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Wood Sickness

TreeTopics - Fri, 03/21/2014 - 5:01pm

By Brad Withrow-Robinson, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension – Benton, Linn & Polk Counties

Wood accumulating in every un-used space may indicate a problem…

This blog often carries information about insect or disease problems emerging in local forests and woodlands.  Today I will address a sensitive but common problem in the local woodland owner community, starting with the question:  Do you or someone you know have an irrational attachment to wood?  Behaviors such as holding back low value logs to saw into boards hoarded for undefined future projects may indicate an important condition you need to be aware of, the wood sickness.

Common signs of the wood sickness are large accumulations of round or milled wood in a person’s yard, shed, garage or barn. Excessive buildup of chain saws and other logging tools, portable mills, and all sorts of secondary wood working tools are often also evident. Symptoms experienced by suffers may include dry mouth, shallow breathing and irregular heartbeat when near burl wood, quarter-sawn oak or spalted wood.   Quilted maple, figured walnut and live edges have been known to cause sweating and dizziness.

People suffering from wood sickness often imagine great future profit, but are generally reluctant to part with any of the gathered wood, leading to an ever-growing supply.  Thus, many hours which these men (yes, a great majority are men) could spend in productive family interactions are spent accumulating wood, arranging piles of wood, rearranging piles of wood, trading wood and shaping pieces of wood into other forms. The most common conversion is from round to rectangular shapes which are more easily dried, arranged and rearranged.  But the wood may also be formed into floors, furniture, bowls and other household objects in the belief that it will lead to validation and acceptance of the sufferer’s activities.  There is of course little evidence of this ever happening.

Left untreated this condition can become an all-consuming obsession that may lead to the substitution of many familiar metal or ceramic objects with wooden versions, among other things.  Treatment options are quite limited, with no pharmaceutical treatments currently available.  Rumor has it they are trying out support groups on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  In acute cases impacts on the family can be severe, leaving the “woodshop widows” with little recourse  but to retreat to the comfort of spinning wheels and sewing machines and the consoling fiber arts.

Wood hoarding is serious business for these two sufferers struggling to come to grips with the condition

This article is not meant to stigmatize those with the wood sickness, but to raise awareness and understanding of those with this affliction.  It is not limited to but certainly correlated with woodland ownership, and the suffers are commonly friends and family members just trying to lead normal lives while facing future years of retirement.  We are deserving of compassion and understanding.

Categories: TreeTopics

Operations on family forest lands not making the grade for fire preparedness

TreeTopics - Fri, 03/21/2014 - 10:28am
ODF photo

By Brad Withrow-Robinson, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension – Benton, Linn & Polk Counties

It is never really too early to think about fire season.  With fire season comes rules and regulations that affect both the general public and forest landowners.  Nearly everyone is affected by some, such as rules for basic fire tools to be carried when driving on forest roads during regulated use  as reported last summer.

If you operate during fire season, then there are other specific rules regarding fire prevention and preparedness that will apply to you.  These roles address water supply and fire equipment, fire watch and preventative actions and steps that are meant to prevent wildfire and protect landowners from fire damage, injury and fire cost liability.

ODF foresters regularly visit operations to check on fire rules compliance.  Deficiencies typically lead to warnings, but if left unaddressed, may lead to citations, fines and in rare cases may leave landowners liable for all fire suppression costs.

I recently saw results for the ODF West Oregon District (predominantly in Lincoln, Benton and Polk Counties) of 132 compliance inspections of active operations in 2013.  The good news is that  79% passed.  But there were fairly big differences between the results on Industrial lands, Federal lands and nonindustrial lands.  Let’s just say that operators on family forest lands are not leading the class, with just 69% passing.  That means that nearly a third of operations on family forestlands were not up to snuff.  Critical deficiencies revealed  include inadequate pumps, too little water and not enough  fire hose and inadequate maintenance.

Note that the small landowner numbers represent two groups:   those who are doing their own operation, so need to have their own fire equipment on site, and those who hire an operator and so are depending on that operator to keep them in compliance.  From what I understand, neither group is making the Dean’s list.

As a whole, you could call it a passing grade I guess… a D+.  But that is not the kind of grade we want to see on our kids’ report cards, nor does it represent the level of preparedness we would like to see in the small woodlands community.  It is important to try to improve that situation.

