Fuels Reduction and Improved Habitat: Try SLLOPPS (Snags, Logs, Legacy, Openings, Patches, Piles and Shrubs)

Overly aggressive thinning near Lake Chelan
This natural-looking setting near Lake Chelan is anything but natural. Overly aggressive thinning has left it without the snags, down logs, open patches and other features that wildlife need for habitat. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR

Thinning and fuels reduction are necessary treatments in today’s overstocked dry forests. But sometimes, aggressive implementation of prescriptions can degrade habitats beyond what is really needed for fuels treatments. This article will make a few suggestions on ways to balance these objectives.

If you live in a dry-but-forested area, such as eastern Washington, and are planning a thinning or harvest on your forestland, here’s a simple habitat acronym for you and any contractors you hire to keep in mind: SLLOPPS, which stands for snags, logs, legacy, openings, patches, piles and shrubs. Incorporating these seven features into your project will help reduce future risks of wildfire and insect infestation while promoting a healthy natural habitat for beneficial wildlife.

Natural Forests

In its natural state, the dry forest ecosystem experiences frequent low-intensity fires. This cycle of periodic fire results in tree stands dominated by large, old trees and, generally, not over-stocked with smaller trees and other growth as many stands are today.

Historic photos of eastern Washington and Oregon show classic stands of old ponderosa pine (and some Douglas-fir) with riders on horses and wagons cruising through the open, grassy understory. These conditions did not occur everywhere, but the prevalence of ground fire at 7- to 15-year intervals ensured that these stands seldom suffered crown fires. Individual tree vigor was strong thanks to reduced competition for resources. Thus, fire disturbance helped maintain these forests.

These stands contained large standing dead trees as well, and some enormous down logs that could survive low intensity fires. Regeneration was often patchy, resulting in numerous openings and areas of dense regeneration that might flash out in the next fire. Many shrub species are fire adapted, and after burning would either re-sprout in clumps, or sprout from seed in the soil, creating a vigorous shrub understory.

Wildlife species, such as white headed woodpeckers and flammulated owls, are adapted to this open forest and its plentiful snag and log habitats and rich understory of shrubs.

Human Actions

Native Americans are believed to have played a significant role in the fire ecology of the inland Northwest. Their activities led to the landscape-shaping fires that produced the stands encountered by the early European settlers to this region. Also during this time, lightning fires often would burn until season-ending weather events such as snowfall.

Logging (until very recently) in these dry forests usually removed the large, excellent quality trees. This was economically advantageous but ecologically unfortunate, as these trees would have been the survivors of the fires. Without recognizing what we were doing, we removed the backbone of the dry forest habitat.

The biology of dry forest tree species involves producing large numbers of seeds to give a chance for a few to survive the inevitable fires. Fire suppression efforts that began in the early 20th century inevitably led to the dense stands that we see on the landscape today.

Now, we are aggressively thinning across the landscape, where funding, motivation and political will let us. Unfortunately for wildlife, caution over “fire safe” and “forest health” can lead us to produce stands that are simply “too clean” and “parked out” to serve as quality wildlife habitats.

In this article, I will discuss seven tools — snags, logs, legacy, openings, patches, piles and shrubs (SLLOPPS) — that can provide some habitat diversity while addressing the issues associated with overstocked stands and tree mortality due to stress and insects.

Prescription for Habitat Diversity

SNAGS: Some of the most important habitat features in any forest are made of dead wood; specifically, standing dead trees (snags) and down logs. Live trees with dead portions of their stems and branches can also fill this role. Insects reside in the dead wood, often feeding on fungi, while woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and other birds feed on these insects. Cavities created by woodpeckers during regular nesting and courtship behavior can provide homes for secondary cavity species such as bluebirds or flying squirrels. Because many of these species are voracious feeders on insects, including some that are forest pests, their presence helps to keep the forest healthy but only if suitable habitat is provided so that they can occupy territories for feeding and nesting.

recently thinned stand with several wildlife features
This recently thinned stand on private land displays the key elements (snags, down wood, piled chipped materials, etc.) that make it useful wildlife habitat. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR

DNR’s cost share thinning projects target dangerous fuels which are generally woody stems less than 3 inches in diameter. These smaller stems will carry fire quickly and spread flames into crowns. Larger wood, which ignites more slowly and creates less flash hazard, can be left for habitat and soil enrichment.

