Category: Land Management

My first thought, oh my, what I have done?
The loggers had come, as planned, within one week of my response. And here they were with an enormous skidder that made the aging giant that my father had owned look like a toy. The tires were several inches taller than me, and though I’m a scant 5’2″, that still seems overly large for the task at hand.
The thing was armed with huge chains to enable it to scramble through mud. And, since this place had a several small non-jurisdictional wetlands, I knew it would be muddy. Just not as much as it turned out to be.


Of course, I’d also based my impact assessment on my 2014 logging effort – albeit on dry land – but which followed existing trails and left a few standing trees.
These guys leveled the place, all but for a clump of weakling cedar, and they ignored my road flagging.
No, we’ll put the log dump over there, the project manager told me. Right on top of the largest clump of Douglas spirea on the property.
In the end, I was left with a pile of about 52 logs (4 loads worth, and then some which, not amounting to a load, were just left behind for firewood), and a new swimming pool.
The timing was bad, really bad: the heaviest rains in a decade or more fell just after I asked them politely to leave far in advance of finishing what I had originally asked them to cut. I had planned to thin along the driveways, but after seeing the skidder damage, I figured if I still wanted the roads driveable I should quit while I was ahead.
It was a good call. After they left, we had several inches of rain, and even more a few weeks later. In between storms, I ventured out in my knee boots and almost didn’t return; only a stick and a piece of wood saved me from sinking up to my rear.
Why did I do this?
Money. I’ve hit the end of my savings. My father’s long-term care, and upgrades to the 40+ year-old house have tapped me out. I can’t live on rent alone anymore.
So, I shifted goals. I can log, earn money for a house fund, and recreate the lost area into a hard-wood forest. Three wins, but one loss.
A loss for biodiversity. I had made the mistake of exploring the grove of 62″ + dbh trees that even my father had never touched. There were fern nurseries on old rotten logs, mushrooms of various kinds (though I kept the damage away from the chantrelles), Douglas spirea, sedges, lots of miterwort (Tiarella), much of which I salvaged, and wild rose. All is now gone. I’ve a blank slate, but my heart still mourns the losses.

It is difficult to walk the line between preservation and conservation, management and simply leaving it alone. I’ve seen enough of the bad side of management to realize that leaving it alone is easier on my heart and conscience. Still, I thought I could endure the losses until I saw the soil damage.
Then I have to decide, is this to be a garden, a park, or a preserve? I love to garden, and outside of landscaped areas I want a park with trails and lots of natives. But which areas should just be left alone?
It is my Personal Jungle. There are no right or wrong answers, only the recognition of what salves my own heart.

Another round of logging, another search of the soul

  • December 14th, 2015
  • Posted in Land Management
  • Comments Off on Another round of logging, another search of the soul

In May 2014, I had several acres logged to open up the high parts of the property to light and earn a bit of income. The hope was that I could expand my non-native plantings into the newly opened areas and increase the diversity of native plantings.  Mature Douglas fir forests on the property are usually closed canopy with a middle layer of tall evergreen huckleberry – in excess of 10 ft high in some instances – and salal beneath which nothing grows. In the absence of a natural disturbance regime (e.g. fire), selective harvest is the most effective way to increase habitat for local understory species such as sword fern, wood fern, lady fern in damp areas, Oregon grape, Indian plum, ocean spray, and thimble berry.
The results were unpleasantly messy:

Coral root habitat - after

Logged area behind shed.


Logged area by the barn

  1. I got more light, but was left with large debris piles, not necessarily a bad thing in terms of hiding places for small animals and birds, but quite unsightly.

    Debris pile (background)

    Debris pile (background)

  2. All of the top soil got scraped up into the debris piles. This was really disturbing and not anticipated. However, the loggers that I worked with were not particularly sensitive to environmental issues, so I likely wouldn’t have gotten too far with trying to prevent this.
  3. The coral root transplants failed: plantings in both established populations and a single new area of similar soil type.  However, I did note that  even established patches did poorly this year.

