Winter To-Do-List

Holiday greenery raw materials
Holiday greenery raw materials from family forest. Photo: Jim Freed/WSU Extension

Thinking about a winter to-do list for family forest landowners has a special meaning now that I will be retiring on December 31. In the past I just had to think of projects for all of you to do—now I will get to do them myself on my land in eastern Oregon. So along with the honey-do list that has accumulated, I can get a start on these NTFP (non-timber forest products) and forest health projects.

First on any forest owner’s list should be a survey of the forest health. Winter is a great time to do this because the deciduous leaves are down and you can see the broken tops and dead limbs. If broken tops, dead trees and dead limbs do not present any hazard to you and your family then you may choose to leave them to support wildlife needs. If they need to come out they will make great firewood, mushroom logs and wildlife piles.

If you are thinning a stand, you can use any trees are not infected with insects and disease (and not needed for firewood) to create your future supply of mushrooms. Winter is a great time to cut the four-foot sections of timber that you need for this. There is no chance of being infected by natural fungi so you can be sure that what you get is what you want. The best woods to use are deciduous trees and the non-pine conifers. Inoculating the wood with the desired fungi is a great project that can be done in a wood shed, garage or barn. You will have them all ready for the growing season next spring.

Don’t Forget Shrubs

The next project should be pruning any shrubs that you are using for nuts and berries. Pruning in the winter removes old and sick stems. This will direct all the energy stored in the roots to producing new tops and expanding the limbs you have saved, increasing the size and quality of the fruit and nuts.

In some cases if the shrubs and plants have been damaged by fire or drought you may want to do a very severe pruning. By removing all the injured and old stems you will encourage the plant to put up new stems. In many cases you will not have a crop of fruit or nuts in 2016 but will have a great crop in 2017.

Time to Transplant

Winter is also a great time to ready trees and shrubs that you may want to transplant.

First you will want to make sure that you can identify the plants you want to move. Often alder and cascara trees are mistaken for dogwood in their winter conditions. Make a positive identification and mark the plant with flagging or metal tree tags. Then remove any injured or unwanted limbs. You can remove up to 50 percent of the living crown and the plant will still be in good health. In fact, this kind of pruning will insure that the top of the plant is in balance with the roots. This will greatly increase its survival potential. If you can root prune them before the soil freezes that would be great. If not you can do that in the spring of 2016.

Transplanting young plants from your own land helps insure that they are adapted to your site. If you do not have suitable plants on your land, an option is to contact the local US Forest Service or Washington Department of Natural Resources offices and inquire about permits for personal use harvesting of native plants.

Christmas Tree Time

Since Christmas is just around the corner you should survey you forest to look for Christmas trees and Christmas greenery for this year and future needs. Often an overstocked stand of conifers will produce really great Christmas trees from the tops of the tree. These are natural, fresh, organic, wild and sustainable Christmas trees—good for family use and for direct local sales. These same tree stands may have boughs that can be used for swags, garland and center pieces. Western red cedar, Douglas fir, western white pine, silver fir, grand fir and noble fir are all used commercially. Ponderosa pine, Engelmann spruce, juniper and lodgepole pine are often used by families.

If you have an area of your forest where there is a nice but overcrowded stand of 3-6 foot tall trees, you can start the process of making them into a Christmas tree stand or a greenery orchard. Removing bottom limbs will create a handle for the Christmas tree and get the lower limbs out of the brush. Remove broken limbs and multiple tops. When harvesting, leave one whorl of branches about 2 feet up to be trained for the next crop. Trees used for boughs should be spaced about ten feet apart.

The nice thing about doing Christmas trees and holiday greenery with native plants is if you get tired of doing it you can just let the trees grow to become timber trees.

You can use this early winter time to provide protection for new plantings. Installing tree guards before the snow accumulates will protect your young trees from rodents (rabbits and mice) who love to use the snow as cover for their feeding or to reach up higher.

