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Serving small woodland owners and managers in the Willamette Valley and northwest Oregon
Updated: 9 hours 44 min ago

Recap of the 2018 Oregon Forest Health Conference

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 3:18pm

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

Last week I attended Forest Health: State of the State, a biannual conference put on by OSU College of Forestry. A packed agenda covered insects, diseases, fire, drought, invasive species, climate change, and other topics. I always look forward to this meeting as an opportunity to brush up on my knowledge of these issues. The speakers came from various backgrounds, representing the many forest ecosystems and ownership types we have across the state, and the audience was equally diverse. With that in mind, I’ve tried to distill the takeaways from the conference that seem most relevant to small woodland ownerships in northwest Oregon.

ODF conducts an annual insect and disease aerial survey. Click on the image to be taken to a short video from the air.

What is forest health, anyways?  Our own Extension Specialist Dave Shaw kicked things off by reminding us that forest health is subjective, and based on our experiences, instincts, and goals. It’s easy to agree on whether an individual tree is healthy, but forest health is less concrete.

Resilience:  A common theme across many speakers was that of resilience: that a healthy forest is one that is capable of recovering after a stressful episode, such as a drought, fire, or insect outbreak, and is still able to provide the benefits that the owner and society desire.  A.J. Kroll, a wildlife biologist from Weyerhaeuser, suggested that resilience includes maintaining the productive capacity of a site. Using coarse woody debris (CWD) to illustrate his point, he suggested that a resilient forest has the ability to produce large trees that will eventually become CWD. While he didn’t elaborate, I interpreted that to include maintaining soil quality and productivity. Austin Himes, another speaker with industry background, added that forests also must be resilient to market changes or societal pressures.

“There’s a universe of small things that rely on coarse woody debris” said A.J. Kroll. CWD retained after a clearcut will later provide shelter for long-toed salamanders, once the forest regrows. Left photo: Amy Grotta; Right photo: Kathy Munsel, Oregon Dept of Fish & Wildlife A bumble bee on a salal flower. Photo: Jim Rivers,

Pollinators:  Maintaining populations of pollinating insects is a key to the resilience of our society: without pollinators, we wouldn’t have many of the foods that we eat every day. Jim Rivers from OSU summarized some of the new and ongoing research about the value of westside forests to native pollinators. Most of our native bees nest in the ground, and of course they need flowering plants. Therefore, the short window of approximately four years post-harvest can be very valuable for pollinators.  This is when flowering plants thrive in full sun, and there are more areas of exposed ground for nesting sites.

Beyond these big-picture concepts, there was plenty to hear about “bugs, crud, and critters” – the things that often come to mind as forest (or tree) health issues.

Insects:  Forests on the westside have far fewer insect problems than east of the Cascades. Christine Buhl from the Oregon Department of Forestry emphasized that the best management of insect pests is preventative, by maintaining vigorous trees. This includes managing the Douglas-fir beetle, our primary westside insect pest, which likes stressed trees. But, Michelle Agne, another PhD researcher pointed out that climate change may create conditions that increase Douglas-fir beetle damage in the future. That’s because with hotter, drier summers, trees will be living in more stressful conditions; and as extreme weather events such as storms become more frequent, major windthrow episodes which precipitate beetle outbreaks could become more common.

The intensity of Swiss needle cast in any given year is often weather dependent. Map: Swiss Needle Cast Cooperative

Diseases:  Swiss needle cast can be found everywhere in western Oregon, but currently it only impacts tree growth on the west side of the Coast Range and a few isolated spots in the Cascade foothills. That’s because for the fungus to thrive and spread it needs warm, moist conditions in the winter and spring like those along the foggy coast. These types of conditions are likely to be more common in the future, so Swiss needle cast severity is likely to intensify in the areas where it is currently a problem. Whether the impacted zone will expand eastward is less certain.

Invasive species:  Exotic species of plants, insects, and pathogens are introduced all the time through the commerce and transport of live plants, wood packing material (such as pallets and crates), and firewood. Some of these become invasive and create huge problems (see: sudden oak death). The Oregon Invasive Species Hotline is an easy way for anyone to submit a report of an unfamiliar plant or insect that you think might be an invasive species. An expert will review your report and respond appropriately.

