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Walk in the woods: Searching for the elusive spotted owl

“Hello? This is an owl calling. Anyone home?”

No, it’s not the script for an annoying marketing call. Instead, it’s what I was doing on a recent perfect summer evening in the Douglas-fir forest of Oregon’s Silver Falls State Park, southeast of Salem. 
Yes, making owl calls. “Owling,” in the vernacular.

I was teamed with Fran Cafferata Coe, a wildlife biologist hired by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to research whether any northern spotted owls still occupy this territory. Fran is also documenting all owl species within the park.

In the twilight, we headed down the trail. Our eyes and ears were turned on. As was our neat little boom box playing the pre-recorded owl calls.

The value of owl research
The spotted owl, a dark-eyed raptor with brown plumage and white spots, has been the subject of large-scale and long-term studies since it was listed as a state and federal threatened species in the 1990s. Along with research into the owl’s biology and habits, surveys are determining population numbers and establishing preferred habitat. The results of these surveys are especially important to landowners, who use them to make management decisions about creating and protecting spotted owl habitat in their forests.

In the woods, our job was to walk a designated eight-mile loop, stopping at 12 specified locations and calling for 10 minutes per station.

We traipsed without response for eight stations. Then, at the ninth station, boom! It was the haunting, eight-note hoot-hoot-wahoot, hoot-hoot wahoo of a barred owl. (Spotted owls employ a four-noted hoot-hootoot-hoo.)

Where are the spotted owls?
I flashed my light into the trees. The barred owl loomed about 25 feet above us, watching us as we watched him. I could have stayed longer, but Coe nudged me. It was time to move on to the next station. Our evening ended with the additional sighting of a juvenile barred owl flitting through the trees. No spotted owls seen or heard.
Are barred owls displacing spotted owls? Scientists are assessing this threat. Some think the barred owl’s adaptability and aggressive nature may allow them to more successfully compete for the spotted owl’s ecological niche. Others think spotted owls clam up in the presence of barred owls. 
That may be so. On this night in the Oregon woods, I heard a hoot-hoot-wahoot, hoot-hoot wahoo but not a hoot-hootoot-hoo.
“Hoos” to know?

Norie Dimeo-Ediger
OFRI Director of K-12 Education Programs

For more information on owls in Oregon’s forests, check out these links and OFRI publications. 
A Guide to Priority Plant and Animal Species in Oregon Forests
Wildlife in Managed Forests — Northern Spotted Owl
Wildlife in Managed Forests — Oregon Forests as Habitat
The Spotted Owl’s New Nemesis, Smithsonian magazine, January 2009
Experimental Removal of Barred Owls to Benefit Threatened Northern Spotted Owls, Draft Environmental Impact Statement, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, March 2012

Pesticides pose negligible harm to McKenzie

A study of water quality on the McKenzie River watershed shows that pesticide contamination of the water supply presents a negligible threat to human health, The Register-Guard newspaper reported on Aug. 8.

The 10-year, $1 million study examined contamination by herbicides, insecticides and fungicides - collectively called pesticides - in tributaries as well as the main stem of the McKenzie River, which flows into the Willamette River near Eugene.

According to Karl Morgenstern, the drinking water source protection coordinator for the Eugene Water & Electric Board, the study measured contaminant levels in parts per quadrillion, well below any threat to human health.

EWEB conducted the study with the U.S. Geological Survey, testing 28 sites during the first major storms following a dry summer and during spring squalls.

Morgenstern said the study confirmed his suspicion that urban areas and areas with higher-density homes are the primary threat when it comes to pesticides. The surprise in the study, he said, was how little pesticide was detected coming from forestlands, which make up 92 percent of the watershed.

Forest landowners use herbicides to control competing vegetation after a regeneration harvest to quickly establish tree seedlings. Herbicides used in forestry are applied under stringent labeling requirements and generally by licensed contractors who have been trained in the lawful use of herbicides. Rules for herbicide use are outlined in the Oregon Forest Practices Act and on product labels. The rules are administered by the Department of Forestry, the Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Read the full article.

Everything but the shade

I recently toured two Oregon sawmills and came away impressed with their innovation, technology and high degree of utilization. Today’s mills use every part of the tree except the shade. Efficient utilization of the wood resource is one of the keys to their staying in business.