Lastly just make some new trails that you can access by foot, snowshoe or mechanized vehicles. Fall and winter is a great time to enjoy your forest. We often take a picnic lunch to the river on our land and have a thanksgiving lunch with friends. There is something special about a being around a camp fire with family and friends in a forest covered with snow.

Have a great time in your own family forest winter wonderland.

By Jim Freed, WSU Extension Forest Products Specialist, freedj@wsu.edu

After the Fire

wildfire aerial image courtesy of WSU ExtensionThe number of people affected by wildfire in Washington state this year is heartbreaking and tragic. As fires continue to spread as this is being written, we pray for the safety of humans and animals and their dwellings. We hope that all are taking steps to save lives as the top priority and trust that homes and livelihoods will rebuilt after this storm passes.

After the fire, there is a lot you can do to retake control of your lives and move assuredly to restore your land, tend your animals and build anew. Following these suggestions will help you get back to enjoying your forestland while actively working to minimize the risk that wildfire will menace you again in the future.

The first step, as is the case after every dire emergency, is to stay calm and take solace in all that you still have: your lives, your family and a caring community – local, statewide and nationally – that will help you get through this, and a government with enough resources and caring professionals to provide meaningful support.

The next thing you need to do is to identify the resources you will need and determine who you need to contact to get help with these. This initial stage may involve food, water and shelter and begin with contacting the Red Cross as well as families or friends who can help.

After that you are ready to begin building anew. If you have animals loose, injured or unaccounted for, finding and getting help to them will likely be your most immediate priority. Within the parameters of keeping yourself and anyone who may help you safe and NOT getting in the way of ongoing firefighting and rescue operations or violating evacuation/closure orders, make a rescue plan. Communicate it to others so that they will know where you are before proceeding.

Safety first

Once it is safe to get back into an area, you will want to walk, ride or drive through your property and do a preliminary assessment. First look for anything that poses an ongoing danger – areas rendered unstable by fire that could develop into a landslide, for example. Other hazards might include areas where trees have burned at the base leaving them in imminent danger of falling, or extensive areas where roots have burned out opening the risk that people or animals could fall into the holes created. BE CAREFUL during this early reconnaissance! Trees can fall without warning, the ground can be unstable and have hidden holes and the ends of burned sticks can be very sharp.

If possible, find and review your FOREST MANAGEMENT PLAN. The property may look dramatically different in the immediate aftermath of a fire—the plan’s maps and pictures will be helpful in your assessment. Your plan will also provide a reminder of your objectives, giving context around which to rebuild at an emotional and difficult time. The best publication available for learning about post-wildfire rehabilitation is “After the Burn: Assessing and Managing your Forestland after a Wildfire” by Yvonne Barkley. This 78-page online publication also is available as a .pdf file from the University of Idaho Extension. There also is a lot of information currently available from the Washington Natural Resources Conservation Service’s After the Fire: Resources for Recovery web page.

A new resource to check is the new wildfire recovery website hosted by Washington State University Extension.

Agencies you will want to contact in the near term include your local Conservation District, the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and its Washington state offices, the Washington State Departments of Natural Resources (DNR) and Agriculture, and the USDA Farm Service Agency. Each organizations is likely to have access to federal funds that they will administer to help people to rebuild and restore. Information you will want to be able to provide includes how many acres were burned, how completely these acres burned, your forest type (major tree species), amount and type of fencing damaged or destroyed and other important “metrics” that will help determine recovery needs. Other specific features to look for which may help prioritize your restoration work include fire lines cleared down to mineral soil or any other disturbed areas that can serve as entry points for invasive weeds. Preventing establishment in these spots is way easier than getting rid of weeds after establishment! Restoration techniques can include re-covering fire lines with forest floor material, or seeding so that you—not the random flight of weed seeds—determine what grows there.

Longer term, you will want to determine if the damage you suffered qualifies as “casualty loss” by checking the National Timber Tax website, which provides “Tax Management for Timberland Owners.” For information on Washington State taxes check the Department of Revenue website and search on “forest tax.”