    Corallorhiza maculata

    Corallorhiza maculata

  4. I opened up large areas to weeds, including Himalayan blackberry and reed canary grass.

    A tarp used to reduce reed canary grass.

    A tarp used to reduce reed canary grass.

On the positive side, I have a new place in which to create paths and blend natives of other US regions, such as witch hazel and corylopsis, with Japanese maples and rhododendrons to establish a transition between landscaped areas and natural areas.

To control weeds and reduce erosion, I  planted a mix of grasses native to western rangelands, including fescue, bluebunch wheatgrass, and Indian rice grass. I’ve not mowed them this year as their flopping habitat seems to deter weed growth.

native grasses

Native grasses planted in areas scraped by logging equipment.

Since I’ve no large equipment and only myself as labor, the restoration of this area is a long, difficult task. I began by burning debris piles, although the largest one is about 10′ high x 50′ long and a tangle of limbs, small trees, soil, and a twisted scrap of metal roofing. I have been hauling scraped-off top soil from the pile to fill in around areas where I’m planting. I pull weeds by hand, and transplant small forbs such as foam flower, piggyback plant, bullrush and ferns around damp areas and old stumps (from logging many decades previous) where they will be sheltered and require less water. Despite proximity to a large shed with a faucet, it would be difficult and time consuming to extend hoses and water. In some cases I haul water buckets.  I’ve also planted mint in two low areas where water collects in winter, a long-ago result of an unintentional underground fire from debris my father burned.

The  low areas are difficult to manage as the top soil was lost years ago leaving several hundred square feet of clay pan that fills with several inches of water each year.  In summer, the clay dries and cracks, making it difficult to keep anything living there. I have been encroaching on these areas with loads of soil and plants such as yellow iris that appear to be tolerant  to wide variations in water levels. I transplanted these from a large clump in the lake.

One of two low areas that flood in winter and dry out in summer. A clump of yellow iris is visible to the right. These were under several inches of water but are now dry.

Pieces of an old dock my father dismantled and partly buried visible in front of a newly-planted maple. Cleaning up buried junk is another task I often face.

With large sums of money, I’d have dirt hauled in, but I must work at this slowly by hand. Without a full time job now, it has become a meditation to go out there each day to weed and water.  I see more this way: the birds, insects, and small plants and the cycles of the recovering landscape. It is a healing of both land and soul.

Earthen lake dam recently cleared. I hope to put a viewing platform here.

Earthen lake dam recently cleared. I hope to put a viewing platform here.

I worked for years as an ecologist surveying for plants and animals that were listed as threatened or endangered either under the federal Endangered Species Act, or the California equivalent. I saw a lot of good habitat about to be replaced by permanent structures, but I also saw a lot of decent habitat degraded simply by soil compaction, garbage dumping, and alien weeds.

These places might never have supported listed species with narrow habitat needs, but they could have sustained more common species with broader distributions that could not withstand the damages done to the soil, nor compete against aggressive, weedy invaders. Once eliminated, they could not come back unless there were nearby seed sources. And if a particular species is not a ‘pioneer’, e.g. able to grow on bare soil in bright light, they likely would never return to pummeled areas anyway.  As good habitat becomes increasingly rare, or fragmented, the loss of only a few of the remaining populations can spell the end for the species in an area. Add these areas up over a county, state, or region, and the species becomes rare.

In WA, weather and geology means that habitats are more homogenous, and we have far fewer unique and rare species as a result. Most of our rare plants occupy scarce places such as rocky cliffs or remnant oak woodlands where humans do not usually tread.  However, there are lots of not-rare but not-common plants that occupy more widespread, undisturbed habitats such as mature Douglas fir forest or seeps that feed wetlands.  These include perennial forbs such as piggy-back plant (Tolmiea menziesiiand miterwort (Mitella sp.), as well as less-common trees such as Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia).