Snags should be greater than 10 inches in diameter at breast height (dbh) in order to provide opportunities for large excavators, such as the hairy woodpecker or flicker, to create cavities. Natural snag densities vary tremendously, so the best policy for habitat is to maintain all snags greater than 10 inches dbh, and protect them from firewood and timber harvests. Forest practices laws in Washington state require 2 wildlife trees per acre; although this is likely not a biologically optimum number, it can serve as a target for forest management. Following this rule could include creating 2 snags per acre where they do not exist. Optimum snag densities are closer to between 12 and 16 snags per acre but in managed forests this is a hard number to reach.

LEGACY: Big trees are the backbones of dry forest ecology. Keep large trees, including defective ones. They will produce more cones and branch surface area than younger stems, provide perches and nest sites, and will become future dead wood.

LOGS: Logs can be treated the same as trees by emphasizing the protection for all large pieces by preventing them from being piled or burned, and by leaving them in place. Scattering tops and large pieces of unmerchantable wood across treated units are additional desirable actions to improve habitat.

OPENINGS: Wildlife also benefits from openings—areas within the forest where all, or nearly all, of the overstory trees are not present. These openings allow shrubs and grasses to flourish as wildlife forage. Natural meadows are the best candidates for these areas, but openings also can be embedded within stands to allow big game animals to feel secure and to provide habitat for other wildlife associated with edge habitats.

PATCHES: Denser habitats made up of young conifers and shrubs provide quality habitat for many species, such as feeding or nesting songbirds, and as browse and cover for big game. Retaining small patches of trees in thinning units can provide this habitat, but it requires forethought and follow through. Before thinning, mark areas from 30 to 50 feet in depth, and at least the same distance in length, or preferably longer. These areas should be left unthinned, (or thinned lightly), in order to maintain shrubs, trees and other mid-level vegetation while providing cover for large mammals such as deer, elk and bear. These patches should be configured across forest units so as to break long-sight distances, and staggered at distances of 200-300 feet apart.

PILES: Wood piles can be left as distinct habitat elements and act as surrogates for down wood. They will provide cover for many species of wildlife. The best approach to creating piles for wildlife involve placing at least three to five layers of larger logs that are crisscrossed, or laid lengthwise in triangular arrangements. When covered with a few layers (about 2 to 3 feet deep) of fine branches, the pile will provide habitat with small interior spaces. Habitat piles also can be used as a non-burning solution for managing slash. Place piles constructed for wildlife away from overhanging trees so that if a pile should catch fire it will not act as a ladder fuel to the crowns. It’s best to provide these wildlife piles at a rate of two to three per acre, preferably in clusters away from roads, trees and structures. Because these piles are not intended as sources of firewood they should be marked for retention after the thinning work is done but before other brush or slash piles are burned.

SHRUBS: Many shrub species provide excellent fruit and vegetation for many types of wildlife. Ask your local U.S. Conservation District office which shrubs are the best for your area. Elderberry is always a good choice, as is most anything else with “berry” in the name.

Putting it All Together

A general rule of thumb for 10 to 15 percent of the project area to be made up of one, or all, of these desirable wildlife habitat elements. Providing patches of habitat for cover, or around a feature such as a snag, can provide much in the way of habitat diversity and reduce the potential impact of thinning projects on the diversity of animal and plant species that live in your forest.

If done thoughtfully, thinning projects that maintain snags, logs and shrubs a sufficient distance from overstory trees will provide quality habitat while improving the health and resilience of dry forest stands. Work closely with contractors and be very specific as to where these habitats are to be provided. Thinning will increase resilience to both fire and insects through improved individual tree vigor, which in turn benefits many wildlife species. Risk of catastrophic loss of entire stands can be avoided with good projects too. And that benefits wildlife in the long term.

