Tag Archives: selective logging

The Finer Points of Forest Restoration

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.
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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.

Responsible thinning of a well-managed forest

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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.

sunchart2
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.

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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.

alders
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.