Family Forest Owner Field Days Bring Forest Stewardship to Landowners

By Patrick Shults, Extension Forester, Washington State University, patrick.shults@wsu.edu

For years now, WSU Extension and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources have coordinated to provide landowners with a hands-on experience in forest management through the annual Family Forest Field Days.

These events present a rare opportunity to learn about a wide variety of forest-related topics in one day and allow participants to choose their own curriculum based on what piques their interest.

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A scene from the 2018 Steve Stinson Legacy Family Forest Field Day in Woodland. (Photo by Paul Figueroa)

Experts from around the state will be there to talk about silviculture, forest health, wildfire, planting, thinning, chainsaw safety and maintenance, harvesting, special forest products, and more.

Additionally, vendors representing landowner assistance organizations, equipment companies, and other services available to landowners in Washington will be there to help attendees find the right tools and support to take care of their forest projects.

This year’s dates and locations for field days were scheduled for:

  • Glenwood – June 8
  • Deary, Idaho – June 22
  • Arlington – August 10
  • McCleary – August 24
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A masticator is demonstrated at the 2018 Family Forest Field Day in Spangle, Wash. (Photo by Patrick Shults)

Wherever your forest is and whatever your experience level, the field day will give you a chance to pursue your forest management goals through education, planning, and networking with professionals. Don’t miss out!

Learn more at forestry.wsu.edu or in the Events section below.

Landowner Questions: How Does Drought Impact Trees?

By Kevin W. Zobrist, Associate Professor, WSU Extension Forestry, kevin.zobrist@wsu.edu

Drought, or the more generic term “water stress,” has been a big issue for trees in Western Washington, resulting in tree decline and mortality in forests, natural areas, and yards across the region.

Starting in 2012, we have had a series of record-setting summers in terms of heat and days without rain. This is taking a cumulative toll on trees.

Trees have an amazing ability to transport water from their roots all the way up to their tops, which may be over 100 feet in the air. The dominant theory of how this is done is called transpiration pull. A large portion of the stem of a tree is called sapwood, and this is a big plumbing system through which water (sap) flows upward.

The sapwood comprises many tiny “pipeline” pathways for water. Water flows into the tree roots through osmosis, flows up the sapwood, and makes its way into the leaves.

The leaves have tiny pores called stomata that open up for gas exchange to occur as part of photosynthesis. The pores open up to take in carbon dioxide, and oxygen and a little bit of water vapor are released in the process, known as transpiration.

Water transport in trees takes advantage of the fact that water molecules are polarized, which gives them a slight attraction to one another (cohesion) and other objects (adhesion). Surface tension, the “skin” on top of water, is an example of cohesion, and the way that water goes up slightly on the edges of a glass measuring cup (creating a “U” shape) is an example of adhesion.

As the leaf pores open up, the water molecule evaporates out. As it does, its cohesive nature “pulls” the water molecule next to it forward, which pulls the water molecule next to it, and so forth.

There is a continuous chain of water molecules, called the water column, that runs from the leaves down to the roots. They are stuck together by cohesion, and they cling to the sides of the narrow pathways in the tree by adhesion. So as a tree transpires, water molecules are pulled up the tree, hence the term “transpiration pull.”

The “pulling” by evaporation from the leaves creates a negative pressure that draws new water from the soil into the roots to replenish the bottom of the water column. As long as there is adequate water to be drawn in, all is well. In drought conditions, though, there may not be any soil water available.

As water continues to evaporate from leaf pores, especially on hot, dry days, the tension on the water column gets tighter and tighter because no new slack is coming in through the roots.

Under extreme water stress, the water column breaks at some point in the stem, which is called a cavitation. This can result in an air bubble, or embolism, in the pipe. The chain of water molecules is now disconnected between the roots and the leaves. If the tree is unable to repair the disconnect, that water pathway no longer functions.

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This conifer shows the typical outside-in and top-down dieback seen after drought stress. (Photo by Susan Hagle, U.S. Forest Service)

If there is a major failure in the collective water column, water can no longer flow beyond that point of failure. Everything above it dies, leaving the tree with a dead top. It could be that the water pathway to a particular branch failed, in which case that branch dies. The entire tree may also die due to water stress.

Water stress not only kills trees directly as described above, but also indirectly by causing them to be susceptible to other agents.

When trees don’t have enough resources (e.g. water), they become stressed. The tree has to prioritize how to use its inadequate resources because it can no longer maintain all functions.

One of the first two things a tree gives up is diameter growth. You can look at core samples from older trees and see spots where the diameter growth rings were particularly small, which may indicate that those were drought years.