Case Study: Swauk Pines, Kittitas County

In 2015, Suzanne Wade of the Kittitas County Conservation District (KCCD) partnered with private landowners at Swauk Pines, a new 50-acre development near Cle Elum made up of 3- to 8-acre parcels in a dry pine forest. The Taylor Bridge fire (2012) came very close to this area and created significant motivation for landowners, some of whom had already built residences while others were in the planning stages, to reduce their wildfire risks while maintaining wildlife habitat.

Swauk Pines development before forest-thinning
BEFORE: Swauk Pines development near Cl Elum before forest-thinning treatments. Note the many small (less than 8” diameter) trees, trees with low branches and the heavy woody understory–all prone to spreading fire. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR.

Most of the development was treated in a cost share project in which the KCCD worked closely with the thinning contractor to incorporate SLLOPPS principles into the forest treatments. These treatments included retaining large snags and logs, and including shrub patches. A bird survey was conducted before the project began to identify where to create open patches attractive to nesting birds.

Results

As a result of the strategic approach to forest thinning, habitat quality was maintained, fire risk was reduced, and forest health improved large. Homeowners were asked to take responsibility for the areas immediately around their houses. This project is an excellent example of successfully implementing multiple objectives.

Swauk Pines after thinning
AFTER: Swauk Pines after thinning to remove brushy overgrowth and most of the trees less than 8 inches in diameter. Note the retention of snags and patches of shrubs for wildlife. Photos: Ken Bevis/DNR

Including these habitat elements in thinning projects is only the beginning. Vegetation always grows back so the job of maintaining the levels of fuels acceptable to individual landowners is an ongoing task that will need to be revisited every few years.

Thinning and fuel reduction projects are crucial to help our forests survive the current rounds of drought and devastating wildfire. Including habitat elements in these projects is not only possible but an additional benefit of meeting our fire and forest health objectives.

For more information or to schedule a site visit to your forest property, please contact the DNR Small Forest Landowner Office. For information or assistance with habitat, contact DNR Landowner Assistance Wildlife Biologist, Ken Bevis at Ken.Bevis@DNR.wa.gov

By Ken Bevis, DNR Landowner Assistance Wildlife Biologist, Ken.Bevis@DNR.wa.gov

 

Drought of 2015 Still Stressing Trees in 2016

Drought-stressed trees
Drought-stressed trees seen in Thurston County during the spring of 2016

In 2015, Washington state experienced a record low snowpack, below-normal spring and summer precipitation, and record high temperatures for most of the year. As a result, by August eastern Washington was experiencing extreme drought conditions that lasted through the end of October. The visible effects of this drought on tree health are already apparent and may be evident for several years, especially related bark beetle-caused mortality.

Effects of Drought Stress on Trees

During a drought, water loss through the foliage (transpiration) can exceed water uptake via the root system, resulting in increased tension within the columns that are transporting water from the roots to the crown. As drought conditions escalate, water columns can break, having deleterious effects on trees.

Symptoms of drought usually progress from the top of the tree down and from the outside in. The effects may not appear right away, but over time you may see tree foliage wilt, become chlorotic (turn yellow due to lack of chlorophyll), or redden. Newly emerging shoots may appear shrunken. Shoots and branches may die, resulting in top kill, or producing an irregular pattern of flagging in the crown. Growth loss may result from loss of foliage and damage to cambium, potentially leading to mortality.

Bark beetle outbreaks and more root disease are often associated with drought-weakened trees. The current increase in bark beetle activity in Washington is likely related to the drought conditions experienced last year.

Managing Drought Stress

Although drought stress is common in eastern Washington, it has been exacerbated by decades of fire suppression practices that caused tree stands to become more dense. Trees growing in dense, overstocked stands tend to get less water and lack the defenses to fend off invaders such as bark beetles.

