Helping Landowners Learn From Their Peers About Harvest Options

Northwest Natural Resource Group and Oregon State University are reaching out to forest owners for a voluntary study about timber harvesting methods to understand how they affect both financial and forest health outcomes.

The goal of this research project is to help landowners who are considering a timber harvest to learn from the experiences of others. There is limited information about the economics of commercial timber harvests that use thinning or uneven-aged management, and how those results compare with other harvest methods.

The researchers are looking to survey Oregon and Washington forest owners who harvested timber from their forest in the past five years (since 2014) and are willing to share information about the silvicultural methods and financial outcomes from these recent timber harvests. The survey asks detailed questions about the harvest techniques and equipment used, the volume of timber harvested, cost of the harvest work, and the harvest revenues.

The results of this study will be shared with forest owners through a variety of methods including articles, papers, and classes taught by NNRG, OSU, and partner organizations. Data in the study will remain confidential within the research team. Information will be aggregated so it cannot be traced to any individual ownership. Data will be collected from through June 2019.

If you are willing to share recent harvest information with NNRG and OSU, contact Lindsay Malone, one of the project researchers, at lindsay@nnrg.org. Lindsay can provide you with a copy of the survey.

Learn more about this research project at nnrg.org/thinning_study

Lindsay Malone, Director of Programs, Northwest Natural Resource Group, lindsay@nnrg.org

You’ve Got Soil Questions, and We’ve Got Answers

If you want to know how to access soil information for your property, work with multiple soils, or learn how to adapt your forest management for the soils you have, the USDA has online resources available to all that can help guide you through those processes.

Q: How can I access soil information for my property?

A: The U.S. Department of Agriculture publishes soil survey data online through a platform called Web Soil Survey. Although some areas are still undergoing initial mapping, the vast majority of private lands in the Pacific Northwest have soil survey data available. The data is available to the public, and best of all, it’s free! The following steps will help you obtain soils information for your property:

Step 1: Start Web Soil Survey by going to websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov/App/HomePage.htm. Click the large green “START WSS” button.

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Step 2: Define your area of interest (AOI). This is the area for which you will be obtaining soil survey data. You can simply enter an address or select a state/county, click “view”, and then zoom to your desired location on the map. Other navigation options are also available, although these methods are the most common and user-friendly.

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Once you are zoomed to your property or desired location, click the rectangular AOI tool to drag a box or use the polygon AOI tool to click around your select your AOI.

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The rectangle or polygon you select should then look like this:

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Step 3: View your soil map. Click the “Soil Map” tab at the top of your screen to see the soil survey map for your AOI. The map unit legend will appear on the left side of your screen. Clicking on the name of a map unit in the legend will open a window containing a description of that map unit and its individual soil components.

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Q: The soil map unit covering my property has multiple soils in it. How do I know which one I am working with?

A: In order to answer this question effectively I first need to clarify what exactly a “map unit” is, as well as explain the different types of map units used in soil surveys.

A map unit is a collection of areas defined and named the same in terms of their soil components (unique soil types) and/or miscellaneous (“non-soil”) areas. Each polygon delineated on a soil map is assigned a label or symbol that corresponds to a map unit. There are four general types of map units, however, for the purpose of this discussion I will focus on the three most commonly seen in soil survey products.

Consociations are map units dominated by a single soil component. A consociation may include minor components that occupy a relatively small (< 15%) percentage of the map unit area, but the map unit name will contain only the name of the dominant soil. Complexes and associations are map units consisting of two or more dissimilar components that occur in a consistent repeating pattern. The soil components comprising a complex cannot be separated at the mapping scale, while the components of an association can be; however, due to land use or user needs, they are not. Both of these map unit types may also include minor components. The map unit names for complexes and associations will contain the names of multiple soils.