Look for other articles on this topic soon, and watch for workshops in Benton and Polk Counties in early summer.

ODF photo
Categories: TreeTopics

Spring’s Scotch broom show is around the corner

TreeTopics - Thu, 03/13/2014 - 3:15pm

By Amy Grotta, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension – Columbia, Washington & Yamhill Counties

As tree planting season winds down and the weather warms, we are already starting to see buds popping on spring’s earliest bloomers. Soon the spring explosion will be in full force. It won’t be long before the hillsides are brilliant yellow – and not with daffodils.

Photo: Eric Coombs, Oregon Dept. of Agriculture, bugwood.org

Colorful and abundant as it is, Scotch broom is one of the more serious forest weeds that we have to contend with. The Oregon Department of Agriculture has estimated the economic impact of Scotch broom on Oregon forestland at $47 million annually – that figure includes lost forest productivity and control costs.

Shade from a closed forest canopy is the ultimate control for Scotch broom, but unless the infestation is minor, using this passive approach is undesirable. Dense Scotch broom outcompetes desired vegetation including tree seedlings, produces seed that persists in the soil for decades, and reduces biodiversity.

Photo: Eric Coombs, Oregon Dept. of Agriculture

Different people have their preferred methods of controlling Scotch broom. Good recommendations can be found in two publications available through the OSU Extension Catalog:

Whatever control method you choose (hand pulling, mowing, spraying, etc.), timing is everything. As tempting as it may be to tackle your Scotch broom when it is in full flower and easy to spot, this can be counterproductive in the end if care is not taken. For example:

  • Plants that are cut or mowed in spring tend to resprout. If using this control method, it is best to wait until the driest part of the summer, when the plant is stressed and before the seeds have fully matured.
  • While Scotch broom is quite susceptible to correctly applied herbicide  during the bloom period, some herbicides can harm conifer seedlings in the springtime, if the buds on the conifers have already begun to swell/break. Consult the Pacific Northwest Weed Management Handbook for specifics.
Scotch broom plant infested with a bud gall mite. Photo: Eric Coombs, Oregon Dept. of Agriculture, bugwood.org

Scotch broom has a few natural enemies that may aid in the fight. These insect predators, called biological controls, are researched and regulated by the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

One of these, a bud gall mite, just showed up in Oregon within the last decade. Scotch broom plants infested with the bud gall mite would have weirdly deformed buds and little to no flowering, like in the photo. If you suspect that you have seen this, contact your Extension office as there is interest in the spread of this natural enemy.

Categories: TreeTopics

Contending with overgrown Christmas trees

TreeTopics - Mon, 03/10/2014 - 5:29pm

By Amy Grotta, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension – Columbia, Washington & Yamhill Counties

Dark and gloomy: the escaped Christmas trees at Tualatin River Farm

It’s a familiar story. A few acres of Christmas trees were planted on the farm, perhaps for tax purposes, or because they were perceived as a low-maintenance investment, or maybe because the market was strong at the time. Fast forward a couple decades…the land has changed hands, and the Christmas trees, well, they never did make it into someone’s living room. Now, the new owner has “escaped” Christmas trees to contend with.

This is the situation at Tualatin River Farm, a 60-acre property now under a conservation easement and being turned into a working educational and demonstration farm and riparian restoration site. About five acres of the site is in this old noble fir plantation, presumed to have been planted for Christmas trees, and estimated to be about 25 years old. The new property managers wish to transform this area into a mixed upland forest, more representative of what might naturally occur on the site. What to do, they asked? Can these trees be saved?

Some considerations:

  • The stand displays all the visual signs of an overstocked forest: no vegetation growing on the ground, trees with a very high height-to-diameter ratio, and with a very low ratio of live canopy to total tree height. All of these add up to a situation where the trees are at an unhealthy density.
  • The trees are so close together, that one can barely walk between them. Getting any of them down in a thinning scenario would be challenging. It might be feasible to remove every third or fourth row, but even then the stand would still resemble an orderly plantation…not the type of forest that is desired by the owner in this case.
  • A pocket of dead trees in a low-lying area suggests possible root disease (2010 photo from Google Earth).

    The trees are noble firs, which make fine Christmas trees, but which would not naturally be found at this elevation (<200 feet) just above the floodplain. Here, they are an “offsite” species, and as they mature become more susceptible to diseases. Aerial photos show evidence of possible disease pockets.