Thinning stands can increase the vigor and resilience of trees because there will be fewer trees competing for scarce resources–water, in particular. When thinning, it is important to leave species that are appropriate for the site, such as pine and larch which are more drought tolerant than many types of fir. Controlling competition from other plant species in the understory can help as well.

By Melissa Fischer, Forest Health Specialist, Northeast Region, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, melissa.fischer@dnr.wa.gov

New Pests of the Understory

In a time of world trade and global movement of people and products, hitchhiking insects are becoming more and more common. In the past 20 years, almost 60 exotic insect species have established in Washington state. Some of these hitchhikers can become serious agricultural and forestry pests. The risk continues to grow as global markets continue to expand.

A 2010 study led by Julieann Aukema, a forest ecologist with the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, California, estimated that there is 32 percent risk that a wood boring insect more damaging than the emerald ash borer will be introduced into the United States in the next ten years. In addition to exotic insects that can cause significant economic impacts to agriculture and natural resources, there are a number of species affecting the natural and cultural ecosystems. The following are a few examples of newly introduced insects that are, or likely will, impact the forest understory and those that rely on it.

Viburnum leaf beetle

Viburnum leaf beetle adult.
Viburnum leaf beetle adult. Photo: T. Murray/ Washington State University
Viburnum leaf beetle larvae.
Viburnum leaf beetle larvae. Photo: T. Murray/Washington State University

The viburnum leaf beetle (VLB), Pyrrhalta viburni, was first discovered in Washington state in Whatcom County in 2004. Since then, it has spread down to King County. Recent collections of VLB have been made in Spokane. VLB overwinters in its egg state in the stems of last year’s new viburnum growth. Larvae hatch when the first leaves unfold in spring. Damage caused by feeding larvae is very distinctive and won’t be confused with any other feeding damage on viburnums. After feeding, larvae migrate to the soil to pupate for a few weeks. Adults emerge and continue to feed on foliage causing additional damage. Adult beetles feed, mate and lay eggs until first frost. Viburnum plants are not able to tolerate multiple defoliation events over consecutive years. The native Viburnum edule, high bush cranberry, is susceptible to attack. Many wildlife species rely on high bush cranberry for a reliable food source. To learn more about the viburnum leaf beetle in Washington state.

Lily leaf beetle

Lily leaf beetle adult.
Lily leaf beetle adult. Photo: E. LaGasa/Washington State Dept. of Agriculture

The lily leaf beetle (LLB), Lilioceris lilii, was discovered in Washington state just outside of Seattle in Bellevue during the spring of 2012. Thus far, LLB has only been found in Bellevue, Seattle and Issaquah. Adult beetles are very conspicuous as scarlet red beetles. Adults overwinter in protected areas and move to feed, mate and lay eggs on emerging true lilies (Lilium spp.) and fritillaries (Fritallaria spp.) in the spring. Eggs are laid in irregular rows on the underside of the lily leaves. Once eggs hatch, beetle larvae feed on the lily foliate and developing flower buds. Larvae cover themselves in excrement and other debris as a defensive tactic and superficially resemble slugs. Two key native species in the Pacific Northwest that are likely susceptible are the tiger lily, Lilium columbianum, and the chocolate lily, Fritillaria lanceolate. Learn more about the lily leaf beetle in Washington state.

Azalea lace bug

Azalea lace bug adult
Azalea lace bug adult. Photo: T. Shanan/Oregon Dept. of Agriculture

The azalea lace bug, Stephanitis pyrioides, was first discovered in Seattle, King County, in 2008. The following year, it was identified in Oregon. Lace bug nymphs emerge from eggs in the spring. Having a piercing-sucking mouthpart, the nymphs feed by removing the liquids from plant leaves creating a stippled or bronzed burn on the leaf surface. Distinctive tar spots appear on the undersides of leaves as evidence of their presence. Adult lace bugs are quite attractive with a clear, lacy appearance. In the Pacific Northwest there will be multiple generations per year. Azalea lace bugs are causing significant damage and mortality to landscaped azaleas and rhododendrons in both the Seattle and Portland areas. What is most concerning about this newly introduced insect is the degree of damage it can cause and the expanded host ranges documented in the Pacific Northwest. Jim LaBonte from Oregon Department of Agriculture has found damage on huckleberry and salal in addition to other native plant species. Learn more about the azalea lace bug in the Pacific Northwest.