Now to answer the original question: The map unit description (accessible by following step 3 above) will provide descriptions of typical site the soil characteristics for each component in the map unit. The type of map unit covering your property can be inferred from the map unit name. If the map unit is a consociation, the soil component that you are most likely working with is going to be the single dominant component for that map unit. However, if the specific area on your property is not representative of the map unit’s typical landscape/landform, you may be working with a minor component.

If the map unit covering your property is a complex or association, you will have to look at the map unit description to determine the component(s) you are working with. Soils tend to correlate strongly with topography, so focusing on the “setting” category for each component’s description is recommended. If the setting details alone don’t allow you to confidently determine your soil, the “properties and qualities” category under each component’s description would be the next best place to look. The goal is to find the component that has both a setting and soil characteristics that best match the point on your property that you are interested in. If that area on your property is rather large and not uniform, there is a high probability that multiple soils will exist in that area, especially if the map unit is a complex.

Q: How can soil information help me make management decisions?

A: Having a basic understanding of the distribution and characteristics of your soils can be extremely beneficial to you as a landowner. Knowledge of soil properties such as texture, drainage class, depth to a restrictive layer, and flooding or ponding frequency can influence management decisions including road and structure placement, as well as species selection and planting density strategies.

The summary information found in the map unit description provides a great overview of site and soil properties. However, the Web Soil Survey platform also contains hundreds of interpretations and thematic maps specifically designed to aid in the making of management decisions. Again, these tools are free and available to the public! The following steps will walk you through how to access and use these valuable tools.

Step 1: Define your AOI and access your soil map, as shown in steps 1-3 above. Click on the “Soil Data Explorer” tab. Then click either the “Suitabilities and Limitations for Use” or “Soil Reports” tab.

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Step 2: Both the “Land Management” and “Vegetative Productivity” categories have several interpretations concerning various aspects of forestry operations. Click the downward facing arrow for these categories and then click the downward facing arrow for any interpretation you would like to run. Look through the options and customize them to best apply to your situation. For example:

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Step 3: Once you have your options selected, click the “View Rating” button to see your customized interpretive map. Click the yellow “Legend” tab on the upper-left side of the map to see the map legend. Below the map will be tables containing more detailed results for the selected interpretation.

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Step 4: Explore the many reports and interpretations available under the “Suitabilities and Limitations for Use” and “Soil Reports” tabs. You may save the results of any report or interpretation by clicking the “Add to Shopping Cart” button located in the upper-right of the screen.  You can save numerous interpretations and reports by adding them to your cart. When you are finished, simply click on the “Shopping Cart (Free)” tab, review the table contents, and then click “Check Out” to download a PDF copy of your comprehensive report.

Max Ross, Soil Scientist, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, max.ross@wa.usda.gov

Why Do Log Prices Differ Between Eastern and Western Washington?

You can almost always make more money selling timber west of the Cascade crest — Take a look for yourself on the Washington DNR log price tracking site. West side Douglas-fir #2 saw prices are regularly 50 percent higher than east side camp run sales, often more.  In fact, with the recent peak, coast market prices have been as much as 94 percent higher in 2018.

So why is there such a consistently large difference? The answer has everything to do with infrastructure and distance. If you look at what it takes to sell a log on the east side versus the west side, it’s easy to see why the eastern landowner is making less money at the end of a harvest.

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This map shows the regional divide used by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources when determining average log prices.

First and foremost, there are simply fewer mills available to landowners east of the Cascades. More mills have set up shop on the west side, where timber yields are higher and there are more forested acres. What does this mean for east side landowners? Well, transportation is often the most expensive part of a logging operation. As a result, landowners in Eastern Washington incur greater costs when shipping logs from their forest to the closest mill, which can often be over 100 miles away.

On the west side, where there are more mills, transportation is equally as expensive but hauling distances are usually much shorter, ultimately putting more money in the landowner’s pocket. An analogous situation on the west side occurs when a landowner tries to sell oversized logs. Because only a few mills in the region are equipped to handle big logs, landowners incur greater costs to ship them and ultimately make less money.