At Seneca Sawmill in Eugene, long, debarked logs move along a conveyor into the “merchandiser,” where they are lifted and scanned in a process reminiscent of a full-body MRI. Based on current market prices, a computer calculates how the log should be cut. 

Large-diameter logs go to the large-log mill to become dimension lumber; medium-size logs go to the stud mill to become 2x4s and 2x6s. The smallest logs, or “top wood,” – often barely 3 inches on the small end – go to the hew-saw mill, where they are first squared up or “hewed” by rotating knives and then made into studs. The chunks, chips, bark, sawdust and shavings by-products are sorted out and then either sold or used on-site.

On-site, the bark and hog fuel, along with other logging residues, feed Seneca’s cogeneration plant. The fuel burns so cleanly and the emissions are treated so effectively that the emitted air is virtually clear, with no particulates. Seneca Sustainable Energy provides steam to dry the lumber and also generates nearly 19 MW of electricity, which is sold to the local utility.

Another mill I toured recently, Malheur Lumber in John Day, which is part of Ochoco Lumber Company, has invested in a new product line that provides a market for small-diameter materials from forest restoration and thinning treatments in nearby national forests. Malheur Lumber makes forest biomass pellets and bricks for home, commercial and industrial heating systems.

Modern, innovative sawmills such as Seneca and Malheur employ local residents and inject thousands of dollars into local economies. They also provide important markets for the products of the active forest management needed to keep our forests healthy and sustainable. 

As I look around the West, with its critical need for active forest management, I see many states with no mill infrastructure to use the byproducts of thinning and restoration efforts. In Oregon, we have 116 active primary wood-products mills, which is down from the 185 that operated in 2003. Let’s recognize the job they’re doing to modernize, use resources wisely and help sustain our forests and forest economies. 

May the forest be with you,

Mike Cloughesy
Director of Forestry


Photos: Seneca Sustainable Energy in Eugene. Bricks and pellets at Malheur Lumber in John Day.

Serving on the Board of Forestry is no picnic

It may come as a surprise to new residents that Oregon has a long tradition of citizen governance. As a result, there are more than 200 citizen boards and commissions that oversee various aspects of the state’s business. Most of these positions are volunteer.

One we follow closely is the Oregon Board of Forestry. The board is made up of seven individuals appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. They meet about eight times a year, at locations throughout the state. Several times a year they go on “forest field tours” to become better informed about a particular issue. Meetings and tours are open to the public.

I attended the board’s recent meeting and tour, held July 26-27 in Tillamook County. The meeting took place at the Tillamook District Office, and it was jammed. In fact, the more than 100 people present exceeded the room’s capacity. People had to sit outside and listen to the meeting on a loudspeaker.

Why so much interest? The board was considering a staff proposal from the Oregon Department of Forestry to set aside and highlight portions of state forests for conservation values. Many conservationists, recreationalists and sport-fishers back the concept, and they were there to voice their support. By a 4-2 vote, the board approved a new category of state lands that will protect what are being termed “high-value conservation areas.”

The state owns and manages about 800,000 acres of forests. Some of the most productive lands are on the coast. These include the Clatsop, Tillamook and Elliott state forests. Providing oversight of these forests is one of the duties for Board of Forestry members.

In addition, the board supervises all matters of forest policy within Oregon, adopts rules regulating forest practices, appoints the State Forester (currently Doug Decker), and provides general supervision of his duties as he manages the Department of Forestry.

This is a tall order. The Department of Forestry employs more than 850 (full-time equivalent) people and has a $295 million biennial budget. Oregon is the nation’s third-most forested state, and forest products is one of the state’s largest traded sectors. Its impact on the state economy is huge. The board and the department have a big influence on the sector – so naturally there is a lot of public interest.

Board members may enjoy a picnic lunch on a field trip, but their service to the state certainly isn’t a picnic. Meetings start at 8 a.m. and run past 5 p.m. They often meet with constituents afterward, and then get up early the next morning to go on a forest field tour. Did I mention that they’re unpaid?

As Oregonians, we owe a debt of gratitude to Board of Forestry members and other volunteer board members who oversee our state agencies on behalf of us all.

For the forest,

Paul Barnum
Executive Director


Photo: Tillamook District Forester Dan Goody addresses members of the Oregon Board of Forestry and the public on a tour of the Tillamook State Forest at a tour stop overlooking Dry Creek and Cook Creek.

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