Salvaging timber

Eventually you will want to take a good look at the extent of tree mortality, what you can anticipate about the rate and amount of decline in timber value, and what options for salvage logging exist. There is a lot to think about in this regard. Timber that may have had value before a fire may not now, not just because of loss in wood quality but due to simple economics of supply and demand. The Inland Northwest has had a declining number of mills for years and after a fire they are likely to be offered as much wood as they can handle by people eager to salvage some value from killed timber. As supply increases, prices will drop. The logging infrastructure, including the number of fallers, truck drivers, etc., has also declined, so there may be long waits to even get your timber felled and moved to mills. Having a Forest Management Plan and a relationship with a mill, a consulting forester, and a logger is an advantage at a difficult time like this.

Avoiding scams

As always after a disaster, be on your guard for people presenting themselves to be something they are not and offering help to you with timber harvest or restoration activities. There is no licensing requirement for a consulting forester in Washington and literally anyone can advertise as such. It is highly recommended that you work with a consulting forester to restore your property but please make sure they are legitimate. Find one that was in business BEFORE the fire hit. Find one that is certified by the Association of Consulting Foresters and is a member of the Society of American Foresters—an association with a strict code of ethics focused on professionalism and adhering to the landowner’s best interests. The Washington Farm Forestry Association has chapters throughout the state. Its members have a wealth of practical knowledge about management that works in your area, or does not. They also will know the local cast of characters, and can help you distinguish professionals from opportunists.

It is very important to note that this year we are predicted to have an EL NINO weather event in the Pacific Northwest which could produce unusually high precipitation and high intensity storms this fall and winter. Following a season of fires, this could mean flooding and debris flows. If you have streams or water channels prone to flooding, or banks that may now be unstable, check with local authorities to assess whether there is an imminent threat and what action should be taken.

We at WSU Extension and DNR are thinking about all of you as the fires continue to burn while we publish this e-newsletter. We will be reaching out with as much help, advice, education and financial resources as we can muster to get through this difficult time. With the destructive side of fire so much in evidence now, it is hard to remember the positive role that fire plays in re-setting trajectories towards improved timber growth, forest health, and wildlife habitat. Our aim is to do our best to help everyone make that more than just a saying.

By Steve McConnell, Regional WSU Extension Forestry Specialist, smcconnell@spokanecounty.org

and Dean Hellie, Stevens County Conservation District

Preventing Browse Damage to Planted Tree Seedlings

Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR.
Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR.

It’s tough being a critter out there. Food, water, cover and adequate space are all that wildlife need. But sometimes, our trees become essential habitat elements, too. Wildlife’s quest to survive may, at times, place them at odds with our objectives of growing trees, such as when carefully planted seedlings are mutilated or simply eaten by feeding deer and elk. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent or, at least, contain the damage.

First, determine if there really is a problem. Usually damage is noticed on some trees during forest walks, but this doesn’t give us a real sense of scale. It is important to objectively assess the situation to determine a proper course of action.

Note what kind of damage is occurring: Are the buds and/or foliage damaged or eaten? Are there chew marks and nipped buds? Are the stems torn or cleanly nipped? Is there girdling? Was the stem damaged by physical rubbing? How high is the damage? What kind of marks? Deer and elk will tear the top out of seedlings, or pull them out of the ground.

Second, note the extent of the damage? How many trees are damaged or dead? What tree species are affected? What proportion and spacing of the trees are affected? Informal tree counts or even plots can give a better assessment of what is going on. Several simple methods work to give some numbers: Count 100 random trees on narrow transect (say 6-10 feet per side) and keep a tally of the number damaged. Another method could involve some circular plots (1/20 acre or 37.2 feet radius is good) and again, count. Count the number of target seedlings or saplings, both intact and damaged, to get an estimate of damage. Otherwise, our eye is very biased and will overestimate damage levels by focusing on the damaged trees. This is an important step.