Spotted winged drosophila

Spotted wing drosophila.
Spotted wing drosophila. Photo: E. LaGasa/ Washington State Dept. of Agriculture

The spotted winged drosophila (SWD), Drosophila suzukii, is a significant new pest to many small fruits and has had a major impact on blueberry, raspberry and cherry production in regions of the Pacific Northwest. SWD was first discovered in 2009 in Seattle, just shortly after its detection in California the previous year. Since then, SWD has spread across the continent. SWD adults overwinter in protected areas. When berries and other food resources become available in spring, SWD adults lay eggs into ripening fruit using an ovipositor—an appendage—with a saw-like edge. The ability to egg-lay in under-ripe fruits has made this fruit fly a serious pest. Being a fruit fly, SWD has a high reproductive capacity and fast generation time. Populations can build rapidly. Larvae feed on the flesh of fruit and quickly cause the fruit to rot. Larvae pupate outside the fruit and emerge as adults to repeat the process.

In 2013, SWD was found infested huckleberries at high elevations in the Indian Heaven Wilderness Area of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Almost 50 percent of the huckleberries picked turned to be infested by SWD. Since 2013, SWD has consistently been collected from infested huckleberries in high elevations (5100 feet) in remote areas. SWD was able to disperse successfully in nooks and crannies of the Mount Adams and Mount Hood forests very rapidly. SWD has likely done so in other forests where huckleberries are common.

The economic impact to agriculture and natural resources of new pests is the focus for research and investments; there are few resources available to understand the impact on natural and cultural systems. The significance of these new pest introductions into natural areas has yet to be fully realized. To put it in perspective however, humans have harvested huckleberries from the Indian Heaven Wilderness Area for almost 10,000 years without experiencing wormy, rotten berries until now.

By Todd A. Murray, Director, WSU Agricultural and Natural Resources Extension Program Unit
tmurray@wsu.edu

Native Plants and Fire

Lacamas Prairie Natural Area in Clark County
Lacamas Prairie Natural Area in Clark County is an example of the landscapes where native peoples used fire to control vegetation for food and medicinal plants, craft materials and wildlife. Photo: DNR

It is known that fire can be a major factor in the health of the forest. It also can be a major factor in the composition of the forest. Many of our native plants have adapted to fire, including lodgepole pine which requires fire to melt the wax on cone scales so they open to spread their seeds, and grasses which thrive after fire has killed the competing shrubs and broadleaf plants.

Native people who managed the lands of the Pacific Northwest for thousands of years understood how valuable fire was in maintaining sustainable stands of native plants. They used fire as we might use chemical herbicides. Eventually, growing trees would provide too much shade for the good production of fruit, tubers, grasses and herbs. So the native people would use controlled burns to rejuvenate failing stands of edible, medicinal and spiritual plants.

Typically, the burns would be conducted in late fall or early spring. This was timed to take advantage of the plants’ ability to store nutrients in their root structures during the growing season. It also took advantage of the cool and wet times that helped control the size and heat of the fires. By keeping the fires small and fast moving, the site never got hot enough to hurt the below-ground parts of the desirable plants, but would prune back their tops and kill the unwanted plants. The trees that were encroaching on the huckleberry, camas, fescue and blackberry fields were kept at bay by fire.

The chemicals that were stored in the tops were deposited on the soil surface and then moved into the rooting zone by rains and melting snows. These chemicals such as potassium, phosphorus and micronutrients became the fertilizer that supported new plant growth. So the residue of the fire along with the energy that was stored in the roots would enable the plants to push up new growth the next spring. Fire also exposed the mineral soil by burning the duff and debris, providing an excellent seed bed for native plants.

