Greetings to you, and I hope you and your loved ones are staying safe through this unprecedented wildfire season!
Experts are troubled by the state of Pacific Northwest forests. They say this past spring, which was one of the driest on record, along with the extreme heat we experienced in
June, has left forests extremely dry. The fire season is six weeks ahead of “normal” this year and Hilary Franz, our Commissioner of Public Lands, said this could be worst wildfire season in Washington state history. Wildfires burned more and more acres each day, and the wildfire season is not even half over as of this writing. As of August 2, DNR has tracked over 1,000 fires in Washington; that is nearly four times more than the 10-year average of 275 fires each season.
This spring, Washington’s state Legislature took action to help DNR better prepare for and prevent wildfires. The passage of HB 1168 commits to DNR $125 million every two years over the next four biennial budgets ($500 million in total) to boost wildfire response, accelerate forest restoration, and build community resilience for landowners across the state.
DNR plans to recruit 100 new firefighters with this money, along with securing access to additional planes and helicopters, and expeditiously dispersing grants to local fire districts. The money will also provide additional resources to help landowners reduce wildfire risk and improve the resiliency of their forestland. For some of these outcomes to be achieved, harvest activities may be required.
For the Small Forest Landowner Office (SFLO), the Legislature committed additional funds to hire more staff to help landowners understand and apply the Forest Practices Rules, including small forest landowner alternate plans and templates, long-term applications, forest road assessments and construction techniques, timber harvest techniques, and other Forest Practices Rules-related issues.
The Legislature also increased funding for all three of the SFLO programs. The Family Forest Fish Passage Program received $5.9 million with a $3.7 re-appropriation from the previous biennial funding cycle. The Forestry Riparian Easement Program received $6.6 million, and the Rivers and Habitat Open Space Program received $1.4 million. These appropriations are nearly double the funds that these programs have received in the past. These funds will help conserve hundreds of additional acres of forestland and remove even more fish barriers across the state, opening many more miles of habitat for fish to access.
While it has taken the state decades to get into the wildfire danger it is currently in, DNR is hopeful that HB 1168 and the additional funding for the SFLO will, year after year, turn the tide and help to better protect our communities and our forestland across the state.
By Matt Provencher, Western Washington Stewardship Forester, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, firstname.lastname@example.org
From June 26 to 28, the Pacific Northwest saw a heatwave unprecedented in our region’s history. For three days, we baked with afternoon temperatures reaching over 100o F in most locations, and over 110o F in many more (including 113o F at my house in Shelton). Daily and all-time records were set across the Region, including the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada.
Shortly after, the calls and emails started pouring in. Trees were showing stress. Some may have died. It was hard to discount heat stress as the for much of what we were seeing.
Driving around western Washington visiting landowners, I’ve seen heat-damaged trees from Port Angeles to Ridgefield, Randle to Elma. My colleague, Grays Harbor Conservation District Forester Dave Hauk, was recently visiting Forks and said it looked like the trees had been sprayed with herbicide. DNR pathologist Rachel Brooks said she had seen damage that looked like fire scorching, but from the top down instead of the bottom up, in numerous areas throughout the state (though bottom-up damage is common in other areas).
Many of the trees showed damage on south or west sides of the trees (in the sun during the warmest parts of the day), with less damage observed on the north or east side of trees. It seems that damage is exaggerated in “heat islands” or areas with warmer microclimates – think roadways, parking lots, yards, and recent clearcuts or forest edges.
Hardwoods aren’t immune either. Bigleaf maple and other hardwoods are showing edges of leaves drying out, along with the brown/orange needles on conifers (though to be fair some hardwoods, like bigleaf maple, are suffering from other issues as well). Is exceptional heat the only cause? Let’s dive in and take a look.
The level of stress in trees caused by high temperatures is determined by several factors, things like tree species and age, exposure temperature, duration of exposure, ability to tolerate or rapidly acclimate, time of year, and soil-water availability (Teskey et al., 2014). Other factors, like previous exposure to high temperatures or presence of insects and disease already attacking trees, likely play a factor as well. (The first point, exposure to high temperatures, possibly has led to “heat acclimation” and may have lessened the damage we are seeing in places like Eastern Washington.)
Let’s look at a few of these factors especially relevant to us here in Washington.
Drought and heat are often correlated. Teskey et al. states that although direct effect of high temperature on trees can be severe (as described in Figure 1), extreme high temperatures under high soil moistures are somewhat rare. The authors make some interesting points related to this correlation. First, during a 2003 heatwave in Europe, the decrease in productivity of the European forests turned them into a net source of carbon dioxide, rather than a sink as they had been in previous years (Ciais et al., 2005). Second, heat and drought cause increased vapor pressure deficit, which leads to increased transpiration, which then furthers dries out the soil, exasperating drought conditions. Here in our region and throughout the West, this cycle has been connected to increased tree mortality (van Mantgem et al., 2009), which leads (along with other factors) to the increasing severity of fires that we see. (Look no further than this year – I have been writing this article during my lunch breaks at the incident command post on the Jack Fire in Glide, Oregon.)
So what about Washington – are we in drought?
March and April were the fourth-driest on record. As a result, in May, the Washington State Department of Ecology issued a drought advisory for all or parts of 29 counties in the state, including all of Southwest Washington and the coast. At the time, the counties surrounding the Puget Sound were left out.
After our heat wave, coupled with continued dry conditions, on July 14, the Department of Ecology upgrade the advisory to a drought emergency, and currently all of Washington is in some form of drought.
Though we received a fair amount of rain earlier in June (I recorded 2.62 inches at my rain gauge in Shelton for June), it wasn’t nearly enough to pull us out of the drought, and likely not enough for trees dealing with exceptional heat just a few weeks later.
