When I write about forestry, I’m most often sharing what goes on in a working forest. A working forest is one that produces commodities, like timber, fiber and bark, as well as provides for environmental benefits such as recreation, clean water and wildlife habitat. I have spent my career on working forests.
Think of a working forest like a farm. Farms grow crops of food and other agricultural products. We need farms for our food. Working forests produce forest products and we need them for our shelter. An important difference between the two is that forestlands take years to produce a crop. Working forests spend years growing undisturbed in between intervals of harvesting. They function as an important source of clean water and as a home for wildlife every year.
One benefit of producing forest products from a working forest is that it creates income for the landowner. When the landowner has an economic return from managing trees the land will continue to be managed as a forest. There are real costs to owning forestland and if the owner can’t profit managing their forest, they may be forced to develope it into housing subdivisions or some other non-forest use. Then the wildlife habitat may be lost. In a sense the income from producing forest products protects these forests by making growing trees economically sustainable .
All of our forests are important as wildlife habitat. The conventional wisdom is that mature forest provide the best habitat. That is true for species of wildlife that prefer mature forests. However, many species have different habitat needs that include forest at every age.
Forests containing a greater diversity in habitats ranging from mature forest to freshly created openings will support a larger variety of species. Openings are created during harvesting. These openings are planted and then the seedlings begin to grow. Over time the forests develope a great diversity of trees in different age groups. This patchwork of different habitat is available to support many species of wildlife.
Working forests aren’t parks, but can still be available for recreation. Hikers, campers and hunters visit these forests year after year. I’m not saying that the working forests are better than the parks, but they each have unique purposes.
Forests are managed by different government agencies, private entities and individuals with a variety of goals. Forestland management is a topic I will explore more in the future. It warrants a full post.
The King Fire devastated almost 98,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada, east of Sacramento. Our company lost 18,000 acres of forest. Lately, I’ve had opportunity to spend time in the burn area. There is a lot of work being done by our foresters, biologists, botanists, and others to protect the resources so the timber can be quickly salvaged in an environmentally sensible manner. Most people never get to see what is done to protect the soil, water, cultural resources, and wildlife. In the gallery are images of just some of the work being done.
There is a lot of preparation that has to be done prior to logging. It has taken a large team of resource professionals to get the job done on a project this size.
Just for children a picture book about wildfire and the forest rehabilitation that takes place after a fire. Check out, Firestorm In the Forest.
Today I’m coming to you from the Trinitys. I happen to have a cell signal so I’m making this post with my iPhone. Many of you may know that we are in a severe drought here in California. You can see by the dust coming off this logging operation how dry things are. Our logging crews are suffering with the dry conditions and the dust. Full fire precautions are in effect. Fire season has been pretty brutal this summer. We’re crossing fingers and hoping for the best for the rest of the logging season.
Dust is flying, hazy smoke is in the air and Trinity Lake, in the background behind the lower left trees, is down to about 30% capacity. It’s dry dry dry out there.
In this year of drought, our forests are a tinder box waiting for a spark. That spark came from the sky on the last day of July. It reached 108 F in the valley. A major lightning storm rolled across the North State and left numerous forest fires in its wake.
Most of the east side fires are under control now, but several fires in the Klamath Mountains are still burning. We still have a long way to go to reach the end of fire season.
Last week, I was in the redwood country of our coastal mountains. However, I wasn’t down in the parks with the gigantic and ancient trees. As you might imagine, I was in young, working redwood forests.
It’s beautiful country and full of surprises. One of the surprises you’ll find in these forests are the old stumps of the ancient forest giants that were logged over a hundred years ago.
These old stumps tell a story of the past. The stump pictured above looks like it has two eyes. The “eye” on the left is a spring-board hole. Way back when, the timber fallers would cut a notch in the tree up above the butt swell. They then wedged a board into the notch. They stood on the board, called a spring-board, to cut the tree down. Two man teams with double bit axes and cross-cut saws fell these trees. The spring boards elevated the fallers up the tree where it wasn’t as thick, making it easier to cut. That’s why these stumps are so tall.
Many of these stumps are charred on the outside. The fires that caused this may have been intentional. It was a common practice of the time, to burn the logging site after the trees were felled. They did this to eliminate slash. After the big trees were cut the slash was so deep it was difficult for a man to get through it. The fire solved this problem and left burned stumps behind.
I did a watercolor of a logger bucking a log with a cross-cut saw, which is showing in my post Misery Whip – The Final. Timber fallers on spring-board would be a good subject for an illustration. I might have to work on that. Happy Friday.
One of the biggest problems in the western forests of the United States is that we have too many trees. It used to be, frequent fires kept the undergrowth clear without killing the older mature trees. Fuel loads weren’t allowed to get too high. With less fuel built up in the forests, fires burned at low intensity.