Two species that I am fortunate to have discovered on my property are foam flower (Tiarella trifoliata), and pathfinder (Adenocaulon bicolor), the latter known for the white undersides of its leaves that turnover when disturbed. These are not rare by any means, but nor are they extremely common in lowland Puget Sound.  Both occupy relatively common habitats – moist shady sites and dry forest floor in Douglas fir dominated forest, respectively – but neither can survive an area graded and logged, as my own experience in May with coral root revealed.

Corallorhiza maculata

Corallorhiza maculata (coral root) – dependence on soil mycorrhizae associated with conifers render this species exceptionally sensitive to soil disturbance.

Pathfinder habitat below the lake

An area by the lake cleared of Himalayan blackberry.

An area by the lake cleared of Himalayan blackberry.

Blackberry thickets effectively block other species from thriving.

Blackberry thickets effectively block other species from thriving.

Since much of lowland Puget Sound is ripe for development, and because development not only destroys habitats occupied by less-common plants but also introduces invasives that exclude natives, we stand to lose a lot. In my last job, I had to listen to a client and another biologist speak casually about how a relatively pristine riparian area on a major river had no listed species and therefore disturbance was of no concern. And yet as we hiked along it, I could see many species of plants (neither of these individuals were botantists),  that were common only to this type of riparian area. There were no plans to site the planned structure where disturbance would have minimal impact to springs and seeps, or to salvage and replant natives. Most companies would want to avoid the additional costs associated with mitigations that were not required. Yet it is precisely for that reason that plants become rare in the first place.

Think of the first passenger pigeon to fall by a gunshot, and then the last to die only a few decades later. I stand by the ESA, but it is only a last-ditch effort. If only our conservation minded volunteer groups (e.g. the Native Plant Societies of many states) would step forward to provide salvage and restoration services for projects that involve temporary habitat disturbance, we could at least ensure that some plant populations could receive additional protections.

Since the sale of my father’s excavator heralded (for the most part) and era of relatively limited disturbance, my mission for my Personal Jungle incorporates habitat restoration and the reintroduction of species that would be expected to occur (we won’t go into the debate behind that assertion) in Puget Sound lowland habitats.

To this end, I have developed my own restoration plan based in part upon my readings and observations of species diversity here:

1. Remove invasives I have several acres of mature Himalayan blackberry (Rubus discolor), about 1/4 acre of reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinaceascattered about, and patches of English ivy (Hedera  helix) and scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius). I believe that with diligence I can eradicate all but the ivy, which reseeds freely from mature plants on adjacent properties. I am always finding new seedlings or young vines which I diligently pull only to find more somewhere else.  However, I keep them from climbing trees and reseeding.

A tarp used to reduce reed canary grass.

A tarp works well to kill or at least slow the growth of reed canary grass until I can excavate the roots.

The blackberry removal follows a three-part plan: a. cut back with clippers or machete b. cut back next season and, if not in a restoration area, dig some roots OR c. if in a restoration, dig roots

A blackberry tuber. These give the plant energy to regrow after cutting.

A blackberry tuber. These give the plant energy to regrow after cutting.

Cutting eventually kills them as the thick tubers cannot keep up with leaf loss, but it takes several seasons. I like to cut when its cold and dry and I’ve little else that I can accomplish. Its also good exercise and even an emotional vent too!

2. Collect or buy native seed for restoration. This year I’ve collected and planted foam flower and pathfinder seed from this property, both in the greenhouse and in cleared habitats that match the  soil and light conditions of the donor plants.

foam flower seed collected from a single population on the property

foam flower seed collected from a single population on the property

I also collect seed in the wild where permitted. In the logged are by the shed, I purchased a native seed mix for wet areas that I hope will assist in securing the soil and outcompeting the weeds.  Native plant societies are also good sources for seed.

