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Mapping your forest with Google Earth and a GPS phone app

TreeTopics - Tue, 06/09/2015 - 11:56am

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

This must be the end of the road…

One of the first orders of business on the Matteson Demonstration Forest is getting to know the lay of the land.  180 acres is a lot to get to know!  As is the case with any new woodland owner, we need a map to help orient ourselves while on the property, and to keep track of where different roads and trails lead.

Eventually, the OSU College Forests staff will create a GIS map of the Matteson Forest with various spatial layers – property boundaries, roads, forest types, culverts, and so forth.  In the meantime, I’ve been using Google Earth to create my own map, adding information as I continue to explore the tract.  While in the woods, I’ve been using a GPS app on my smartphone to keep track of where I am and to record points and paths. In this article I’ll describe how I’ve been using these two applications, which I think would be useful to most woodland owners who don’t have GIS at their fingertips.

Some woodland owners are already familiar with Google Earth. For those that are not, Tristan Huff (OSU Extension Forester on the south coast) has developed a useful tutorial for landowners.  I recommend the Pro version of Google Earth, which is now available for free (a recent change).  In addition to all the standard features of Google Earth, the Pro version shows tax lot boundaries and allows you to calculate the area of a polygon that you draw.  This enabled me to draw the Matteson property boundaries on my map with reasonable accuracy, by tracing the taxlot lines.

Yellow polygon approximates the property boundary. Google Earth Pro

On a recent visit to the Matteson Forest my goal was to map the roads and trails in the southern half of the property.  Major roads stand out on the aerial photo, but walking the tract we’ve come across numerous secondary roads, trails and a small pond that are obscured by the canopy when looking at  the aerial image.

Mature timber in the southwest section obscures roads and trails in this aerial view. My iPhone GPS proved to be at least as precise as this handheld GPS receiver.

A GPS receiver can be used to map them. GPS receivers vary widely in their accuracy, especially under tree canopy; the most accurate systems are quite costly.  Even a consumer-grade GPS receiver, which might be accurate to around 50 ft under tree canopy, can cost several hundred dollars.  But, if you are one of the two-thirds of American adults that has a smartphone, you already have a GPS receiver built in.  Why not use it?

Doing some research I came across Motion X-GPS, an iPhone app available for the bargain price of 99 cents.  Motion X-GPS uses your phone’s GPS receiver to track your location.  This works in places where you don’t get a phone signal.  You can record tracks and points as you move about. You can even take photos and associate them with a place or track.

Motion X-GPS has good tutorials on their website, so I won’t go into much detail here on how to the app in the field.  Below are two screenshots from my phone, showing a waypoint and a track that I recorded.

After I was done for the day, the next step was to get these features from my phone into Google Earth.  In Motion X-GPS you can share locations, tracks and waypoints to an email address.  I simply emailed the tracks to myself.

Opening up the .kmz attachment automatically opens the feature in Google Earth.  From there I could save it to my map of the property.  Here is my Google Earth map now, with all the features that I mapped in the field imported and saved.

In summary, I give Google Earth Pro and Motion X-GPS two thumbs up.  I’ve been using the latter for biking and running as well.  To conserve my phone’s battery charge while in the field, I turned off the cellular receiver (there’s little to no cell signal on the Matteson Forest anyhow).  Using the GPS app for 90 minutes consumed about 40% of my battery.  Unfortunately, Motion X-GPS is not available for Android devices, but there are other GPS tracking apps that function similarly and are Android compatible.

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Categories: TreeTopics

Many Douglas-fir with dead tops and branches in the Willamette Valley this year

TreeTopics - Tue, 05/05/2015 - 5:53pm

By Brad Withrow-Robinson, Forestry & Natural Resources Extension Agent, Benton, Linn and Polk Counties

Young Douglas-fir trees with dying branches or tops turning brown, then red have become a common sight all around the Willamette Valley this spring. What is going on?

This “flare out” of branches and tops are classic drought symptoms in Douglas-fir, which we are linking to last year’s weather when we had a particularly long, dry and very hot period late in the summer. Late season drought injuries to the stem and leader do not always show up when they occur, but often express themselves the following spring as trees start to grow. We have these drought damage events from time to time here in the valley, most recently in 2013 and again before that around 2000. Older trees typically have milder symptoms, but the many older, flat-topped Douglas-fir trees you see are a reflection of past droughts and non-fatal damage.

It is important to keep in mind that the Willamette Valley can be a challenging environment for trees. Summers are significantly hotter and drier in the Valley than in the mountains, and we have many poorly drained or shallow soils that are not well-suited to many kinds of trees. So, we tend to see most drought stress damage on more marginal sites, where wet or shallow soils limit tree root growth, water availability, or both. It is also often more common in younger trees (20 years and younger) whose root system may be having trouble keeping up with rapid expansion of their crowns.

Heat and drought can kill trees outright, or often just put the trees under stress. Stress can then lead to problems with secondary pests (including insects such as the twig weevil and diseases such as stem cankers) which take advantage of a stressed tree’s weakened condition. Right now we are mostly seeing the effects of drought in Douglas-fir, but can probably expect to see problems emerge among some other conifers as the year progresses, especially if we stay as dry as we are now. Let’s hope for some more rain!