Much of our forestland is choked with thickets of trees. Timber stands have grown dense from a century of full fire suppression. These thickets are susceptible to insect attack and drought stress mortality. Fuel loads in the forest are huge. The fires of today burn at such high intensity that it is difficult for firefighters to fight them safely. We are now having larger and more destructive fires, such as the Rim Fire that burned into Yosemite National Park.
Thinning so many small trees was slow and expensive, but with today’s modern logging technology we now have the ability to thin these timber stands efficiently.
First, the sawlogs are harvested for lumber. Next, the biomass is harvested and put into doodles. Biomass are the trees or tops of trees that are too small for products like lumber, poles or veneer. Doodles are harvested bundles of small trees.
The trees marked in white are the “save” trees that won’t be harvested.
Sawlogs being skidded into the landing.
The log processor manufactures the trees into logs.
The small trees are chipped into a van to be hauled to the co-generation plant and turned into electricity.
Thinning these timber stands leaves them more resistant to fire and insect attack. A healthy fire is the goal.
Ralph was a state forester. He’s retired now, but he’s been a friend throughout my career. He gave me my first ride along.
When I met Ralph, I was a firefighter in the summer and attending community college. I declared my Forestry Major and was preparing to transfer to Humboldt State University. I had not taken any forestry classes yet. That would start the next year. I didn’t have much forestry work experience. I knew Ralph from my job at the fire station. I asked if I could ride along with him for a day. He gladly took me up on it. I learned a lot from Ralph.
The other day I took a young woman, named Jaime, for a ride along. She’s contemplating her next career move. She is a cousin of a close friend.
The night before, Mary and I visited with our friends, Jaime, and her father. We had a wonderful conversation. Jaime recently completed her Bachelor degree at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. Now she was considering going for an environmental law degree. Mary and I were both thinking, She needs to go for a ride along. When offered, she leaped at the chance.
The next day we started out with an introduction to our company’s head research scientist, CJ. These two women hit it off famously. After an insightful conversation about environmental science, careers and education, we headed out to the mill.
We toured the mill complex where Jaime started out watching the pole plant processing logs. Next, we went through the sawmill. She asked a ton of questions about the process and took a few pictures to send to her friends back in North Carolina. After the mill tour it was back to the truck.
We headed out to look at the timberlands. Our conversation centered on forestry practices, land management and environmental issues. We started near Shingletown, looking at forestry practices, and ended the day at the Ponderosa Burn, talking about fire restoration.
Now, if I sound like the wise professional bestowing my vast knowledge from on high, let me correct that right now. This education process is a two way street. Our conversations weren’t all about forestry. I learned about all manner of issues important to her generation. We both had a fun and instructive day.
Making time for young people to go for a ride along or job shadow for a day is time well spent. A day job shadowing does something for them that a semester of school doesn’t do. It gives them a big picture of the profession. As professionals we benefit from this time too. We’re never too old to learn and they too have a lot to share.
What’s a masticator? Think of it as a big mobile wood chipper, or a mower on steroids. You may have seen these machines grinding up brush on the side of the road. They’re also used in forestry applications.
I came across a brush clearing operation on the neighbor’s property. Our neighbors happen to be a large government agency. They were shut down because a much needed rain storm made the woods too wet for operating. They were thinning a thirty plus year old Ponderosa pine plantation and removing competing brush with masticators. The thinned trees weren’t big enough to harvest for sawlogs. Masticating an area is expensive, but it makes the plantation more fire resistant and spaces out the residual trees for better growth.
Farther down the road, they used masticators to create a fuelbreak. This provides a break in heavy fuels giving firefighters a defensible line to make a stand against an oncoming wildfire. Shredded and crushed wood from the masticated brush is left on the ground. This woody debris still burns, but the flame lengths and rate of spread of a fire are reduced, thus making it manageable for a fire crew. It’s also a location that a fire crew can use for backfire operations. Over time, this material will decompose, further lessening the fire risk.
The current fuelbreak was originally cleared as a firebreak during the Finley Fire in 1990. A fuelbreak is a change from a heavy fuel type, such as brush, to a lighter fuel type like grass. A firebreak is the removal of all fuel down to bare dirt. After the fire, we replanted our section of the same fireline in 1992. Our trees are now twenty-two years old. As these trees grow larger, they’ll be developed into a shaded fuelbreak. A shaded fuelbreak utilizes the shade of trees to suppress the growth of underbrush. This keeps fuels on the forest floor light. Pruning trees creates a break in the vertical fuel ladder reducing the chance that a ground fire becomes a crown fire.
The neighbors didn’t replant trees in the firebreak immediately after the fire. While our section of the fireline grew trees, their section grew brush. Our stand of trees is twenty years along the process of becoming a shaded fuelbreak. The neighbors must continue to retreat the brush to maintain their section of the fuelbreak.
Forestry is a process with a long planning horizon. I commend the neighbors for creating the fuelbreak. This treatment also benefits our property. However, by making the investment in planting trees early, we saved money on brush removal, while accelerating forest restoration at this site.
Click on the image for a larger view.