So, can these trees be saved? Probably not. Given the owner’s goals, it’s likely best to start over with a clean slate.

A portion of this stand is in better shape. Presumably, some Christmas trees were actually harvested here, so that when the rest “escaped” the stocking was already patchier and less dense. And, the previous owner (who still lives on the site, as a caretaker) has been taking out trees here and there over the years for firewood. The remaining trees have a healthier live crown ratio (more of the tree’s trunk still has live branches attached); indicating that thinning probably started a while ago.

Gradual thinning has resulted in better density, understory regeneration (and lots of firewood).

Choices for this part of the stand are not as clear-cut (pardon the pun). The managers wondered, should they continue gradually thinning out the overstory, and plant underneath with native trees and shrubs? Cut out a few patches to allow more sunlight in, giving the option to plant in more sun-loving species? As the nobles age, more will probably succumb to disease. They could become snags, which could be seen as an asset (for wildlife/structural complexity) or a liability (as a hazard tree – recall that the farm is to be used for education, with lots of kids and other groups visiting). There’s no right answer, but starting over might be the best option here too.

If this situation rings true for you, it’s important to remember that Christmas tree fields do not grow up to become healthy forests, at least not without some careful planning. Gilbert Shibley, a Clackamas County Master Woodland Manager, has developed some useful materials on the promises and pitfalls of converting escaped Christmas trees.

Categories: TreeTopics

How communities and natural resources interact – an example from Vernonia, Oregon

TreeTopics - Mon, 02/24/2014 - 6:06pm

By Amy Grotta, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension – Columbia, Washington & Yamhill Counties

Source: Vernonia School District

Typically, northwest Oregon forests are considered in terms of their high productivity, their ecological characteristics, or their contribution to the state’s economy. But how do our forests shape the rural communities they surround? And how do these communities influence the forests?

These questions have been on my mind over the past couple years, as I’ve been working with community members in Vernonia on a study of “community vitality”*. Ninety-five percent of the land surrounding Vernonia is forest, and most is privately owned. So, it would seem natural that forests and forestry are important to the local economy and culture. We wanted to dig deeper into these assumptions, so we examined existing data plus information from surveys that we conducted last summer.

Regarding forestry’s contribution to the local economy, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 5% of Vernonia’s workers are directly employed in “Farming, Fishing & Forestry.” While higher than the state average (2%), it reflects a decline from the 1980’s; and certainly from the 1950’s, when the Oregon-American Mill was still operating in town. Nowadays, many of Vernonia’s workers commute to Washington County.

Learning about log markets on family forest land near Vernonia

On the other hand, 27% of Vernonia area residents obtain at least some of their household income from natural resources-related activities or services, according to our survey. If only a small fraction of people are directly employed in these sectors, what makes up the difference? I have a few hypotheses:

  • Family forest owners – there are roughly 200 of them in the zip code – obtain income from their own land, selling timber or firewood.
  • Individuals’ primary employment is not in forestry, but they earn some money on the side – helping a relative during busy times, for example.
  • Residents work in another natural resources-related sector besides “Farming, Fishing & Forestry”, such as parks & recreation or watershed restoration.

The bottom line, as I see it, is that forests and natural resources are important to Vernonia’s economic well-being, despite the transformation from a community wholly dependent on a mill.

How about residents’ connection to the forested landscape (beyond income)? Vernonia School District has made raising “natural resources consciousness” a schoolwide priority, so we wanted to explore how that goal has played out. But quantifying this awareness is not easy.

Photo credit: Scott Laird

We looked at the number of youth with hunting or fishing licenses (in Vernonia, roughly 15% of all local 5- to 18-year-olds); because research shows that early-life outdoor experiences contribute to environmental awareness. And, about 40% of Vernonia’s high school students said they would possibly pursue a career or education related to natural resources. Will there be local jobs for these youth in the future?

What about the condition of the natural resources themselves? That turns out to be a tricky question too. Much of the information regarding forest, stream, and wildlife conditions are only readily available at a larger scale – a county or ecoregion, for instance. But, we are using information about forest cover and stream temperatures as indicators of overall watershed health. And, there are many interactions among all of these factors. For example, Vernonia students are monitoring stream temperatures as part of their curriculum, thereby contributing to their “natural resources consciousness”, creating local data, and providing them with career skills.