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This line graph shows average Douglas fir prices from January to November 2018 in the coast and eastside marketing areas. (Washington State Department of Natural Resources)

Furthermore, when eastside mills try to tap into the more lucrative export markets on the coast, they’re severely disadvantaged. Selling logs to the export market requires mills to re-sort logs on arrival and set some aside until they have enough to ship over the mountains. The extra sorting and hauling costs dig into landowner profits and often makes it economically nonviable.

These costs occur on a spectrum, with landowners closer to the foot of the Cascades incurring lower shipping costs than their counterparts further east. As such, some in Central Washington may be able to get away with shipping to coastal markets and make a little more money but will still make less than a landowner on the coast. This applies to shipping via railways as well, with any logs shipped and sold on the west side having to be severely discounted at the purchasing end to remain viable.

In a nutshell, log prices are lower on the east side because there is greater cost incurred by loggers and mills to make the most of them. Because a mill’s first concern is keeping its doors open, the brunt of that cost has to be carried by the landowner.

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

Announcements, Events and Other News

Forest Health Seminars

Learn what makes forests healthy or unhealthy and how to recognize when there’s a problem on your property. Topics include insects, diseases, and drought, including their environmental roles and the important interactions between them. Learn about what property owners should do (and not do) to increase tree resilience and mitigate impacts.

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.

  • Spokane: Wednesdays starting February 20 (details coming)
  • Camano Island: Wednesdays starting March (details coming)
  • Orcas: Saturdays starting March 16 (details coming)
  • Olympia: Mondays starting April 1
  • South Prairie: Spring/summer 2019 (details coming)

Keep an eye out for more details at forestry.wsu.edu.

Ties to the Land

Ties to the Land is an award-winning succession planning workshop offered by WSU Extension. Workshop participants learn about the legal and economic aspects of transferring a farm, forest, or ranch from one generation to the next.

  • Chehalis: Saturday, March 9, 9 a.m-4 p.m.

Forest Owners Winter School

The Forest Owners Winter School is a hands-on, interactive educational event for families who own forestland in Washington. Whether you live on your land or are an absentee owner, this is a great opportunity to learn how to gain more benefits from your family forest no matter where it is located in the state.

  • Spokane: February 9, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
  • Auburn: February 23, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

2019 Family Forest Field Day

The annual Family Forest Field Day attracts hundreds of landowners from all around the region to learn about a variety of forestry topics in a hands-on setting, including forest health, wildlife habitat and management, thinning and pruning, chainsaw safety, noxious weed management, and many more.

The field days are scheduled for summer 2019, but the dates are still pending.

Can’t find the event you were looking for? Visit forestry.wsu.edu or contact Extension Forester Patrick Shults at patrick.shults@wsu.edu.

Where’d That Big Hole Come From?  Creating Tree Cavities for Wildlife

The tiny screech owl looked out from a cavity in a cracked, hollow cottonwood tree near Yakima. It was amazing how cryptic the bird was. I wouldn’t have noticed it if I had not been looking up, admiring the gnarly stem of that big old tree. That cottonwood, with broken branches and a rotten core was a great example of a “Wildlife Tree”.

Wildlife Trees can refer to those with some sort of “defect” allowing animals to get inside and use the central portions of  tree stems as secure habitat for nesting, roosting, or denning. These are crucial habitat for about 40% of our forest species in Washington. The solid woody cylinder that makes up a tree bole is usually unavailable as habitat for the numerous species that utilize cavities. These critters include small mammals such as bats, insects such as wasps and bees, numerous birds including owls and the iconic wood duck, and larger mammals like raccoons or black bears who can den in hollow trees.

These cavities only exist when certain conditions occur. First, a tree has to grow large enough to provide the woody mass needed for a cavity large enough for the species. Then, something must happen to subsequently hollow it out and create the space within the wood. Random events, such as weather related broken tops, followed by heart rot infestation, or pre-existing heart rot in a main stem (say, for example, in a large cedar) followed by a branch breaking off, (then more rot and insects) could create these cavities. However, these events are generally rare in the forest and are less likely in managed forest settings, as we tend to remove dead and “defective” trees from our stands.