Recently logged area (May 2014) seeded with native bunch grasses.

Recently logged area (May 2014) seeded with native bunch grasses.

3. Propagate cuttings I have an indoor greenhouse with light and heating pads for this purpose. Armed with my booklet ‘Cuttings through the Year‘ published by the Arboretum Foundation of the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, I take soft and hardwood cuttings of both natives and ornamentals and attempt to grow them. I have about a 10% success rate so far, but I keep trying. Red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea, willow (Salix sp.), deutzia (Deutzia gracilis), and beauty berry (Callicarpa sp.) do well.  I hope to have success with cuttings from one of my old-growth nine bark (Physocarpus capitatus).

A propagation chamber made from tupperware and a plastic nut container.

A propagation chamber made from tupperware and a plastic nut container.

4.  Transplant mature plants I have several fern ‘nurseries’ around the property with sufficiently moist conditions to allow for propagation. I use these plants, and those from along areas where I mow, or in roadside ditches that are mowed, for replanting the logged areas or as borders to developed gardens.

Abundant sword fern and sedges above the lake dam

Abundant sword fern and sedges above the lake dam where I’ve cleared blackberry.

Mitella sp.

Mitella sp.

I also have permission to collect on a property I used to own by the Cowlitz River, and purchase natives online or from local nurseries.  Besides sword fern ( Polystichum munitum , lady fern ( Anthyrium filix-femina), sedges (Carex sp.), bulrush
(Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani), piggy-back plant, and miterwort are plentiful on the property and transplant well.  The retention pond and wet areas on the logged unit behind the shed have benefited from my redistribution. I don’t always adhere to the use of local natives, such being the case with the four bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) I purchased and planted last spring.  A native to the Southeast, they grow in wetlands and offer up a gorgeous gold color in fall. I couldn’t resist.

Bald cypress in a field below the barn. Gold is its winter color.

My observations on this property while I’m out pruning, transplanting, and cutting have served me well in my restoration efforts. Besides becoming increasingly aware of microhabitats, I have also learned the value of rotten wood as fertilize. My greatest success to this end is the giant Viburnum opulus (aka high-bush cranberry, now 15 ft in 4 years) in front of the barn.  In the recently logged area, I am now planting old, rotting stumps left from logging many decades ago with licorice and sword fern. I am also seeking to add red huckleberry, which in my observations grow almost exclusively on stumps and logs.

Licorice fern (Polystichum glycyrrhiza) planted on a stump in the newly logged area


The harvest

I have to admit that I am a lot ‘greener’ than I would like to admit, and it is a fact that I’ve had to hide for a long time as I’ve worked in jobs with employers that would not have tolerated any expression of my true self. In fact, I don’t work now in part to recover my principles after a job that asked me to work for projects that my conscious would never approve. In a sense, this time is for healing my wounds as I seek new directions for myself more in tune with my real feelings and interests. Of course, you can’t always eat your morality at the end of the day, but for now I’ve other means to stay afloat.


My sun chart for May 1

Having put that out there, I’ve opted to log my property to: 1. create more light in a forest that has grown up considerably in the 41 years that my family has held the property; and 2. provide some income. It’s tough for me though. The patches I selected to log include the area around the barn and shed, which are located in the sunniest place on the property and would stand to benefit the most. Removing trees in this area would also reduce shade on the garden and extend the sunlight hours to about 6 per day according to my calcs. Using a sun chart, I figured out where the sun fell at certain times of the day during the beginning of the growing season, and which trees where creating the most shade at a given time.


Logging between barn and vegetable garden.