In Washington the native peoples kept large prairies open for production of food plants, medicinal, craft materials and wildlife. What new arrivals from Europe thought were virgin prairies were in fact large pastures and gardens. This was also true of the vast berry fields in the mountains and the diverse plant system in riparian areas.

As we have controlled fire in all areas of our environment, an unfortunate result in many areas is that we have enabled nonnative plants to push out the native plants that needed fire to thrive. The nonnative plants also are better users of nitrogen runoff from agriculture and homestead lands. In some cases now the invasive plants have become so prolific that they are better able to repopulate burned area than our native plants. The native plants are no longer present in sufficient numbers to produce the seeds and new plants like the introduced plants.

So how do we take advantage of the native plants’ ability to survive fire if they are no longer in the ecosystem in numbers like they were 100 years ago? As a first step, we need to learn what native plants were growing before fire was excluded on land we manage. We can learn a lot from the work being done by restoration ecologists at universities, federal land management agencies, conservation groups and tribal governments. These entities are all looking at how to successfully replant and reseed burned- over areas with the goal of raising the numbers of native plants in the ecosystem. This will help to increase fire resiliency as well as reestablish traditional gathering areas, and create new areas on public natural resource lands. The real end goal is to provide the public with access to sustainable native plant materials.

Many forest landowners have developed a trust relationship with local Native American families who still practice traditional gathering. The landowners share the forest bounty, increasing access to local plants, while the native families teach how to manage areas for special crops.

Other great sources of information on traditional native plant systems are the journals of early explorers and botanists like David Douglas, who kept detailed descriptions of where he found plants and how they were being managed. A final great resource on native plants for Washington state residents is the Washington Native Plant Society and its website, monthly local chapter meetings, and statewide workshops.

Creating native plant gathering sites is just a matter of learning the proper management techniques, acquiring the seeds, cutting or seedlings and making it happen. Consider converting that root rot pocket into a shade garden of native plants. Or take the area under a powerline or over a utility pipeline and create a mini-prairie of native grasses, shrubs, bulbs and berries. A wet area or a frost pocket where trees will not grow can become a field of wild raspberries, currants, blueberries, blackberries and roses.

These areas can be managed sustainably without herbicides, especially if fire can be included as part of the long term rotation. Not only will you be producing native plant foods but you will be providing flowers for the native pollinators and snacks for the native animals. You will be creating perfect wildlife viewing areas across your family forest landscape.

So put on your forest gardening gloves and get started adding native plant garden plots across your family forest landscape.

By Jim Freed, WSU Extension Forester Emeritus

A Wildfire Danger “Watchout” List for Summer Campers

When wildfires force evacuations, it’s not just the residents of an area who may be in harm’s way. Summer campers are vulnerable, too.

“Preparing Camps for Wildland Fire 2016,” a webinar sponsored by Washington State University Extension, the American Camp Association, Washington DNR, South Pend Oreille Fire Department and others, focused on steps that owners, managers and staff of recreational camps should take to prepare for the potential of wildfire. These principles are derived from the Watchout Situations used by wildland firefighters to continuously assess safety risks while in the field.

The S.P.O.T (Strategic Preparedness Online Training) session streamed online June 1 suggested the following “watchout” situations for summer campers, staff and visitors. See if any of these 13 potentially dangerous situations apply to you, your camp or a facility that you are visiting.

