Message from Tami Miketa, Manager of the Small Forest Landowner Office

Tami Miketa, Manager, Small Forest Landowner Office (SFLO)

Tami Miketa, Manager, Small Forest Landowner Office (SFLO)

Your Small Forest Landowner Office (SFLO) continues its rebound by filling two new positions. First, is our new landowner technical assistance forester for western Washington: Josh Meek. Josh will provide technical assistance on forest practices-related questions to small forest landowners throughout western Washington.

This newly created position will provide on-site technical assistance to small forest landowners who need to understand the state’s Forest Practices Rules and navigate the Forest Practices application process. Now, we can assist landowners with unit layout, riparian management zone (RMZ) delineation, harvest systems, road layout, alternate plans, 20-acre exempt harvest activities, long-term applications, low impact harvest activities… just about any general forest practices-related question. In addition to outreach to landowners, Josh will assist with forestry education around our state’s west side.

Josh Meek, SFLO Technical Assistance Forester.

Josh Meek, SFLO Technical Assistance Forester.

Josh comes to us with a bachelor of science in education and a master’s in forestry from the University of Montana. He also has several years of forestry experience working with both state and federal governments. For the past two and a half years Josh has worked in DNR’s South Puget Sound Region in both State Lands and Forest Practices. There is such a great need to help small forest landowners complete their Forest Practices Applications and help them through the process. I am glad that we will have an outstanding person who can fill this important task! If you are interested in using Josh’s services, please contact him at joshua.meek@dnr.wa.gov or call him at (360) 902-1849.

Jeremy Homer, SFLO Family Forest Fish Passage Program Specialist.

Jeremy Homer, SFLO Family Forest Fish Passage Program Specialist.

I am also pleased to announce that Jeremy Homer has accepted the natural resource specialist 2 position in the Family Forest Fish Passage Program (FFFPP). Jeremy has a great understanding of forest practices rules and regulations and will oversee FFFPP road-crossing construction. In addition to assisting landowners with stream typing and fish barrier evaluations, Jeremy will play an important role in helping to coordinate the public outreach for the program. Jeremy has worked in DNR’s Pacific Cascade Region for the last 9 years and comes to us with a wealth of experience in forest practices and timber sales. Let’s all welcome Jeremy and Josh to the SFLO team!

At the SFLO we are slowly regaining the staffing levels we had in previous years, and bringing these new positions on board is a great start to improving our services to you.

There’s Something Batty Going on

little brown bat

The little brown bat is found throughout Washington state. Photo: WDFW

There’s something batty going on with these little mammals. I mean, c’mon, they look like flying mice! The German word for bat is “Fledermous”, meaning “fluttering mouse.” Mammals can’t fly, can they?

Let’s ask Wikipedia:

“Bats are mammals of the order Chiroptera whose forelimbs form webbed wings, making them the only mammals naturally capable of true and sustained flight. By contrast, other mammals said to fly, such as flying squirrels … can only glide for short distances. Bats do not flap their entire forelimbs, as birds do, but instead flap their spread-out digits, which are very long and covered with a thin membrane or patagium.” Wikipedia, 2016

Bats are some of the most diverse and amazing animals in the world; in fact, they second most varied mammal group behind rodents. There are more than 1,300 species of bats in the world with the highest diversity in tropical realms such as Columbia and Indonesia. Yet bats occur in virtually all non-polar environments.

bat close up

Bats are the only mammals naturally capable of true and sustained flight. Photo: Teri Pieper

In Washington we have 15 species of bat, some of which migrate in the cold months to either hibernaculum sites (often suitable caves) or places where insects are available. Little brown bats have been found to migrate 200-800 km (125 to 500 miles) to hibernate. We actually know very little about bat migration.

Bats have a plethora of specialized behaviors besides flight, such as echolocation, hanging upside down, migration and hibernation.

Bats emit high frequency sounds that bounce off of their flying insect prey, (yes, it is radar), and this enables them to locate prey even in total darkness. They also use this amazing ability to fly in places full of obstacles and navigate in darkness. Toothed whales (like dolphins or sperm whales) also have this ability, and even a few tiny shrews.