The logging began the last week of May and actually took the form of selective thinning. The result has been stunning: trees removed from the south side of the barn has sent light flooding into a perennial shady area where I can now plant maples to create a multi-story woodland garden not shadowed by huge Douglas fir. Removal of most of the large (150′) Douglas fir south of the shed has brought more light to the green house and the vegetable garden as well. I’d several more trees marked for removal below the garden, but decided to leave them in favor of a nesting flicker and the fact that the cherry trees block most of the evening sun anyway.

grove before

the grove behind the shed – before

The grove - after

The grove – after

Four alders below the house were removed, bringing more light into my nacent rhododendron garden and planned water garden. Two of the trees were of quite an advanced age (about 36″ diameter at breast height if not more) and one was rotten through the trunk. I know the pileated woodpeckers will miss the latter, which was how I noticed the tree was about to topple into the garage, but I’ve taken care to leave snags wherever I can.


The rhododendron garden on the far side right of the photo will now extend into what was once a heavily shaded area beneath four large alders

Once I get the mess cleaned up, I hope to add even more maples and sun-loving azaleas to the mix. The house still remains in a shadowed bowl, hemmed in by some very aged Douglas fir that have grown so close to the house that I’m too nervous to have them removed. With the tradeoff of sun elsewhere on the property, I’ll continue to nurture shade gardens in the damp forests around the front and back yards, removing tall huckleberry as necessary to create open spaces. While I welcome the light, I admit to flinching everytime a tree crashed to the ground. Some where 60 to 80 inches dbh. It became almost physically painful to watch, but the hardest part was finding a large patch of coralroot (orchids) in an area of the fir grove behind the shed where I’d never before seen any. Despite having done many, many property surveys for sensitive plants and animals prior to disturbance as part of my career, I’d not done the same for my own property. Thus, while my logging contractor (an old friend of my father’s and very familiar with the property having cleared it 40 years ago) went to get his equipment set up the first day, I found myself frantically digging an replanting coral root (Corallorhiza maculata).

These plants lack chlorophyll and do not have the ability to photosynthesize. They are instead parasitic on soil fungi (mycorrhizae) which they depend on for food. After a quick bit of research on the mycorrhizal fungi requirements of coral root,I chose an area where the plants did occur and another where they did not to replant. I therefore hoped to avoid banking on the success or failure of a single site. Both sites were similar in regards to vegetation (open conifer forest) and the presence of decayed wood in the soil, although neither were as rich as the soil in the original site, which had an abundance of rotting material that also nurtured small fern. My review of published articles online suggested that my species (C. maculata) was somewhat more closely associated with the occurrence of particular ectomycorrhizal fungi than another congener (C. mertensiana) that occurs in the same type of habitat. It therefore seemed important to take as much of the original soil as possible to transfer the soil fungi with the plants. I discovered as I dug that these orchids have nothing resembling a root, just a straight white stem with a series of nodules. Working as quickly as I could, I transferred about 25 plants, roughly dividing them between the two sites. The plants at the occupied site were already post-bloom, while the transferred plants were still in full bloom. About a week later, they were still in bloom. I watered one site but not the other, yet the plants at both sites appeared alive. Time will tell the success of this venture. I cringed when the trees fell. I often got up from my writing to get away from the sound, or drove around to avoid returning home.  I learned after the first sites were harvested that the logs will be exported overseas. I am opposed to this for various economic reasons, but also for more emotional ones:  I grew up with these trees and I don’t want to see them leave the country. I just bury the feelings, as I always have, so I can move forward with reason as my motive. Still, it hurts in some strange, almost physical way to lose them. Maybe that is a part of me I should still hold onto.

Responsible thinning of a well-managed forest


Once again, it is saturation time in Western Washington, when the ground has absorbed all that it can and every rainfall runs off into some other place. Despite my best intentions, the work that I did on the front yard wasn’t quite enough to counter the massive amount of water that collects on the driveway and runs off beside the house.

                                           Runoff from driveway, 2010.

I am increasingly convinced that the addition of two additional driveway extensions has contributed to the basement flooding that never existing when I was growing up there.