Browsing animals:  There is an interesting and complicated study now in its sixth year, looking at the interaction between herbicide use in young plantations and deer and elk browse. Thomas Stokely, a PhD candidate at OSU explained the results. Some, including myself, have wondered whether reducing herbicide use after a clear-cut could help reduce deer and elk browse on seedlings, because there would be other forage for them to eat. However, in Thomas’s study, seedlings were browsed regardless of the level of herbicide application. And, where it was applied lightly, seedlings didn’t perform as well, due to the double whammy of being browsed and competition from other vegetation.

Are more trees dying in Oregon?  The perception around here may be “yes”, but the research says “no”. Forest mortality rates have remained relatively constant (around 2%) since the late 1990’s, says Andy Gray of the US Forest Service.

With that, I feel a little more educated about forest health for the time being, and I hope you do too. May your forests be healthy…and resilient.

The post Recap of the 2018 Oregon Forest Health Conference appeared first on TreeTopics.

Categories: TreeTopics

Potential drawbacks of Young Stand Thinning

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 4:21pm

Brad Withrow-Robinson, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension agent, Benton, Linn and Polk Counties.

We have been dedicating a fair amount of screen space and class time lately to the idea that many family forest landowners would benefit from thinning their young stands. We explored the reasons to consider young stand thinning (YST) as well as some approaches in a series of posts on YST .  YST is consistent with the situation and goals of many family forest landowners, which often include growing older and more diverse forests.

That said, like many other well-grounded activities, YST is not without some potential drawbacks.

Few of them are significant enough to justify not thinning at all, but each requires some thought and consideration to avoid unintended consequences. We present some of those potential drawbacks that you need to consider when planning a YST, along with some links to other information, below.

Weeds. Yes, blackberries and other weeds can make YST difficult, and may slow the growth of your trees, but do not change the need for YST if you find that you have more trees per acre (tpa) than your desired target.  YST is  probably a better justification for keeping ahead the weeds, than weeds are a justification for delaying or not doing YST.

Sunscald, yes your trees can be burned if young tender bark is abruptly exposed to the sun and gets too hot.  We see it particularly on warm, dry, south facing sites, and it is more commonly seen because of pruning than thinning.  If your site meets that description, it might be wise to thin and prune separately.  Consider modifying the pruning operation (do smaller lifts, leave a SW facing branch or two in exposed places like south facing road sides, don’t prune those areas in late summer).

Insects and diseases are the most significant concerns related to YST.  There is the potential to create a bug problem while trying to avoid a density related stress problems.  The outcome depends on the amount, timing and handling of the slash produced.  The cause for concern varies by tree species.

Valley ponderosa pine.  We have written about problems with slash and the ips beetle before and also directed people or one or another excellent ODF bulletin about ips and also about slash management. These destructive bark beetles thrive on stress and also disturbances that produce debris they use to multiply.  Creating lots of slash in a thinning operation can easily lead to an ips outbreak, and certainly represents the biggest single challenge to managing pine.

Douglas-fir. Black stain root rot is an increasing problem in some areas in western Oregon.  It is caused by a fungus, but it is carried

Black stain signs at root crown.  Photo by William Jacobi, Colorado State University,

by insects that are keyed-in on stress and disturbance (just like the ips).  Local outbreaks in young plantations may be associated with nearby disturbances such as harvests, road construction or brushing.  It can also be associated with YST.  Where other local disturbances or presence of disease cause concern, the most significant management recommendation is to avoid attracting and feeding the insect vectors by thinning in summer, after the insects’ breeding season.  Look for more about this disease in future blogs/articles.

Swiss Needle Cast is present throughout western Oregon, but it is most significant along the coast where it must be considered as part of every management decision. Potential implications of SNC to young stand thinning include retaining alternate species, and selecting among Douglas-fir based on needle retention.

Young stand thinning is an important woodland management practice that can help you keep your woodland vigorous and resilient to drought and other stress. A little caution can help it deliver on that promise.

The post Potential drawbacks of Young Stand Thinning appeared first on TreeTopics.

