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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- I opened up large areas to weeds, including Himalayan blackberry and 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.
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.
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.