This stretch of driveway was wooded during the 70’s and 80’s.  Native vegetation, including salal, huckleberry, and sword fern, was sufficient to capture runoff coming down the steeper slope from to the right. Now, this is the lowest point of the driveway by the house and collects rainfall as well as runoff that converges at a point by the cedar tree and pours over a rock wall and down to the lower portion of the house foundation. Water in the basement flows in a direction consistent with this theory.

At first, I considered simply decommissioning this section of driveway by bringing in topsoil, logs and rock to recreate a forest. There were issues however of temporary and longterm erosion, and how to landscape the area so that it would fit into the rest of the garden.

Research into drain systems showed another solution:  a trench drain. Except my version would follow the edge of the driveway rather than crossing it. Therefore, a plastic gutter would be sufficient to carry the runoff. I plan to implement this as soon as I can get my other projects a bit further along.







On the topic of experiments with drainage is a reroute of driveway drainage into the lake.

This ditch once carried water from the driveway ditchline and a neighbor’s wetland out to the county road ditchline. A few hours of slinging mud and I was able to dig out a trench to reroute the flow – at times in excess of 5 cfs – into the lake. My ultimate goal is to correct drainage issues such as this to keep the lake as full as possible throughout the year.

The above photo was taken at the lower end of this 5 acre open water wetland. The dam that maintains it is in the foreground. Most of the water that flows over the property reaches this basin.









Solving driveway runoff

Grizzly (and deer) protection for the garden

As I spend increasingly more time in my garden, driven in part by dissatisfactions with other areas of my life as I approach middle age, I rack up quite a list of ideas. On some days, they spill over and surround me with their chatter for attention, and if they are good enough, they stay with me. I write much but draw little,  a misfortune for me as my designs remain largely in my head and are therefore often experimental, and implemented through seat-of-the-pants methods.  Other ideas of lesser magnitude or lacking in spatial coordinates may dissipate before I can reach a sheet of paper.Therefore, I set forth this list, which came to me as I raked alder leaves yesterday in the rain, for later benefit:

Eight Landscape Maintenance Ideas I’ve Learned Through the Years

1. Leaves make great mulch – alder and maple on this property in particular. It is well worth the effort to rake under wild trees as the leaves provide both nutrients in the form of N and C as well as soil texture and weed control.  I still need to do research on the nitrogen (N) content of red alder (Alnus rubra) leaves. I have read that the soil around alders, which fix nitrogen just like legumes, have locally high N levels that will benefit the plants that grow there. This is something to consider as I plan interplantings along the edge of the native forest.

2. Himalayan blackberries can be controlled organically – It is not necessary to hire workers or spray the heck out of blackberries. The trend towards using herbicides, however fast they may breakdown, to solve problems disturbs me deeply. I have 20 acres of blackberries and I derive considerable mental relaxation and physical conditioning from their removal. In large swaths, I use a machete. In places where they are mixed with desirable plants, I use clippers. In winter, even the larger blackberries can be pulled. I’ve been doing that quite a bit lately. The ground here gets so sodden just about anything pulls up easily. Blackberry roots have a large nodule that forms just below the ground; if nothing else, clip this free. I don’t yet know if the remaining roots will resprout, but removing the storage organ will set it back a while. In this manner, I have cleared many large areas of blackberries enough so that light annual maintenance is all that is required to prevent thickets from forming.

3. Get to know the ground – while I’m rooting about in the bushes killing blackberries, I have also found invasives creeping in – English ivy, Scots broom, and reed canary grass in particular – and have made mental notes of their locations for future eradication. I’ve also found a myriad of curious mushrooms and colorful liverworts with orange tips.  I take inventory of the plants that I see and where they grow, and have noticed a distinct lack of herbaceous diversity.  I use my observations to develop ways to reintroduce native groundcover to areas smothered by years of unmanaged overstory.  It pays to walk every tangled inch of property to know what is there.