Categories: TreeTopics

Bringing nature to the city

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 3:28pm

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

Taking a walk through my NE Portland neighborhood recently, I came across something new in our local park. Portland Parks and Recreation is renovating an underutilized section of Alberta Park as a “Nature Patch”.

Alberta Park was part of a Homestead Act land claim over 150 years ago, and became a park in 1917. (Check out a local historian’s writeup for the details.) So over 150 years of human use, the land is far from the forest that once grew there. The Nature Patch could be thought of as a re-engineering project.

Alberta Park in 1929 and 2018. If you look closely, you’ll see the lamp posts are still there. 1929 Photo courtesy City of Portland archives.

Like many of Portland’s parks, Alberta Park is dominated by towering Douglas-fir trees which cast shade on the playgrounds, lawns, off-leash areas, and other park amenities. But walking on the new gravel path through the one-acre Nature Patch, I saw how elements of a functioning, diverse forest are being reintroduced. Dead trees have been felled and left in place as downed wood, or cut to a safe height to remain as a snag. Understory planting is in progress, with pollinator-friendly plants like Oregon-grape, ninebark, and snowberry, as well as ferns and even herbaceous forest plants like oxalis. When the understory fills in, I think it will be quite lovely and a vast improvement over the muddy, sparse grass that had a hard time growing under the Douglas-firs’ shade.


A dead or declining tree was turned into a snag, safely away from the pedestrian path.


Oregon-grape is one of the earliest blooming woodland plants. It needs some sun to produce flowers.

Why am I writing about an urban park on a blog for small woodland owners? Well, I think there are some parallel lessons that woodland owners can draw from the Alberta Nature Patch.

  1. The designers did an excellent job of working with their existing urban forest landscape to introduce structural and biological diversity. Indeed, many of the elements we wrote about in previous blog posts are on display here: snags, downed woody debris, and understory shrubs and forbs.
  2. It also demonstrates a concept we discussed in a previous case study: that not all acres of your woodland (or park) need to serve all of your management objectives at the same time. You can compartmentalize if you need to. An off-leash area, a playground, and a ball field – all areas that are critical to the recreation mission of the site – border the Nature Patch at Alberta Park. You can have some areas that you manage more intensively for timber, and others, maybe those that are inherently less productive, for habitat.

    The Nature Patch in the foreground with the playground behind it

  3. This project illustrates that no area is too small or too urban for wildlife to benefit. Particularly, pollinators such as bees, who need our help. We’re still learning about how bees and other pollinators use forests. But they frequent open, sunny areas where flowering plants flourish. These might be along your roadsides, forest edges, or in a recently logged area. A new publication from OFRI outlines some steps woodland owners can take to make forests pollinator-friendly.
  4. Perhaps the greatest value of the Nature Patch lies in public exposure. Living on a small woodland, it can be easy to forget that many people in cities, especially those who don’t have a car, don’t have easy access to nature. For some people who have always lived in an urban environment, forests might even feel unfamiliar or intimidating. Bringing a bit of native forest to the city park exposes park users to a setting that woodland owners take for granted. I like to think that exposure gives way to appreciation. We in the forest sector need ALL Oregonians to appreciate forests.
  5. Like Alberta Park, the land that many small woodland owners care for often has seen many previous uses. If your woodland was once a farm, pasture, or even an industrially managed forest, many elements of a native forest are missing. Reintroducing diversity to a forest requires intention. But if it can be done in an urban park, surely it can be done on a small woodland. Where is the “Nature Patch” on your place?

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Categories: TreeTopics

Measuring plots in the woods

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 1:05pm

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

In this series about young stand thinning , I’ve worked on the assumption that people know the density of trees in their woods. I realize that in many cases, people don’t really know that, so cannot easily apply that information to deciding if they have enough room for healthy growth or if trees need to be thinned.

If you know what distance the trees were said to have been planted, you may have a fair idea of the density (a 10’ x 10’ spacing is about 440 trees per acre, a 12’ x 12’ is about 300 tpa). This is a good start, but not necessarily very accurate.   Actual planting spacing can vary quite a bit according to the conditions in the field and experience of the planters.  And of course some seedlings die during establishment, or some other trees may seed in from outside.  So it is probably a good idea to go out and get a better idea of what you’ve got.  The basic way to do this is to measure some plots.