For more information:

Here are two good articles from the ODF Forest Health team. They are a few years old but very relevant, explaining Dead tops and Branches (with good pictures)  and about Drought and Mortality.

More photos below.

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Categories: TreeTopics

Woodland owner and canine companion “dig deep” into truffle hunting

TreeTopics - Mon, 05/04/2015 - 1:31pm

By Brandy Saffell, Education Program Assistant, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension

Part I: Gucci and the Joriad

OSU Master Woodland Manager Marilyn Richen and her family own forest land in Columbia County. Her story about Gucci, her yellow lab, and the Joriad Truffle Hunting Competition is a modern day retelling of The Ugly Duckling.

Gucci was born into a training program for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Sadly, she could not stay in the program because of scavenging behaviors (i.e. seeking out and nabbing food). The upside of this otherwise disappointing situation was that Marilyn and her partner, Tammy Jackson, could officially adopt Gucci. They decided, though, that they desperately needed to find some sort of activity or training to help focus Gucci’s excessive energy.

Marilyn Richen’s dog, Gucci, on a forest truffle hunt (Photo: Jeannine May)

This is where truffles enter the tale. Truffles are fungi that develop underground in symbiotic association with the roots of trees; they are also a culinary delicacy. Marilyn has had an interest in truffles for many years and has attended several truffle classes including those offered at Tree School and through the Oregon Woodland Cooperative. She was also aware of truffle hunting with dogs but did not have a dog to train until Gucci came along. Could truffle hunting be a way to channel Gucci’s energy into something productive?

In 2013, Marilyn, Tammy, and Gucci began working with a truffle dog trainer, Jeannine May. The training regime involved weekly practice with Jeannine and then daily reinforcement of the skills that she taught.  Gucci was finding truffles in the wild regularly by the end of the truffle season (roughly December through February). This past season, Gucci went out truffle hunting once or twice per week, gradually improving her ability to identify truffles and dig them up. The time had come to put Gucci’s sniffer to the test against other dogs.

Marilyn and Tammy entered Gucci in the Joriad, a North American Truffle Dog Competition event. Gucci passed with flying colors in the qualifying rounds, which took place in an arena filled with hidden truffle-scented objects. She proceeded with five other competitors to the final field round: a foggy, dense Christmas tree farm near Eugene. Each contender embarked on their own in the woods, searching for as many wild truffles as they could find in one hour. Gucci won, and although the results were not made public, she was rumored to have found more than twice the number of truffles than the second runner-up. Our champion, Gucci, had undergone her transformation from the storybook ugly duckling into a truffle-hunting swan.

Gucci and Marilyn in a qualifying round at the Joriad Truffle Dog Competition (Photo: Jeannine May)

Part II: Opportunities for Landowners

When I consider this story about Gucci, I see an opportunity for landowners to embrace truffles as a non-timber forest product. Truffle hunting has been a tradition in southern Europe for centuries and remain a highly esteemed product up there with foie gras and caviar. Although there are thousands of truffle varieties, the most widely known and prized are French black perigords and Italian whites. The market value of European black and white truffles can be anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 per pound. In the U.S., truffles grow especially well in the mild climate of the Pacific Northwest, primarily west of the Cascades. Oregon has its own native black and white truffles and peak production is found in dense, coastal Douglas-fir stands, around 15 to 25 years old. Despite the fact that these stands are common throughout our region, only a small percentage of the potential truffle crop is harvested each year (about 13,500 pounds). Part of the reason is that most commercially productive truffle habitat is on privately owned lands, but more importantly, the truffle market in Oregon is largely undeveloped.

In recent years, Oregon black and white truffles have been valued at around $320 and $220 per pound, respectively; much lower than their European relatives. Poor quality control has been suggested as one factor in the lower value of Oregon truffles. A large proportion of our truffles are harvested by raking the surface of the forest floor to uncover the hidden crop. Raking typically unearths immature truffles, which lack the savory taste that develops with ripeness. In turn, Oregon truffles have earned a bad name as less potent than European varieties.

Oregon white truffles (Photo: Francis Storr)

Marilyn has found both black and white truffles on her 450 acres, but only a few ounces here and there. “For now, it’s a hobby,” she says. But she and Tammy see the potential for profit from truffling in Oregon, which is still a very young science. They excitedly share with me that they have found truffles far outside peak season and sometimes even in atypical forest habitat. “This is where training dogs can be useful,” says Tammy. They only find mature truffles (so there is inherent quality control) and will tell you what is out there on your property throughout the year.

So what are some options for landowners to explore? You can look into training your own dog and explore the potential of your property. You could also lease your property to truffle hunters and take a share of the profits or agree upon a flat fee. Consider using a harvest permit and products sale document with your hunters. Another interesting possibility is hosting truffle forays, which are high-end events where a small group will pay to be led on a truffle hunt with dogs on the property followed by a chef curated, truffle-themed dinner. You can also look into cultivating truffles, a process that requires heavy investment but can potentially yield large quantities. For more information about Oregon truffles and other non-timber forest products:

Editor’s note: since this article was written, the South County Spotlight also wrote an article about Marilyn and Gucci. 