These are things that we learned through the course of the Vital Vernonia Indicator Project. We developed a set of indicators – measureable conditions – that, taken together, create a snapshot of vitality of this rural community. We have forty or so indicators across a spectrum of themes: livability and community engagement, youth education, economy, health and well-being, and – of course, environment and natural resources. We can come back to these indicators in the future and explore changes over time.

Wondering how your community measures up? The Rural Communities Explorer website is a useful tool to explore demographic, economic, and social data. We used the Rural Communities Explorer extensively for the Vital Vernonia Indicator Project. You may find things that confirm or challenge your assumptions about the place you call home.

*According to the Oregon State University Rural Studies Program, “community vitality” is the ability of a community to sustain itself into the future as well as provide opportunities for its residents to pursue their own life goals and the ability of residents to experience positive life outcomes. A vital community has community capacity (the ability to plan, make decisions, and act together), and realizes positive social, economic, and environmental outcomes.

Categories: TreeTopics

Chasing early seral

TreeTopics - Thu, 01/09/2014 - 2:54pm

By Amy Grotta, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension – Columbia, Washington & Yamhill Counties

A free-to-grow tree coexisting with its early seral neighbors

Early seral…it’s one of the biggest buzzwords in Pacific Northwest forestry these days.  But what is it? Put simply, early seral refers to the first stage in forest development following any disturbance, including wind, ice, fire or logging. An early seral, or early successional community is made up of the first colonizers of a forest opening: grasses, other herbaceous plants and broadleaf shrubs.

This biologically rich early seral stage was highlighted as a high priority at last year’s Wildlife in Managed Forests Conference (I did promise I’d eventually get back to writing about that!). It’s also an important component of the “ecological forestry” strategy that is proposed under the Wyden bill for management of federal forest lands.

There are several reasons why these early successional communities are the subject of research and policy discussion. One is their value for wildlife: these hardwood mixtures contain a high variety and abundance of foliage, fruit and pollen used by all manner of insects, birds, and larger animals. In fact, some birds rely almost exclusively on this landscape component.

Time series of early succession in the Mt. St. Helens blast zone. Credit: USDA Forest Service, Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Secondly, there’s not as much of it as there used to be. “Wait a minute”, you say, “what about clearcuts? Shouldn’t there be more early successional sites on the landscape?” The thing is, most landowners want to get trees growing again as quickly as possible; and our Forest Practice rules require it. Shrubs and grasses are seen as getting in the way of this objective, for good reason. So, in effect, the early seral stage on most private lands begins to disappear as soon as the trees are Free to Grow; by law, in six years. On the other hand, early seral communities can last decades when they evolve naturally after a big disturbance, without any trees being planted. In fact, much of the thinking behind early seral characteristics comes from research done at Mt. St. Helens, where these communities persist 30 years after the blast. In fact, as I heard one scientist put it, when it comes to early seral communities, “regeneration failure is success!”

Obviously, on private lands, regeneration failure is not what we are after! So, there’s quite a bit of research going on at OSU and within private industry about how to balance the competing objectives of growing new trees quickly while maintaining the structural characteristics of an early seral community.

Meanwhile, as a small woodland owner, you may find that your land management goals allow some room for these early seral habitats. So while we pay attention to what the science tells us, there are also examples and lessons to be learned from other woodland owners who have successfully (or unsuccessfully) tried to encourage early seral communities in their regeneration areas. This summer our Master Woodland Manager class visited a clearcut where, thanks to some careful management, the trees are free-to-grow and deciduous plants are thriving. (See photo at top of post.) Herbicides were used to control bigleaf maple clumps and to free up growing space around the trees, but shrubs such as elderberry and hazel were left to grow in spaces between the trees.

Are you a bird enthusiast? Then you might take a page from the Hayes family, who has been monitoring birds in different types of forests on their land, from mature, closed-canopy timber to “variable retention” areas where forest openings (i.e. early seral communities) were created through a partial harvest. Watch the video to see what they’ve found. Read a recent case study to learn more about the variable retention harvest featured in the video.

[There is a video that cannot be displayed in this feed. Visit the blog entry to see the video.]

“Early seral” may not yet be the topic of your next dinner party. But in the conversation of forestry, it appears that this is one that’s here to stay for a while.

Categories: TreeTopics
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