a Douglas-fir forest and I see a pileated woodpecker, it’s a good day.
Recently, I was vacationing on Sanibel Island in Florida. This barrier island has a subtropical climate and white sand beaches. It’s nothing like the Douglas-fir forests of Oregon.
So imagine my surprise when I heard a familiar sound, looked into a palm tree and saw two pileated woodpeckers. What were they doing in a palm tree?
Well, pretty much the same thing they do in a Douglas-fir tree: making powerful strikes with their heavy bills, pulling with their feet to increase the strength of the blow and excavating long oval holes (up to several feet long) in the tree trunk in search of insects, or to make a nest.
It turns out I shouldn’t have been surprised to see them. Looking in a field guide I found that pileated woodpeckers live in mature deciduous or mixed deciduous-coniferous woodlands of nearly every type, from tall western hemlock stands of the Northwest, in a broad swath across Canada, to beech and maple forests in New England and down to the cypress swamps of the Southeast.
I had just assumed this beautiful bird was “ours.”I guess we have to share it.
You can learn more about pileated woodpeckers and how to create habitat to attract them in OFRI’s publication “Wildlife in Managed Forests.” Find it on our Resources page.
Director of K-12 Education Programs
In early June, I attended a community field tour of the nearly year-old Pole Creek Fire in the Deschutes National Forest outside the town of Sisters in central Oregon.
Lightning caused this fire, which erupted Sept. 8, 2012, and burned about 26,000 acres, or about 40 square miles. According to The Bulletin newspaper, “the fire destroyed four cars at the trailhead, a popular gateway to the Three Sisters Wilderness, prompted about 30 hikers and campers to find a different route out of the forest. Later, it walloped Sisters with waves of morning smoke deemed hazardous to health. The fire cost about $18 million to fight.”
Organizers held two five-hour tours, one on a Friday, and the other on a Saturday. About 50 people attended each day, cramming a bright yellow school bus.
Before we boarded, the leaders asked us to choose five words that describe the impact of forest fire on us as individuals. Most of the people were from central Oregon. Most used words like “smoke,” “air quality” and “health issues” to describe the fire’s impact.
During the tour, we learned about fire ecology and how a century of fire suppression has created dense forests that are over-stocked with an understory of small-diameter trees. In the past, periodic, low-intensity fires removed this understory, leaving the larger and more resilient trees – mainly ponderosa pine – to grow even larger. But with fire suppression and little harvest, the understory creates what is called a “fuel ladder” that allows fire to climb into the crowns of the larger trees, killing them.
Not all trees died. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that about 24 percent of the 26,119 fire acres were lightly to moderately burned and will recover. This occurred mainly where forest management thinning had already cleared much of the understory. About 36 percent of the acreage experienced mixed mortality. The remaining 40 percent, however, was destroyed – what foresters call “stand replacing.”
Some salvage is taking place. The Forest Service plans to remove trees that pose a danger to people and traffic along about 40 miles of forest roads. It also is planning to salvage log about 1,000 acres in an area that experienced stand-replacing fire. Per the Forest Service’s protocol, a number of large snags will be left on harvested sites for wildlife habitat.
At the conclusion of the tour, Pete Caligiuri, who works for The Nature Conservancy in Central Oregon, discussed the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project. Pete told the group that the collaborative is a community-based organization that is advising the Forest Service on restoration activity in the Deschutes National Forest. One goal of the project is to identify areas that are the most departed from historic conditions, then treat them before wildfire occurs through thinning, selective harvest and prescribed burning. This will create healthier, more fire-resilient forests
Pete and the collaborative hope that by restoring forest health and fire resiliency, they can prevent intense fires such as the Pole Creek Fire from occurring in the future.
For the Forest,
Photo: With the peaks of the Three Sisters and the Deschutes National Forest burned during the 2012 Pole Creek Fire as a backdrop, Dr. Steve Fitzgerald, OSU professor and area extension forester for the central Oregon region, provided an overview of east Cascades forest ecology, the role of fire and current forest conditions.
A recent report by Cisco estimates that within four years, 69 percent of all consumer internet traffic will be video content. Cisco also estimates that mobile data traffic will grow 300 percent faster than fixed IP, or “wired” traffic in the next five years.
These percentages keep increasing each year. OFRI heard similar but slightly lower numbers a couple of years ago, and we made the move to begin developing more video content and more mobile content. Here’s a look at what we’ve been up to.
Five new Forest Fact Breaks
OFRI’s popular series just added five new animations. For those unfamiliar with the series, these are 90-second movies intended to introduce forestry topics to a middle school audience in a way that is both informative and entertaining. New disks have been created and are being distributed to classrooms around the state. The five new Fact Breaks are:
Smartphone Tree Guide
As part of an interpretive project at The Oregon Garden, new tree identification signage has been developed with embedded QR codes that link to a unique website with more info. These QR codes can be reproduced and used anywhere, including your own forestland or interpretive signage.
Mobile list of 10 great hikes near Portland
OFRI has developed a visitor’s brochure about the amazing forests of Oregon. Inside is a QR link to 10 family-friendly hikes within a short drive of Portland.
Mobile app of Forest Facts and Figures
Have you seen the app yet? It’s free, it’s easy to use, and it includes everything from the popular printed pocket guide to video clips, interactive maps and county-specific economic data. Availalbe in iTunes and GooglePlay.
Video Special Report on Biomass
New to the OFRI video library is our report on biomass in Oregon’s forests. Powered by Oregon is the latest in OFRI’s series of video special reports.
One of the conundrums of restoring federal forest health and fire resiliency is what to do with the immense amount of woody biomass growing in our east-side forests. Present estimates project that as many as 6.4 million bone-dry tons of small-diameter trees too small to saw into lumber could be available annually for the next 20 years. That’s annually.
Nearly 6 million BDTs of biomass are already available annually from mill residuals – chips, shavings and sawdust left over from wood and plywood manufacturing. That market is well-established and little is wasted. Another 500,000 BDTs comes from logging slash recovered and used for energy production. About twice that much is left in the woods to be burned or to decay.
OFRI’s new special report and accompanying video, Powered by Oregon, take a hard look at how biomass is being used in the state for heat, electricity and fuel. Biomass utilization has come a long way, but as the figures above show, there’s still room for improvement.
One problem with biomass is the cost of removal and transport. But consider the consequences of not removing it: uncharacteristically intense wildfire is terribly damaging to ecosystems and the built environment, and fire suppression is equally expensive.
Gov. Kitzhaber spoke to the Board of Forestry in January and said this: “What is a better investment of public dollars? To spend billions of dollars fighting fires after they’ve started, or spending some resources reducing fuel loads and making those forests healthier in the first place?”
As the special report concludes, sometimes the costs and benefits of biomass utilization are more nuanced than we know. Perhaps it costs more to remove it, but what if we add in other benefits: healthier forests, Oregon jobs, cleaner air, reduced reliance on fossil fuel and greater energy independence? Can we put a price on those benefits?
These are the considerations our leaders and policymakers must weigh as they chart a course for Oregon’s energy future. Biomass is definitely on the map. And at the end of the day, how great would it be to say we are truly “Powered by Oregon.”