Camp Wildland Fire 13 “Watchout” Situations

  1. Your camp is located in the wildland urban interface, a fire adapted area, or areas close to your camp have burned in the past.
  2. Your camp does not have defensible space. Also your camp buildings and structures are not prepared to resist wildland fire ember storms.
  3. Your local fire department/DNR/ Emergency Medical Service has not visited your camp in the last year. They have not reviewed your emergency management plan and are not fully aware of the numbers of campers/staff and any special needs present each week of camp.
  4. You and your staff were not involved in the creation of your emergency management plan, have not reviewed the plan with key emergency response agencies, or you don’t have a current emergency plan. Also, your staff are not trained and have not been tested in emergency procedures and responses to various emergencies.
  5. Your camp emergency management plan has not been tested for evacuation procedures and protocols. This would mean a safe and full evacuation of all at camp.
  6. Your camp does not have adequate transportation resources to safely evacuate all campers, camp staff and personnel. (or a contract/agreement with local emergency management staff or a bus company for immediate evacuation)
  7. Your camp roads are not adequate for emergency vehicles and evacuation vehicles to easily enter or leave your camp.
  8. Your camp does not have specific staff identified to monitor fire conditions.
  9. You have horses and other animals that would need to be evacuated. Your camp lacks adequate transportation and an agreement for housing horses, livestock and other animals during a wildland fire.
  10. Your camp does not have procedures to contact parents in the event of an evacuation and a designated meeting location away from camp and potential wildland fires.
  11. Your camp offers trips that go into the back country, and your camp does not alert emergency response agencies of the camper/staff counts, their itinerary and any special needs.
  12. Your camp does not have good/reliable communications for emergencies at camp or outside of camp trips.
  13. Your camp records and information are only at camp (located in several buildings).

By Mike Jensen, Associate Professor/4-H Faculty and WSU State Camp Specialist, Washington State University Extension

Logger’s Annual Workshop Returns to Colville

The Logger’s Workshop in Colville is a newly re-established event that promises to play an essential role in ensuring the continued sustainable harvest of trees in northeastern Washington. Following a run of 20 consecutive years, this annual event was on hiatus for three years (2012-2014) while the WSU Extension Northeast Washington Forestry staff position was in transition. But now, after two consecutive years of drawing crowds of more than 120 people to the Stevens County Ag and Trade Center, the annual Logger’s Workshop is back with gusto.

guy cutting woodA primary purpose of the workshop was to bring together experts who can provide current information to loggers on matters that affect their profession with an emphasis on safety, new technology, sustainable forest management and changes in the regulatory environment. The information conveyed to loggers fulfilled this program’s other key function, which was to provide loggers a local and inexpensive forum at which they can earn the Washington Contract Loggers Association (WCLA) certification credits needed to maintain their Qualified Master Logger credentials.

The Qualified Logger credential is important to private industrial forest owners, Washington State Department of Natural Resources and other landowners who manage their lands sustainably following guidelines of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). A key commitment of the SFI rules for landowners is to use only Qualified Loggers when harvesting timber.

This year’s program was divided into three topics. The early presentations focused on lands affected by last year’s fires and the post-fire issues that loggers should watch out for in the course of their work. Topics covered included invasive plants, the mortality and recovery of fire-scorched trees, what might go wrong with roads and bridges and what silviculture applications can be used to restore and recover burned-over lands. The presentations provided information on operating safely in a radically changed forest environment, as well as what loggers can do to help forests recover or, at least, not take actions that would make things worse. These issues were considered from the perspective of controlling weeds, promoting forest health, managing roads and silviculture.

Next there was an update on regulatory issues in Washington and Idaho. For Washington residents, there was a presentation on “what makes a complete forest practices proposal.” For those who work or live in Idaho, there was a session on “what you need to know” about that state’s forest practices rules, which included recent changes in that state’s requirements concerning riparian areas.

Informative Afternoon

The afternoon of the conference was devoted to the loggers themselves. We began with a presentation by the son of a logger who became a logger himself, a trade he continues to practice in between the obligations of his new job of serving as a Pend Oreille County Commissioner. Showcasing relics of logging equipment and regaling us with stories of days gone by, the presenter made it clear that logging figures prominently in the history of northeast Washington. The history of this profession includes more than a few colorful characters whose work, collectively, was the backbone and driver for most of the economic development that has occurred in this part of the state. This presentation segued neatly into a talk by an actual, bona-fide, practicing storyteller (and forest landowner, citizen scientist and occasional logger) who encouraged us all to recognize that we are a part of what will be history tomorrow and that our stories will matter to those who follow us as much as the stories we had just heard from previous times mattered to and affected us.