Seedlings and deer

a tell-tale sign of deer damage.
The ragged edge where this seedling’s top was nipped off is a tell-tale sign of deer damage. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR.

One of the most common animal damage complaints in forestry is seedling destruction by ungulates. Deer, and elk, will browse many different kinds of vegetation as they saunter across their home ranges. They will sample any number of plants as they feed, stopping to focus on those they particularly like. They will often eat the tops out of planted tree stock, particularly cedars. Deer and elk have no incisor teeth on the top of their mouth, so they roughly tear the vegetation. (Hares will cleanly nip at an angle.) Nursery stock seem to be particularly yummy, and can be selected like ice cream in newly planted areas. Other species of trees can also have their tops nipped out, killing or causing odd bushy growth in those trees that survive. How can you prevent this damage from severely reducing the success of tree plantings? Read on…

Actions

There are five basic approaches to preventing or reducing wildlife damage:

  • Tolerance – in other words, putting up with it and planting extra trees
  • Armoring with Vexar(R), cages, tubes, bud caps
  • Repellents
  • Alternative food sources
  • Removal or harassment

Tolerance: In any damage situation, first determine if the level is acceptable. For example, if browse damage is expected, simply plant at a higher density and allow for some loss. This could mean additional thinning in the future, but protection is not necessary. Ask yourself, are the animals engaged in early thinning? The best wildlife habitats are structurally heterogeneous, with openings and shrubs mixed with mature trees anyway. Animal damage can actually create some of this diversity! Is the damage within acceptable levels? If so, there is no “problem”!

 flexible plastic mesh tubing, such as Vexar®, around seedling
Placing flexible plastic mesh tubing, such as Vexar®, around seedlings can be an effective way to prevent damage by deer and other wildlife

Armoring: If they can’t reach it, they can’t eat it. Placing a cage of some kind on each tree, is an effective option. The goal is to get the tree large enough that if a deer or elk decides to eat it, the tree will survive and the top will remain intact. Vexar® tubes (photo) or other plastic tubing, is commonly used and can be very effective. This method is labor intensive but small woodland owners can make good use of these tubes. These manufactured tubes can be secured with one stake, zip ties or wire, and moved upwards as the tree grows.

Thin bamboo stakes held together with zip ties work well. Home-made cages also work, using wire of various kinds. Two-inch rolled steel mesh, 4-feet high, secured with a T-post is standard on many restoration plantings in north central Washington.

Famed tree farmer, Ron Munro at the Crystal Lake Tree Farm near Monroe, Washington has had good results tending his Western red cedar seedlings by installing Vexar® tubes and lifting them as the trees grow.

Be sure the stakes are strong enough to withstand snow or other local environmental factors. Usually the deer will nose around and move on to the next plant if there is a barrier. Remember, the barrier has to be stout enough and tight enough to prevent deer noses from getting in. Elk are big and strong, and have been known to pull cages off when they really want to eat something. In wetter environments, some have planted a spruce immediately alongside cedar, and the deer will sometimes leave the cedar alone; maybe because they don’t like to bite the spiny spruce!

Bud caps are paper or plastic envelopes stapled over the terminal bud of seedlings. Sometimes this can be very effective at preventing key damage. The covers need to be checked and fixed annually however.

Repellents can be an effective alternative, but must be reapplied regularly for consistent results. This often means, twice, or more, per year. There are many products responding to this need, with at least 20 on the market. Two commercial products that have good track records are Seadust and Plantskydd, both manufactured with forestry in mind, with a foul taste that the browsers just don’t like. Look in hardware stores in areas where deer frequently eat ornamentals and the number of repellents on the shelf can be amazing! Experiment and ask around in your local area to find out what works.

Alternative forage: Another technique to reduce big game damage to seedlings is to provide a preferred alternate food source nearby. An Oregon experiment placed preferred forage near planted stock, and found this technique reduced damage to planted seedlings. This could be done in the form of planting wildlife forage mix in food plots, on skid trails and disturbed soils.