Bats are scary looking, sort of, but really are just plain cute. No, our Washington species don’t eat blood. No, they don’t get in your hair. And, no, you won’t get rabies from them unless you happen to handle and get bitten by the rare individual carrying rabies. Bats are good to have around; really good.

Ecosystem Roles

As insectivores, bats are very important to the ecosystem. Bats help to keep in balance the many, many species of insects that can wreak havoc with our crops. Birds take the flying insectivore day shift while bats take over at night. A single little brown bat can eat its weight in flying insects in a single night. That’s a lot of mosquitoes that would have bitten us; it’s also a great many harmful agricultural pests that could have eaten our crops. No wonder that bats are considered “keystone” species in the environment.

Townsend’s big eared bat

A Townsend’s big eared bat near Mazama, Wash. Photo: Scott Fitkin

They fly about in those amazing tight maneuvers, catching insects in flight, often using their wings like ball gloves and deflecting the bug in close enough to their mouth to eat. If you ever find yourself at twilight in a place where you can watch bats flying, such as on a still lake in the summer, be sure to stop and marvel. They are amazing.

Nocturnal animals like bats need cover to hide in during the day. They roost and breed in the right season, in “just right” cracks, holes and crevices around the environment.  In nature, these are in rock (such as caves) and trees, particularly dead trees with access to places inside of the wood or under the bark. Hibernaculum sites are particularly sensitive and rare, with just the right combination of temperature and humidity.

Bat Populations at Risk

But bats are in trouble. Besides being sometimes reviled for reasons of superstition or wrong-headedness, there are big environmental troubles out there.

White Nose Syndrome has been decimating bat colonies in hibernation in the eastern United States. It is a fungus that can live in the cool, moist conditions where clustered bats congregate during hibernation. Their respiratory systems clog up and they die — by the millions. It is feared that up to 80 percent of eastern U.S. bats have perished in recent years. Unfortunately, a case of this disease was detected in Washington state just last year. Please contact the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife if you find a sick or dead bat, or if you notice bats unable to fly. You can report your observations online.

It is also known that many thousands of bats are killed each year by collisions with wind turbine blades and/or rapid pressure change at turbines that can rupture blood vessels. (Bat Conservation International, 2016). As we transition to renewable energies, bats fatalities are apparently one unforeseen consequence of wind power. How this mortality will effect overall populations is unknown.

And habitat loss continues. Native forests, wetlands and prairies are converted to urban or suburban uses every day, completely erasing bat habitat. Standing dead trees with cavities and loose bark are routinely destroyed, removed for safety concerns, perceived aesthetics (dead trees are “ugly”) or for products such as fuel wood.

Landowners to the Rescue

bat-habitat-tree-2

Loose bark can provide bat roosts. Photo: Ken Bevis

What can we do to help bats? This is where our small forest landowners come in. The most important action is provide habitat that will give the bats in our environment the best chance to persist. Here are some steps you can take on your property:

Wildlife Trees: Bats rest under loose bark or in cavities and cracks of old trees. Stands of trees, especially larger diameter and dead trees, can provide critical habitat for bats to survive. We can help bats by keeping standing dead trees with loose bark, cracks and cavities on the landscape. The importance of dead trees as habitat cannot be overstated, especially those near forest openings and water.

Boxes: Many people want to help bats by building (or buying) a bat box. This is a simple thing you can do, but it must be properly constructed and located. Remember, a box is a mimic of loose bark or a tree cavity. Sometimes, it takes quite a while for bats to find boxes, so if they aren’t being used, move them. Bat Conservation International has volumes of information about bats and about bat box construction and placement, including plans for building a 4-chambered bat box.

Water Features: As small forest landowners your lands and trees can provide much critical habitat for bats, particularly in larger diameter, standing dead, or decadent, trees near water. Bats love to feed above small, still water bodies where insects are abundant and winds are gentle. Many small landowners have ponds, creeks or are near these water bodies. With trees, bats gain resting habitat close to feeding areas so they can keep working all night long.

Old sheds, cabins and shake roofs also provide bat habitat. In addition to building maintaining bat habitat structures, look around your property for existing structures, such an old shed, that could be prime real estate for bats.

If they get in your house, there are good ways to deal with that without resorting to killing them. Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Living with Wildlife series has good ideas for non-lethal removal of bats in your personal belfry.