4. The benefits of stick piles – As I trim trees and pick up fallen branches, I typically leave them in piles ranging from 1′ to 4′ high. Usually I’ll cut large branches into 3′ sections. If left long enough, the woods will reclaim the piles as trumpet vine, grass, and other creepers take over. The finer materials will rot, and small birds and rodents may enjoy the cover.  Later, I’ll burn the pile, liberating nutrients as ash, which can be left in place or put on the garden where the annuals prefer alkaline soil. I used to pick up piles and move them to a central location to burn as my father once did, but increasingly I’m tending to leave the piles in place, putting them out in the open to avoid torching the canopy.  It saves time and provides local soil conditioning.  However, keeping in mind the issues of carbon release and global warming, I also recommend leaving some piles in place back in the shrubbery where they are not visually unappealing in the more cultivated areas. I’ll also leaving rotting limbs on the ground out of sight, or cut up smaller materials and throw them into the forest to decay. I have decided after much consideration that I want to manage the woods closer to the living spaces for visual appeal with few downed branches and trees, but also maintain a natural forest floor with rotting material that will nuture the soil and provide habitat for smaller animals and microorganisms.  Despite the appearance of many managed landscapes I’ve seen, a clean forest floor is not sustainable.

5. Plant to emulate nature  – Use multistory plantings. Avoid long runs of nothing but bark with a few plants stuck in here and there. Even highly educated people tend to view this as appealing, but it is unnatural and unsustainable. My barked areas eventually teem with plants that cover the ground and reach into vertically and horizontally into the intermediate spaces above the ground. In other areas, I thin out the overstory of old-growth huckleberry and salal and plant underneath to soften and color the edges of the natural forest.  Groundcover – understory – canopy; no matter the scale, using this as a baseline will generally yield appealing results, maximize habitat potential, and benefit the soil while sparing a lot of maintenance. Except for the highly cultured look, most western-style landscapes are riffs on this theme.

6. Rotting logs make good planters – Red huckleberry and licorice fern in particular. If properly placed, they are visually appealing and provide a natural container garden.

7. Madrone logs are just too good to waste – I’m still trying to figure out how to preserve the red bark, which eventually turns black and peels off.  The branches make great pea trellises and structural additions to pots. The trunks and larger branches can be sawed back to form the structure of a low fence. I’m planning one now with madrone branches for posts and sapling poles for rails.

8. Don’t worry about what the deer will and won’t eat – It doesn’t matter. There is little that they won’t eat at some time of the year if desperate enough. Even the fawns have to sample the supposedly unpalatable plants to learn otherwise. Plant what you want and protect it. Or consider the placement of deer trails and landscape accordingly. Here we have deer interstates that can either be avoided to some degree or blocked with fencing.  Unfortunately, I did not consider this when planning my garden at the top of the hill, which intersected a major deer trail. Everytime the fence is down, the deer get in and feast.

I’m not sure where this ongoing saga will lead me. My energy seems boundless, and my devotion deep. I continue to follow my heart and spend most of spare time here ploughing my way to whatever the end product will be. I see it in my mind, without drawings or plans. I’ll know when I reach the point where it looks the way I wish it to be, or at least I  hope it will. It may well turn out to be a never-ending process. Somewhere along the way though, I need to carve out a place where I can learn to just sit and enjoy it.








Managing a large landscape – thoughts for the coming year

  • December 24th, 2012
  • Posted in Land Management
  • Comments Off on Managing a large landscape – thoughts for the coming year



I’m selling a portion of my father’s 20 acres, although it is technically mine now, my father having deeded it to me last week.  With a signature, I have become the owner of my mystical childhood home, even if I have been entrusted to manage it so as to support my father in his decline.  Still, there are parts that will never sell, that no one would want for they are wetlands, and no one wants to own one despite all of the current hew and cry over saving them. Just try to find a buyer for a five acre palustrine wetland. No takers here.