Removal of offending animals is a tactic of last resort. Usually, the wildlife populations will simply fill back in behind the best intended efforts. Legal hunting can be used to remove some animals, and will produce effective harassment, but only during periods of hunting. And hunting must be carefully tended to avoid conflicts with neighbors. Seldom will hunting remove enough animals to eliminate damage. Harassment (motion-operated sprinklers, dogs, noise) can teach animals to stay away from certain areas, but these techniques are labor intensive, require constant vigilance, and often must be used at night. In any case, most wildlife quickly learn to ignore your most obnoxious efforts. Consult with your local fish and wildlife departments before embarking on programs involving ANY removal method to be sure you are acting within legal limits.

Enjoying wildlife on our small woodlands is one of the great joys of forestry. When they damage our trees we must carefully consider all of our options for dealing with the situation.

If you have questions about wildlife on your small woodlands, please contact me:

by Ken Bevis, Landowner Assistance Wildlife Biologist, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Ken.Bevis@dnr.wa.gov, 360-489-4802

Field Day Scheduled for Washington Forest Owners

Youth learning about pileated woodpeckers
Youth learning about pileated woodpeckers and forest habitat at a field day event. Photo: Andy Perleberg/WSU Extension

A unique opportunity is coming for family forest owners and managers in eastern Washington: a field day for forest owners will be held on Saturday, June 20, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Vukonich Family Farm near Ronald, Wash. The location is within easy driving distance from the Seattle-Metro area and counties along the eastslope of the Cascades.

Instructed by the state’s recognized experts in forest management, wildlife habitat, and other forest stewardship disciplines, this “out-in-the-woods” educational event will provide useful, timely, and unbiased information sure to meet the needs of landowners with five or 500 acres. There will be exhibitors, demonstrations, and classes throughout the day.

Steve Gibbs, Forest Stewardship Program manager at the Washington Department of Natural Resources, remarked “The field days have something for everybody, whether you need advice on dealing with trespassers, need to learn how to sharpen your chainsaw, or want to identify a bug.”

FieldDay_Hanley adn FalknerParticipants can choose from a wide variety of classes and activities taught by specialists in forest health, wildlife habitat, weed control, wildfire protection, timber and non-timber forest products, using global positioning systems, chainsaw safety and maintenance, and forestland security and safety. The presenters will be available to answer questions specific to your property situation. Youth activities will be available all day.

The field day is designed to prepare landowners to plan and execute management activities that meet their personal objectives, reduce risks and protect their financial investment. Absentee landowners with property in eastern Washington are especially encouraged to attend. The field day is sponsored by the WSU Extension, DNR, and the Family Forest Foundation, with many more cooperating agencies and organizations contributing to this great event.

The fee is $30 per person or $40 per family. A brochure with more detailed information, driving directions and the registration form can be found at http://forestry.wsu.edu, or contact your local WSU Extension office.

For more information contact WSU Extension Forester Andy Perleberg at 509-667-6540 or by email at andyp@wsu.edu

By Andy Perleberg, WSU Extension forester

Building Trails through the Forest: A Landowner Project

Grassy Meadow Trail,
Grassy Meadow Trail before and after trail construction. Photo: Randall S Hansen.

Our beautiful 40-acre woodland farm is nestled in the rolling hills of Garden Valley, between Lake Ellen and the Columbia River in Northeast Washington’s rural Ferry County. We’ve completed a management plan for our forest, and are now part of the American Tree Farm System—as a Certified Tree Farm. We have established these goals for our woodland farm:

  • Long-term forest stewardship
  • Natural, sustainable growth/harvesting
  • Protection of wildlife habitats
  • Multi-generational legacy

As we moved forward with our forest management plan, two of our goals were to improve the health of our entire forest and improve access to our entire property. But how? The answer is to build trails.