And then there are woodpeckers. These keystone species create cavities as a regular part of nesting and courtship behavior, carving perfect and appropriate hollows in rotten stems to meet their needs. They leave some cavities behind as they make new ones each year to meet their biological imperative. They need standing dead wood that has been dead long enough to get soft enough for the woodpeckers to dig it. These types of standing dead trees can be rare but hold great habitat value.

Humans can make cavities too, using arborist techniques of climbing and creative chainsaw work to hollow out stems for wildlife to use.  I had a recent opportunity to visit past Wildlife Tree work and inspect the outcomes after 12 years.

In 2006, wildlife tree creation pioneer and expert, Tim Brown of Snoqualmie, WA, worked with the U.S. Army, U.S. Forest Service Research Lab, and the Nature Conservancy on Fort Lewis (near Olympia, WA) to create cavities. This work had the goal of providing habitat for nesting wood ducks, Western gray squirrels, pollinators and other wildlife. Earlier this summer, (June 2018), we returned to look at these cavities to assess what sort of use had occurred. Tim climbed up to some of these old cavities and looked inside.

What we found was fascinating: Nesting material was present in every single cavity examined, along with eggshells, indicating successful hatching of wood ducks. One had a failed clutch of 3 wood duck eggs (we examined them and determined they had been in the cavity for a long time and were dead). Others had evidence of mammal use (squirrel) and yet another had a colony of honeybees.  All inspected cavities were intact and functioning.

Creating the cavities is relatively straight forward, but highly skilled tree climbing and chainsaw work is necessary. A shallow section of the tree, perpendicular to the up-down axis, (a face plate – see photo) is cut on the tree surface, removed and lowered carefully to the ground. Then, a saw is used to hollow out an appropriate sized cavity in the tree (approximately 12” x 12” x 18”) mimicking a pileated woodpecker cavity. An opening is cut into the faceplate of about 3” or 4” in diameter, at an appropriate height from cavity bottom. Then, this cavity cover is returned to the hole and attached with nails or screws. Simple, and it works as we observed on Fort Lewis.

Location is important. Brown cut these cavities into open faces of large trees facing small lakes and wetlands on Fort Lewis, seeking optimal positioning for the wood ducks and other wildlife. Tim pointed out that cedars are preferred due to their ability to grow over the wounds, thus sealing the edges of the cavity faceplate. Several of these cavities had marvelous healing evidence over the carved entrance holes.I asked Tim Brown some questions about this work:

What sort of wildlife were you hoping to attract? 

“The project was aimed at all species that use cavities, including wood ducks, small owls, squirrels, bats, and all of the other animals that use cavities. I’ve seen them get lots of use over many years and they can really last a long time. The best cavity is one that outlives you.”

What sort of trees are best for cavities?  
“Cedar families are the best, as they heal over and the trees can live for centuries. True and Douglas firs are ok too, if cedars aren’t available. Some hardwoods are okay, but they often don’t last as long.”

How long have you been doing this sort of work?
“I started making wildlife trees over 40 years ago. I’ve worked all over North America, including Canada. I love doing this work and seeing how it helps wildlife.”

You can call Tim at (206) 271-2020 to talk about his copyrighted work. The substantial value of these wildlife trees as habitat cannot be overstated. Practitioners now make habitat trees all across North America, and many of these techniques originated and were refined in the Pacific Northwest by Tim Brown.

If you have questions or stories about creating or protecting wildlife trees on your own forest property, please send some pictures and stories to: ken.bevis@dnr.wa.gov Thanks! And keep on protecting wildlife trees!

Ken Bevis, Stewardship Biologist, Washington Department of Natural Resources, ken.bevis@dnr.wa.gov