The buyers who approached me want a dry section of Douglas fir forest for a beautiful new house. As I walked the piece last night, I saw not a home site but all of the things that I’ve been trained to look for as a biologist. I found woodland strawberries, yellow wood violets, vanilla leaf, and service berry. There were several varieties of sedges, and miterwort. To my surprise, I discovered a tall red maple that had escaped from cultivation years before and become a leggy specimen wending its way up through the taller trees. Out of an old rotting stump a healthy hemlock sapling grew – not many of these left here. I listened to the rain fall with a soft patter on the wet leaves, long before I could feel it on my face.

I was in despair over the loss of these living things. I had wanted to keep them all for myself although I am dedicated to generating income for my father who suffers more greatly now from dementia. Several of the herbaceous species are indeed quite rare on the other 18 acres which have been heavily disturbed over the years and grow mostly weedy species. My father, a product of a generation who saw the leveling of forests as progress, likes clearing out new places and recently took out a lush patch of woods with trillium and a few other plants now rare to nonexistent elsewhere on the property. It pains me to see this happen. I often feel, as I once did with my career, that I serve other masters besides myself, and if I gave up this habitat for whatever the cost, I would somehow be happier.

How do I educate people about what I can see that so few others do? What if we spent less energy pondering the larger issues of global warming too difficult to see and too complex to grasp, and looked at the ground beneath our feet? Visual connections have greater impact, I believe, for a species such as ours. Care for what you can see and the notion spreads out to other good causes, maybe even an appreciation of the natural world and a cultivation of the habits of good land stewardship.  What if I asked the buyers to walk with me over their new acreage and introduce them to plants they’d likely never see otherwise? Would it induce them not to level the entire lot before building? Might they consider saving as much native woodland and soil as possible?

We are creatures of habitat and devote our days to faithfully recreating the environments with which we are familiar. Planning departments foster a cloned approach to everything, as do builders and road engineers and a host of others with no training or interest in science. Thus, we believe that to build a house we must first clear the lot of every last scrap of vegetation to make room for the heavy equipment that compacts the soil and destroys the roots of the trees left standing. With the house securely built, we recreate our vision of the ideal landscape in the European fashion by hauling in dirt and planting lawns surrounded by non-native species which may or may not survive with the aid of regular gardeners and the judicious application of chemicals. No native plants survive; instead, an enlightened few may restock a few selected favorites from local nurseries.

Here’s my approach: find a place to put the house. Clear only enough room for the access and the home and perhaps a patch of yard. If you want sunny spaces, buy land on ridgetops; don’t level a forest to create a beach.  Protect trees with fencing; identify and protect uncommon plant populations, forbs in particular; discourage soil removal. Minimize the footprint. Watch the contractors and enforce care in using heavy equipment and minimizing trash. Keep the places where the trilliums grow, and maintain habitat for ground nesting birds.

It matters, believe me, it really does. Here in Western Washington where plant diversity is not so great, there are comparatively common species now seldom seen because of ground disturbance. Even my father’s activties are enough to wipe out entire populations of rhizomatous (root spreading) plants that won’t come back without an adjacent source.  Instead, random land clearing creates zones suitable for the weedier species such as trumpet vine, dewberry, and a host of non-natives like Himalayan blackberry. To have biodiversity, we have to minimize disturbance, and we have to do it on our own land. Assuming that a few government parks and reserves will suffice is not enough. Those are mere life rafts in a churning sea of destruction. Everybody has to be in on this.

I don’t know if I’ll have the courage to approach these people and show them what I know of this place. Perhaps they’ll politely decline, or politely take me up on it and humour me with nods and smiles until I get off their land and let them do as they please. Yet it might do me good to acknowledge my own beliefs once in a while, as conveniently as I subjugate them to the needs of others. It could make a difference, if only to me.

A Loss of No Small Magnitude

  • May 6th, 2011
  • Posted in Land Management
  • Comments Off on A Loss of No Small Magnitude