The other thing the tree gives up first is insect and disease resistance. This leaves it more vulnerable to things like root disease and bark beetle attacks.

In Western Washington, bark beetles are not usually an issue with healthy trees, which can effectively resist them (and they know it). Rather, westside beetles are opportunistic, taking advantage of trees that either just died or are nearly dead from some other factor.

People are finding dead trees with beetles in them. The beetles are not the issue, though. Rather, the water stress was killing the tree, which attracted opportunistic insects looking for an easy meal.

Healthy trees can even hold their own against root disease in some cases, compartmentalizing decay and keeping the disease at bay. If that tree becomes water stressed, though, it can no longer fight the disease and is overcome. We often see “pulses” of mortality in root disease areas during drought years.

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Pouch fungus is often a sign that a tree had a bark beetle infestation. The beetles are typically secondary pests, seeking out already-weakened trees. (Photo by Sandly Kegley, U.S. Forest Service)

Here is a real case study from Snohomish County.

I visited a landowner who had a bunch of recently-dead Douglas-fir trees. The first thing I noticed were white fungal conks all over the stems of the dead trees. Did this fungus kill the trees?

Then, I noticed pockets of insect frass in the bark crevices. I peeled back pieces of bark and found Douglas-fir beetles inside. Did the beetles kill the tree? Then I looked around the area and saw that it was in the middle of a laminated root rot pocket.

What happened was this: The trees in the area were suffering from root disease but were holding their own to some degree. A couple of drought summers tipped the balance in the disease’s favor, causing them to die. As they were dying (or right after), they were colonized by opportunistic bark beetles. The beetles bring in a fungus with them called pouch fungus, which causes white, pouch-like fungal conks to emerge from the beetle holes.

Water stress can set a whole chain of events into motion, and the stress is cumulative over time.

Some trees that endured the first few drought years finally succumbed in subsequent drought years, and we will see that continue. The result is a significant uptick in tree decline and mortality.

Some people are convinced that there is some sort of disease or insect epidemic that is wiping out trees left and right. Insects and diseases may indeed be involved, but they are not new or unusual. Rather, they are simply taking advantage of trees that are beginning to succumb to water stress.

Some people have found this too hard to believe. I’ve done several consultations where the property owner did not believe my explanation or did not think I was taking the issue seriously.

On the contrary, the repeated years of extreme heat and drought are a very serious issue right now. However, cutting down all your trees and burning them to stop the spread of some phantom agent, as some have done, is not the answer!

What is the answer? In some cases, there isn’t a good one. Some trees are going to continue to decline and die due to adverse summer weather, and there’s nothing we can do except let it play out. If these newly-formed snags do not pose a hazard, they will provide a huge benefit for wildlife.

Forty percent of our wildlife species require dead wood (standing or down). If the dead tree is a hazard, removal does not have to be all-or-nothing. Leaving the bottom 10-15 feet as a short snag will still provide important wildlife benefits while minimizing the potential for damage.

The best defense against the direct and indirect impacts of water stress is to maintain tree vigor, and there are two key ways to do that.

The first is to make sure the tree species is appropriately matched to the site. Where we see the most mortality (direct and indirect) from water stress is on certain “droughty” soil types. These tend to be gravelly soils that are excessively well-drained and dry out quickly.

Trees on these marginal soil types may do OK most of the time, but they quickly succumb in drought conditions. Planting more drought-tolerant species may be needed for these soil types. Your local Extension or Conservation District office can help you select appropriate species if you have sites where tree survival is poor.

The second key thing is density management. When trees are too crowded, they compete for water and nutrients and become stressed. In drought conditions, this competition becomes acute. When there is a very limited amount of available water, the more trees there are, the less water each will get. The WSU Extension Forestry program has educational resources to help you assess whether or not your trees are too dense.

Wildfire Corner: Explaining the New Fire Danger Rating System in Eastern Washington

By Guy Gifford, Northeast Region landowner assistance forester & fire prevention and Firewise coordinator, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, guy.gifford@dnr.wa.gov

In Eastern Washington, a new fire danger rating system has been implemented, no longer based on county boundaries, but instead on geographic areas that share similar fuels, climate, and topography in addition to administrative boundaries.

The change to Fire Danger Rating Areas (FDRAs) was implemented with the intent of having a common fire behavior component and was developed through interagency collaboration to help clarify the message among multiple agencies. Western Washington fire danger ratings and burn restrictions will continue to be implemented along county boundaries.

While the county boundary system made it easy for people to know what the fire danger rating and burn restrictions were wherever they are, it did not account for the variability of fire danger caused by physical geographic factors. This was readily apparent, for instance, in counties along the east slopes of the Cascades where a county may stretch from the Columbia River to the top of the Cascade Mountains.