Remember – bats are an amazing element of our Washington environment. Learn about them and help them by providing some habitat on your woodland.

For more information take a look at the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Bat Conservation Plan

Visit the website of Bat Conservation International to find lots of interesting material.

Don’t’ forget, habitat is the key to wildlife.

The world needs bats.

Do You Have Roads with Stream Crossings?

wolfs on bridgeMany miles of stream are inaccessible to fish because of barrier culverts or other in-stream structures. The Family Forest Fish Passage Program’s (FFFPP) goal is to help restore declining salmon and trout populations by replacing fish passage barriers with new structures that allow fish to migrate upstream and access quality habitat.

Watch our video highlighting how forest landowners benefit from the FFFPP by clicking here.

Many Washington Conifers Hit Hard by Recent Drought

This tree shed its older needles first

This tree shed its older needles first but as the drought continued, the terminal and branch tips died back. Susan K. Hagle, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

The summer drought of 2015 was the most severe in Washington state in the last 16 years. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the entire state was under severe or extreme drought conditions from late July through early October. Yet many affected conifers did not show signs of stress until the following year.

Summer months are a critical time for a tree’s water needs. Water lost through needles on hot days is normally replaced by water from the soil. Lack of soil water can result in failures within the tree’s circulatory system. Sometimes, the whole tree dies. Sometimes, all the tissue beyond the point of failure dies, causing a dead top or scattered dead branches. Trees growing in rocky or well-drained soils may experience more drought stress. Young trees and trees with shallow, less-developed root systems are especially vulnerable to damage.

Fortunately, some conifer species are more drought tolerant than others. In general, pines are the most tolerant while Douglas-fir is somewhat tolerant and grand fir, western hemlock and western redcedar are the least tolerant. This tolerance can vary widely depending on the quality of the site.

Damage Reported

Damage and mortality in Douglas-fir, western redcedar and pines was immediately noticeable during the drought in 2015. Symptoms included entirely red crowns, red tops and scattered red branches. But many affected conifers remained green for months as the weather cooled over winter. Then, with record-breaking heat in spring 2016, delayed symptoms became more noticeable and widespread. This was hard to notice in western hemlock, because many dying hemlocks dropped foliage without color change.

At the end of summer 2016, unusual levels of western redcedar mortality were reported. These trees likely had a delayed response to the previous year’s drought conditions. The 2016 annual insect and disease survey showed increases in ponderosa pine killed by western pine beetle, Dendroctonus brevicomis, and grand fir killed by fir engraver, Scolytus ventralis. Attacks by these bark beetle species often increase following drought events.

This sapling exhibits symptoms of chronic drought;

This sapling exhibits symptoms of chronic drought; thin crown, short needles, and short terminal growth. Susan K. Hagle, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Forest Health Program examined conifers with drought symptoms at sites throughout the state and many showed little indication of being killed by primary pathogens, insects or other animals. In many cases, there were not even signs of opportunistic wood infesting insects in the lower stem. When galleries were found in the main stem, they were most often wood borers, which only enter conifers that are dead or dying from other causes.

In Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine, secondary bark beetles were rarely seen in the lower stem of mature trees, only in small-diameter trees. In the rare cases where mature trees were felled, they were often found in small-diameter tops and branches. In pines, these were primarily Ips species pine engravers. Evidence of other minor opportunistic bark beetles was also found, such as the so-called “itty bitty pitys”: Pityogenes, Pityokteines or Pityophthorus species.

In northeast Washington and north Idaho, damaged Douglas-firs had high numbers of Scolytus monticolae, a secondary engraver beetle. In western Washington, secondary bark beetles found in Douglas-fir were either Douglas-fir engraver, Scolytus unispinosus, or Douglas-fir pole beetle, Pseudohylesinus nebulosus. Galleries and adults of secondary bark beetles were found in lower stems of western redcedar (cedar bark beetles, Phloeosinus species) and western hemlock (silver fir beetle, Pseudohylesinus sericeus).