We commonly use circular plots for this since they are easy to install and measure accurately. We choose a radius for the size of the plot we want, (typically 1/100, 1/50, 1/20 or 1/10 of an acre). We use larger plots for larger trees, smaller plots (and typically more of them) for smaller trees. See the table at right.  It is never too early to get an idea of this.  Checking the work of a planting crew often involves checking planting density with a lot of small plots.

So how is this done? Let’s walk through the process together.

First, if you have not measured a plot before, make it easy for yourself. Choose some easy ground with trees that have been pruned up and are not overrun with blackberries.   Something like this, to the left.

I realize this may not describe the young stand you are actually interested in measuring, but since this is a training practice, that is fine. If you don’t have anything that fits this description, maybe ask a neighbor, or someone in your OSWA chapter to practice in theirs.

For this exercise you’ll want a few stakes, some flagging, paper and pencil, and a tape measure (a loggers tape is best). Oh, and maybe bring a friend along to help.

Go into the woods and toss several stakes out around the stand (each with a piece of flagging). Those will be the centers of your practice plots.  Working together, figure out which trees fall within the radius of your plot (for example, 16’ 7” feet for a 1/50 acre plot).  Some will be easy to tell, others will have to be measured from the plot center.  If on the line, count it as “in” only if the center of the tree is within the radius at breast height (which is why it is good to have a helper).  Let’s say you count 6 trees within your 1/50 acre plot.  What’s that mean? That represents a plot density of 300 tpa.  To find that, you multiply your plot count by the denominator of your plot size to get density (or 6 trees x 50 =300tpa).  Repeat on the other practice plots, or until you get the hang of it.


For bonus points, go back and measure the diameter of each of the “in” trees in the plot and record their diameter at breast height (dbh). If you figure the average and compare that to the illustration and description from the earlier post  you can learn how much competition those trees are contending with now, and how much room they have to grow in the future.

So that is the idea. Not that difficult, really.  Getting an accurate measure of a whole stand requires some rigor we will not go into here, but you’ll have to read more about that elsewhere.  But even a few plots can give you some important insight, so I’d encourage you to put in some plots, and start getting an eye for what you have.  It is easy to do when trees are small, before crown closure.  Yes, it can be hard work if your stand is brushy and full of blackberries.  You may want to do a little pruning and clearing in your plots to make it easier. But winter is a great time to do that sort of work.  Good luck.


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Categories: TreeTopics

Living with Wood Sickness

Thu, 11/30/2017 - 4:55pm

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

The wood sickness is an all-too-common condition that afflicts many in the family forest landowner community.  As described earlier, it is characterized by large accumulations of 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. You know it when you see it.

People with this affliction treat wood with the same passion as collectors of fine wine treat their vintages. Each likes to hide things away and store them cool dark places, often for years at a time.  Yet each is able to recite the source and a story of how they came to own each piece or bottle.  They are determined and very patient waiting for each to find its destiny.

Orson Wells made a series of wine commercials late in his career that captured that spirit when he would declare “We sell no wine before its time.” The parallel sentiment among wood hoarders might be “we use no board before it’s stored.”

An afflicted friend of mine (who will remain unnamed) is remodeling a house and recently put in a hardwood floor. He patiently converted stacks of stickered wood into milled floorboards.  Then, he gradually and laboriously laid them out one by one to create a gorgeous floor of Oregon white oak, bordered with black walnut.  As discussed before, there is no cure for the wood sickness, but it can be helped by therapy.  The therapy is difficult and sometimes painful.  His therapy reduced the amount of wood in his stockpile while producing pain in his knees and back, but was otherwise effective and productive.

There are many people like Jay who are coping and trying to come to grips with their obsession. You see them around town from time to time.  No more so than this time of year, when they commonly emerge from garages and workshops coated in therapeutic sawdust, to display and maybe sell the products of their therapy at art shops, Christmas Bazars and the Local Goods from the Woods fair.  They may be friends, family or even complete strangers, but please show them some holiday spirit.  Meet them half way.

I bet that turned fruit bowl would look terrific in your sister’s dining room.

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Categories: TreeTopics
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