This was followed by information about law enforcement in the woods and the all too common problems seen there—trespassing, poaching, dumping, meth labs and others. Loggers, because they are out in the woods every day, are sometimes the ones who either encounter the individuals who perpetrate these crimes or are first upon the scene of the damage done. Following the theme for the afternoon, this presentation also came with plenty of stories.

Economic Impact of Logging

Last on the agenda was a forest economist with brand new data collected from the Tri-County area (Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties). This data confirmed what many people intuitively knew, that loggers are key to the economy of northeast Washington. The data were a surprise, however, in the extent of that contribution. The number of secondary jobs generated as a result of the work of northeast Washington loggers was significantly greater than had been estimated in previous forecasting exercises that relied on fewer site- and region-specific data.

His data also showed some unexpected results. Many people have made the assumption that forest stewardship work—thinning forests to reduce fire risk, for example—would also benefit the economy. This is true but it is also the case that the economic benefits realized are localized to where the workers live, not where the work is done. Often, restoration work is done by crews from elsewhere who stay for the duration of the project and then leave. When the crews leave, the dollars–-their salaries-–go with them. The result is that dollars invested in remote forests do not necessarily stay in or directly benefit the economies of those remote areas. More than one restoration project has been launched with the idea that the project would benefit a struggling rural economy and this notion will clearly need to be revisited based on these data.

One other key finding of this economic analysis was that loggers are “hidden” people. When these data were collected, researchers pounded the ground to find all of the loggers working in this area. When the researchers compared their numbers against all commonly used economic and employment projection tools, they found many more loggers were working than showed up in previous projections. In this day and age, under-counted means under-represented and under-attended to, and these data provide a basis for more accurately understanding the dynamics of a still largely timber-dependent economy. Without logging, there would be much less economic activity in northeast Washington.

In summary, this year’s program gave loggers key information that will help them do their jobs better and more safely. It also gave them a rare opportunity to reflect on how their profession has changed over the years and they impact their work has on their communities.

WSU Extension is especially grateful for our partners who helped make this program a success: the loggers and landowners who shared their stories; Washington DNR, which helped with planning and contributed five of the workshop’s speakers; and the local timber industry for providing expertise and input to ensure the best, most current information. Industry support also helped to underwrite program costs and make this an affordable event to attend. Contributing to the 2016 workshop were Boise Cascade, Columbia Cedar, Hancock Forest Management, Stimson and Vaagen Brothers.

By Steve McConnell , WSU Extension Forester, smcconnell@spokanecounty.org

Announcements, Events and Other News

(If you are reading a paper copy of this newsletter, links for these events can be found at the WSU Extension Forestry website:  http://forestry.wsu.edu )

Forest and Range Owners Field Days

These out-in-the-woods, family-friendly events allow you to attend five or six different outdoor classes and workshops on topics like tree planting, weed control, thinning, tree diseases, mushroom-growing, and much more…

 

Forest Stewardship Coached Planning

If you own wooded property, our flagship course will teach you how to assess your trees, avoid insect and disease problems, and attract wildlife. State experts will help you develop your own forest stewardship plan to keep your woods on track to provide enjoyment and income for years to come.

 

Reducing Wildfire Risk to your Western Washington Home in the Woods

This online presentation from WSU Extension discusses which techniques are most effective in reducing wildfire risk to western Washington homes in wooded areas. It is primarily intended to help small acreage forest owners and other rural homeowners understand what preventative actions they can take to reduce the chances that their home will burn in the event of a wildfire. It is also appropriate for interested citizens who would like to learn more about wildfire issues in wildland-urban interface zones.
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Ties to the Land classes are coming your way next winter!

Your land will outlive you. Who will care for it when you’re gone? Will it be a family legacy or a family squabble? Will it be kept intact and protected, or will it be divided up and sold off in pieces? Will it become a source of conflict between surviving family members? What is the long-term future that you want for your property? This succession planning workshop explores these questions and others using the award-winning Ties to the Land curriculum. Contact your local WSU Extension office and watch for registration information at http://forestry.wsu.edu/