While the end-result of your work will be an amazing trail through your forest, before you jump into the project you should be fully aware of the hard work it will take to build the trail — especially if your property is heavily wooded, includes water bodies, and has an uneven terrain. Trail-building is NOT a weekend project.

Before you begin building your trail(s)

There are a few things to consider before you start building your trail. First, decide on the purpose for your trail. Is the trail going to be purely recreational? Do you want a “strictly business” trail that goes from one point to the other efficiently, or a trail that meanders through the forest? Will it be a hiking trail, or access for ATVs? And what is the difference between a wide trail and a narrow road? Just when is a Forest Practices Application (FPA) required?

The general rule of thumb seems to be that if the trail is for recreational purposes only and involves minimal environmental impact, you probably don’t need an FPA. But if this trail is for timber-related activities like logging or firewood sales, it would then fall under the definition of a “Forest Practice” and thus may require an FPA:

“”Forest practice” means any activity conducted on or directly pertaining to forest land and relating to growing, harvesting, or processing timber, or removing forest biomass, including but not limited to: Activities in and over typed water; Road and trail construction; Harvesting, final and intermediate; Precommercial thinning; Reforestation; Fertilization; Prevention and suppression of diseases and insects; Salvage of trees; and Brush control…”

from Forest Practice Rules Chapter 222-15 WAC

You will not need a FPA for a trail used for logging that is less than 600 feet and meets the Class 1 Forest Practice definition. If you have any question as to whether a Forest Practice Application is needed it is highly recommended to check with the regional DNR Office in which your proposed project is located.

Give forest practice office staff the county your project will be in and ask for the Forest Practices forester to contact you. Staff will be glad to assist and answer your questions. The good news is that even if you do need to file an FPA for your “multipurpose” trail there is no fee to pay unless you are including the sale of timber in the FPA. “No trees, no fees…”

Route of Grassy Meadow Trail
Route of Grassy Meadow Trail

Your next step is to survey the area where you plan to build the trail, examining natural elements that will either enhance or hamper trail-building. For example, if you have a stream on the property, you’ll not only want to determine the best point to cross it, but also focus on ways to avoid soil erosion near the stream. Also, if you have steep hills, consider creating a switchback or two rather than a direct trail up the hill. I’ve found that looking at an aerial view of the area is a helpful starting point, but nothing beats actually walking your property and mapping out the final elements of the trail as you walk it, noting options for moving the trail to protect or enhance elements of the forest.

My personal philosophy is to NOT remove any healthy, mature trees in building our trails. I will remove saplings and junk trees, but I have yet had to cut down a healthy tree in my trail-building. For our trail-building, no chain saws are required. On one of our trails, there is a lot of downed forest debris. Luckily, most of it is rotted, so removing it has been fairly easy. A chain saw may be required to help clear larger trees already on the ground.

Trail-building

I find the actual building of the trails enjoyable. Yes, it is dirty and hard work. But, seeing your vision unfold in your forest as you build the trail — and then actually walking it once it’s completed — is extremely fulfilling. In terms of the tools of trail-building, we generally use shovels, pruning shears, and a tractor. We remove and prune smaller vegetation, use the shovel to remove rocks and return debris back into the forest, and the tractor for both initial clearing and for trail maintenance (using the bush hog attachment).

We don’t have any streams or wetlands on our property, so there is no need for bridge-building. If you have a water crossing, you may get by with stepping stones or some planks, but check with the DNR Forest Practices staff before planning anything more elaborate to find out what rules might apply. Finally, we envision most of our trails to be chipped — using the chips we create from our forest thinning projects. (Our tractor also has a chipper attachment.) Some trails may remain bare or naturally covered in pine needles. For trails closer to your house, you may prefer adding gravel or river rocks for a prettier appearance.

Additional trail-building resources

This article is just a quick overview of our process for building trails. These are some of my favorite resources:

By Dr. Randall S. Hansen, Owner, Hansen Woodland Farm