The new system is capable of presenting low fire danger in the high Cascades and high fire danger below in the valleys.

Outdoor burning restrictions administered by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources in Eastern Washington will also follow the Fire Danger Rating Area boundaries. Also keep in mind that additional burn restrictions may be put on by local city and county agencies.

Whether it is a campfire or you are burning forest debris, always check with DNR and your local authorities before you burn. You can check current DNR burn restrictions by calling 1-800-323-BURN (2876) or check out the DNR fire danger rating and burn restriction website.

Large Fire Information

Want to stay up to date on large wildfires happening in Washington and throughout the country? While there is a lot of information on wildfires on the internet, it can be difficult to know which website to go to. Below are a handful of informative websites:

  • Inciweb – Most large fires, and some prescribed burns, will have their own webpage hosted on Inciweb. These webpages are normally created by an Incident Management Team (IMT), so typically only fires that require an IMT will be found here. Some grass fires that burn out quickly, for instance, will not have an IMT and won’t be found on Inciweb.
  • The “Sit Report” – The National Interagency Fire Center is another great website for a quick summary on what is happening across the nation. The “Sit Report,” which stands for Incident Management Situation Report, shows how many fires were started the previous day across the nation and also reports on all new large fires.  To see the current report, click the link above and find it on the left under the “Fire Information” heading.
  • Northwest Interagency Coordination Center – This website has a wealth of information specifically on Washington and Oregon fires. In the center of the page, you will find several different links that will give you the details on current fires in these two states, including the potential for significant fire in the next seven days.  On the left side, beneath the heading “Logistics/Dispatch,” you can see what various aircraft, crews, and other resources are available today to fight fires and also where those resources may be committed to for the day.
  • Canadian Wildfire Information System – If you’re near the border, or are just interested in what’s happening up north, this website will give you information on Canadian fires.

What is Agroforestry? And Why Would Forest Owners Care?

By Patrick Shults, Extension Forester, Washington State University, patrick.shults@wsu.edu

Silvopasture, forest farming, agroforestry … you may have heard these terms thrown around before. But what do they mean?

“Agroforestry” in its simplest definition is a land management method that integrates forestry and agriculture into the same production system (“agriculture” + “forestry” = agroforestry). This means that the different parts (trees, livestock, crops) are intentionally managed together in a way that promotes positive interactions and minimizes competition.

When done correctly, agroforestry can both diversify and maximize production for a landowner while improving soil quality, wildlife habitat, biodiversity, and a host of other ecosystem services.

While it may seem like a new concept, it is only newly popular in the U.S. and other temperate climates. The concept of agroforestry is actually quite old and has been used by native cultures for centuries, including in North America.

In tropical climates, it continues to be a popular form of land management for sustainably producing food, fiber, and fuel on small plots. However, on-the-ground practices look quite different in temperate climates compared to the tropics.

I’ve listed out the five most common agroforestry practices used in temperate countries and given them brief descriptions. Though some are geared towards agricultural producers who may want to introduce trees to their cropping systems, all offer opportunities for forest owners to diversify what they do on their lands.

Windbreaks

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This windbreak is protecting an agricultural field in the Upper Midwest. (Photo by the University of Minnesota Extension)

Windbreaks (or wind rows) are the first modern agroforestry practice to take place in the United States and were widely used during the Dust Bowl in the 1930s to reduce soil erosion in the Midwest.

This practice involves planting single or multiple rows of trees and/or shrubs which modify wind movement in your cropping system. Besides reducing erosion, they can also protect crops from damaging winds, reduce pesticide drift and livestock odors, provide wildlife habitat, provide fuelwood, and, in some cases, even improve crop production by regulating soil and air temperature.

Riparian Buffers and/or Forest Farming

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These log structures are part of a shitake mushroom forest farming operation at Wildcat Creek Tree Farm in McCleary. (Photo by Patrick Shults)

Another practice that primarily serves a “protective” purpose with additional benefits, riparian buffers are used to reduce pesticide and fertilizer runoff into waterways throughout agricultural lands in the Midwest. This requires a buffer of trees, shrubs, and ground flora surrounding streams, ponds, wetlands, and other important water resources on your property.

As forest owners in Washington State, pesticide and fertilizer runoff may not be as big of a concern. Moreover, you may already have a mandated forested buffer on your stream if it is considered fish-bearing.

Regardless, buffers like these protect waterways effectively and also serve as an opportunity for another agroforestry practice, forest farming. In the Appalachians and Midwest, forest farming often involves manipulating the forest canopy to foster valuable native plant species that require a shaded forest setting, such as ginseng or goldenseal.