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Categories: TreeTopics

A New OSU College of Forestry Research and Demonstration Forest in Washington County

TreeTopics - Fri, 04/03/2015 - 9:50am

By Amy Grotta, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension – Columbia, Washington & Yamhill Counties, and Stephen Fitzgerald, Director of the College of Forestry Research Forests & Extension Silviculture Specialist

It is with great excitement that we can announce that the Rubie P. Matteson Demonstration Forest has been established as the newest parcel of the OSU Research Forests. The 180-acre tract, located near the west shore of Hagg Lake near Gaston, will be managed as a working forest, providing income to the College of Forestry, access to the public, and a multitude of Extension, education and demonstration opportunities.

College of Forestry Research Forests Staff and Extension Faculty getting acquainted with the new Rubie Matteson Demonstration Forest

The Oregon State University College of Forestry is extremely honored and grateful to be the new owner of this forest. Marion C. Matteson, a lifelong resident of the Scoggins Valley area, bequeathed the property to the College. Mr. Matteson passed away in December 2013 at age 94. Rubie P. Matteson, for whom the Demonstration Forest is named, was Marion Matteson’s mother.

The Research & Demonstration Forests are a very important part of the College of Forestry. Together they encompass over 14,000 acres of forest land across the state, the largest being the 11,000-acre McDonald/Dunn Forests just on the north edge of Corvallis. They provide a range of teaching and research opportunities where various contemporary and new forest management methods are demonstrated. While the tracts closer to campus are used heavily by undergraduate classes and graduate and faculty researchers; smaller satellite tracts such as the Oberteuffer Forest in northeast Oregon are more commonly used for demonstration and Extension activities. All of the lands are actively managed to maintain health, productivity, and provide income to the College of Forestry. In turn, these funds support new teaching and research initiatives within the College.

The Matteson Forest has great potential for Extension Forestry & Natural Resources programs in the local area. It is easily accessible and centrally located with respect to the private woodland owner population in Washington, Yamhill and Columbia Counties. It contains a range of stand types and ages and will serve to demonstrate how small forest parcels can be actively managed to provide income while sustaining other non-timber values over time. OSU Research Forest staff will assume most of the responsibility for management, while OSU Extension will help guide outreach activities, including tours, hands-on classes, and demonstration projects. As with all of the College’s forests, the property will be open to the public for non-motorized walk-in recreation, including hikers, runners, horseback riding, and mountain bikes on designated trails and roads.

A view to the east from the main road through the property. The hills in the distance are across Hagg Lake.

There is much work to be done to make the property more usable for management, year-round access, and public enjoyment. Some of the first tasks to be completed include rocking and improving the main road system; creating a small parking area; and installing signage and gates. A comprehensive management plan and forest inventory will also be needed. We will soon be engaging woodland owners and other local stakeholders to determine how the forest can provide the greatest benefit for education, outreach and applied research. Look for regular updates on these and other activities at the Rubie Matteson Demonstration Forest in the future.

We could not be more excited about this opportunity.  We look forward to sharing the Matteson Forest with woodland owners and others in our community soon!

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Categories: TreeTopics

Wood is Good for so many Things….

TreeTopics - Wed, 03/18/2015 - 10:01am

Brad Withrow-Robinson, OSU Forestry and Natural Resources Extension for Benton, Linn and Polk Counties

At the wood products fair in Albany last month, I was thrilled by the sight of so many creative uses of local wood. Although still a niche market in Oregon, we have many beautiful local hardwoods.   Handcrafted products such as bowls, cutting boards, boxes and other household items were on sale that featured many woods including walnut, maple and also the less-familiar cascara, ash and chinquapin. There was rough wood available too, blocks and boards to be taken into workshops and saved until just the right use is found by people who have “the wood sickness”, and boards of Oregon white oak and ash that would make floors you’d almost be ashamed to walk on….

Yew wood bowl. Photo by Dick Powell

Wood and wooden things bring warmth and beauty into our homes and our lives when used and displayed as household items and architectural elements. Never out of fashion, wood is nonetheless making a bigger splash lately in its architectural applications. Long used visually in homes and public buildings as paneling, cabinets and trim, wood is becoming more visible in its functional and structural roles in stairways, posts and beams too. Much of that is our local Douglas-fir.

New engineered wood products, such as cross laminated timber are changing the way architects and builders think about wood. This is taking wooden buildings to new heights – literally – and offering viable alternatives to non-renewable materials such as steel and concrete.

Abundant display of architectural wood gives OSU’s Hallie Ford Center an inviting feel.

The creative production and use of wood is a sub-theme of the 2015 Starker Lecture series. This year’s title is “Douglas-fir: The legacy and future of the Pacific Northwest’s most iconic tree”. The remaining lecture (April 16) and Capstone Tour (May 14 ) will explore the culture and functions of Douglas-fir. This wood is featured prominently in architectural wood use because of its dual characteristics of strength and beauty. Join us in celebrating wood.   Note: You can also catch the Starker Lecture series on a Live Video Stream, or see the ones you missed on demand by following links on the Starker Lecture Series website


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