Some drought-stressed conifers that survived with compromised defenses may have already been attacked by primary tree-killing bark beetle species in 2016. In normal weather conditions, trees killed by bark beetles often do not turn red until the following summer. So any further increases in bark beetle activity may not be evident until 2017. Trees with root disease already have compromised root systems and drought conditions can exacerbate this, further decreasing water uptake. Drought stress may also increase symptoms of otherwise minor foliar diseases.

Caring for Stressed Trees

If dead trees pose a falling hazard near people or property, they should be removed as soon as possible. Also consider the potential hazard from falling dead tops and large branches. But before removing damaged conifers (those with some green foliage) in areas where hazard is low, monitor for a normal flush of green buds in spring as a sign that the tree may survive. Dead tops and branches will eventually fall and top-killed trees can grow new leaders, but they may become deformed as a result.

Surviving trees should be monitored for evidence of bark beetle attack, such as pitch tubes, pitch streaming or red boring dust. To prevent a build-up of bark beetle populations, remove and destroy any large amounts of freshly killed breeding material or infested logs and slash. Irrigation and mulching around landscape trees during future droughts may reduce damage. Take care not to over-water and avoid fertilizing as this can increase the tree’s foliage growth and need for more water.

Do You Own Forestland?

forest-field-day-newport 2015Are you interested in learning more about programs that you may be eligible for as a small forest landowner?

The Small Forest Landowner Office (SFLO) offers assistance to landowners to help protect and promote the ecological and economic viability of your forestland. Our office strives to provide landowners with the knowledge and advice you need to meet your forest management objectives.

Click here to view our brochure and explore the programs that you may be eligible for!

Quarterly Forecast for Timber and Log Prices

SEPTEMBER 22, 2016: Lumber and log prices have fallen markedly since peaking in 2014. Random Lengths’ Coast Dry Random and Stud composite lumber price peaked at $393/mbf in January 2014 but fell throughout the rest of the year to average $373/mbf. The composite lumber price continued to fall to average $311/mbf for 2015. Prices have averaged $326/mbf from January to July 2016, with the last four months averaging $341/mbf.

The increase in prices in 2016 appears to have been initially driven by much higher first quarter housing starts compared to 2015. This spiked lumber demand and caught lumber dealers off-guard. Prices were expected to pull back in the third quarter, but as of July this had not happened. Prices are now expected to spike in September due to a potential trade dispute with Canada as a result of the expiration of the Softwood Lumber Agreement (SLA).  Prices are expected to fall in the fourth quarter before increasing again in the beginning of 2017.

Through 2015 the price of a `typical’ DNR log averaged $521/mbf, falling from the $591/mbf average in 2014. The average price for 2016 is largely unchanged at $522/mbf through July. The decline in 2015 was primarily due to the dramatic slowdown in demand from China and an ample regional supply of both logs and lumber. Log prices are expected to remain flat through 2016 and begin increasing in 2017 with an increase in lumber demand.

A continuing downside risk for the forecast is timber and lumber demand from China. While it seems that a decrease in demand has largely been accounted for in the current market prices, and the export volumes of logs and lumber has largely stabilized, the Chinese economy continues to have issues. There is continuing concern that the slowdown in China could become dramatically worse.

In the November 2015 forecast, we noted that the expiration of the Softwood Lumber Agreement posed a major downside risk to the forecast because the expiration of tariffs might allow a flood of cheaper Canadian lumber into the US, suppressing domestic prices. Though the expiration of the SLA has likely held down prices, it has not resulted in the dramatic price drops that some feared. Current expectations are that the SLA situation will cause an unseasonal increase in prices in September, which will fall back until early in 2017.

Robust growth in U.S. housing demand would provide much needed, if unlikely, high-side potential. This has not yet eventuated, despite strong employment growth for the last two years. The lack of housing demand is likely due to a number of impediments—persistently stringent lending standards, a continued tough labor market for younger workers, student loan debt, and general malaise—all of which are lessening, but none of which show signs of completely abating just yet.

Source: DNR Office of Budget & Economics, September 2016 Forecast Summary

Tax Tips for Forest Landowners for the 2016 Tax Year

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has published its annual tax tips for forest landowners. Current as of Sept. 30, 2016, this publication provides up-to-date federal income tax information affecting timber transactions and is intended to assist woodland owners, logging professionals, foresters and their tax accountants in filing the 2016 tax returns. Click to view or download this report.