In the Pacific Northwest, this practice could be used to produce non-timber forest products like berries, mushrooms, fuelwood, and valuable floral products.

Silvopasture

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Cows graze between rows of pine trees at an Alabama farm. (Photo by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System)

Likely the most common existing agroforestry practice for landowners in Washington state, silvopasture is the integration of livestock, trees, and forage. Although they may not call it silvopasture, many landowners run their livestock through their woodlots in both Eastern and Western Washington.

When done more intentionally, silvopasture provides considerable benefits to producers interested in selling both timber and livestock products. Trees provide protection and help to regulate air temperature which allows livestock to expend less energy heating and cooling their bodies.

The reduced stress for the animals can lead to greater milk production, reaching target weights quicker, and higher conception rates. Additionally, it allows a rancher to produce a long-term timber product or a forest owner to produce short-term income from livestock.

Although from both perspectives it may mean raising fewer cattle or fewer trees, the diversified and combined income can surpass that of growing only trees or raising only cattle.

Implementing silvopasture can be tricky, particularly in Western Washington, where the soils are more susceptible to compaction. More resources are available at the end of this article.

Alley Cropping

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Walnut trees and corn plants are planted in alley crops at a Minnesota farm. (Photo by the University of Minnesota Extension)

This practice involves growing high-value timber, veneer, or fruit and nut trees at a wide spacing to create “alleys” in which you can produce agricultural crops. In the Southeast, where agroforestry is increasingly popular, this may mean growing things like corn, soybeans, or tomatoes between rows of black walnut trees. In Washington, this may mean growing crops between rows of Douglas-fir, Ponderosa pine, or other native species.

Alley cropping is yet another way for landowners to diversify and increase income on their lands while sacrificing minimal growing space for trees. When done correctly it provides short and long-term products, improved soil nutrient cycling, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, and, in some cases, improved crop yields.

These five practices are considered the pillars of temperate agroforestry, but truthfully it is a wide umbrella with significant room for creativity, which appeals to some landowners.

Every parcel is unique and comes with special challenges. The flexibility of agroforestry allows landowners to find the approach that best fits their situation.

Why Should a Forest Owner Care?

Agroforestry is not for everyone.

But for landowners looking to diversify their production for commercial or personal use, agroforestry may be a viable option to do so without sacrificing significant tree-growing space. Agroforestry practices are catching on throughout modern and developing countries because they can often create a “win-win” scenario that makes both the landowners and the land more resilient to economic and environmental changes.

Despite their many benefits, these practices can be difficult to implement and require considerable forethought, planning, and, often, years of trial and error.

Because it is a relatively new area of research and every situation is unique, there is often limited information and recommendations available to landowners. This is especially true in the Pacific Northwest, which has trailed behind areas like the Midwest and Southeast in widescale implementation.

So, while it is likely not a good idea for an inexperienced landowner to turn their entire 20-acre forest or farm into an agroforestry operation at once, I would encourage interested landowners to do their research, seek professional help, and begin experimenting in small ways.

If you’d like to read more, below are links to available resources and publications.  For the very interested folks, check out the 2019 North American Agroforestry Conference in Corvallis this June.

Additional Resources:

Silvopasture: An Agroforestry Practice – Oregon State University

Agroforestry in the Pacific Northwest – U.S. Forest Service

National Agroforestry Center

University of Missouri – Center for Agroforestry

Association for Temperate Agroforestry

Regional Partnership Brings Assistance to Southwest Washington Forest Landowners

By Mike Kuttel, Jr., Farm Bill Coordinator, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, michael.kutteljr@dfw.wa.gov

Are you a forest landowner interested in technical or financial assistance to work on stewardship practices? The Southwest Washington Small Forest Lands Conservation Partnership is available to help.

This effort is part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program and covers eight counties.  The Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Washington State Conservation Commission, Washington State University Extension, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and eight conservation districts are partnering with NRCS to deliver the program.

The RCPP is voluntary and incentive-based. The NRCS and the state agencies pay four stewardship foresters to provide technical assistance and a WSU Extension Forester to provide outreach and education.

Financial assistance from NRCS and state programs is available to implement stewardship practices to improve forest health, water quality, and wildlife habitat. Cost share is available through NRCS’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program.

The Family Forest Fish Passage Program through DNR is available to correct fish passage barriers. Forest conservation easements through the NRCS Healthy Forests Reserve Program are also available. This program may provide regulatory predictability to forest landowners who conserve habitat for marbled murrelet, northern spotted owl, or fisher.

For more information, please visit our web app to contact your local RCPP stewardship forester.

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