So, our trees have been dealing with drought since at least March (and we’ve had a recent string of warm, dry springs and summers, so this isn’t even their first one), and then record-breaking heat, with no significant rainfall in sight. This is important because our trees can withstand substantial heat, but add drought to the mix and the odds begin stacking up against them.
Simply stated, our trees are stressed, and will continue to be stressed, and we’re seeing the results of that. But let’s dig deeper – what other factors might be influencing our trees’ response to the heat?
It turns out the time of year the heat event occurred may play a part in how our trees respond. The U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station has been conducting research into how Douglas-fir may adapt to climate change and drought.
In this issue of Science Findings, researchers note that there appears to be two ways that trees know it’s time to stop growing.
The first is something we all probably understand – trees stop growing in the fall due to short photoperiods (basically there’s isn’t as much light as we move later into fall and winter) and low temperatures.
However, another less common pathway we are beginning to understand is that trees also stop growing during long photoperiods and high temperatures. This recent heat event occurred less than one week after the summer solstice. In other words, you can’t really have longer daylight than we were having when the heat event occurred. As you move later in the summer and the photoperiod begins to decrease, intense heat appears to have less of an effect on a tree’s ability to keep growing.
It’s too early to tell if our trees have ceased growing in diameter for the year. Connie Harrington, a Forest Service researcher, told me that she and her colleagues have been out at their study sites measuring trees to see if diameter growth either stopped or paused due to the heat. Hopefully, we’ll have an update on this topic in future newsletters.
So is that the end to our story? Not quite. It is a rather complex set of interacting factors, as depicted here in the Manion Disease Spiral, a great tool to help us visualize some of the factors influencing a tree’s demise. There are three overarching factors: predisposing factors or something that makes a tree susceptible to some other decline agent; inciting factors, or something that initiates the actual decline; and finally contributing factors, or something that eventually finishes the job.
How does this fit into our story? Well, the point of this is that the decline or death of a tree is seldom caused by one factor alone, whether drought or heat or anything else. Though intense heat alone may be enough to
injure or even kill trees – especially seedlings and saplings – in many cases it may be a contributing factor that’s acting in concert with other agents.
I was recently discussing this topic with DNR’s lead pathologist, Dan Omdal. He was relating a story in which a landowner sent him pictures suspecting the heat wave was causing the decline in his tree. In the photos, Dan could see the aeciospores of a foliar disease erupting through the needles. In this case, the foliar disease is the contributing factor.
Many parts of the state, especially King County and north, experienced a winter desiccation event which caused some defoliation that looked very similar to what we’re seeing now, though current-year needles, which were not present at the time, were unaffected by that event.
Root diseases, stem rots, insects, the list goes on and on. What this all means is that maybe trees will decline or suffer mortality from the heat, and maybe some of those can be attributed to the heat alone, but in many other cases the heat will simply be the latest agent acting to weaken a tree. As we look at another hot, dry summer it could be that this event is an inciting factor that predisposes a tree to something that kills it later this year, or even next year or beyond.
So, what to do about all this? We have a few tools in our toolbox to help our forests as they adapt to this changing climate. First is ensuring you have the right tree in the right site. I’ve written an article on this topic as well as given a webinar or two about it as well. Really consider your site and what’s appropriate now, but also consider what might be appropriate in the future as well.
Understanding your site is absolutely critical in determining which trees can not only grow, but thrive. If we’re talking about yard or ornamental trees, mulching and watering can help, but it’s not necessarily helpful or practical in a forested setting. For yards and gardens, see this article from Oregon State University Extension for tips. For mature trees, maintaining tree vigor through thinning and maintaining appropriate density can be helpful. Trees have different water use strategies and having a diversity of tree species as opposed to a single species can be helpful in reducing water stress (and therefore heat stress). Remember, there is resiliency in diversity!
And finally, these are complex interactions occurring in a complex environment. More information about drought and its impacts will likely be forthcoming as foresters, researchers, and others have a chance to more completely assess the damage. Don’t be afraid to reach out to me or any of the Service Forestry Team if you’re looking for advice or on-site technical assistance. We’re here to help!
(*The DNR’s Forest Health aerial survey program is adding a sun scorch code in the flight outputs. They will be remotely assessing sun scorch in the 2021 season. Stay tuned for that.)
Special thanks to Dan Omdal and Rachel Brooks from DNR, and Connie Harrington of the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station for their review and comments.
Becker W.M. (1986) The World of the Cell. pp. 254–255. The Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Company, Menlo Park.
Ciais P., Reichstein M., Viovy N., Granier A., Ogee J., Allard V., . . . Valentini R. (2005) Europe-wide reduction in primary productivity caused by the heat and drought in 2003. Nature 437, 529–533
Manion, P.D. 1991. Tree Disease Concepts. Second Edition. Prentice-Hall Inc. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.
Taiz L. & Zeiger E. (2010) Plant Physiology. p. 173. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland.
Teskey R, Wertin T, Bauweraerts I, Ameye M, McGuire MA, Steppe K. Responses of tree species to heat waves and extreme heat events. Plant Cell Environ. 2015 Sep;38(9):1699-712. doi: 10.1111/pce.12417. Epub 2014 Sep 1. PMID: 25065257.
van Mantgem P.J., Stephenson N.L., Byrne J.C., Daniels L.D., Franklin J.F., Fule P.Z., . . . Veblen T.T. (2009) Widespread increase of tree mortality rates in the Western United States. Science 323, 521–524.
By Rob Lionberger, Eastern Washington Stewardship Forester, Forest Health Division, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, email@example.com
It’s summer again, a time when many agency foresters change uniforms and become firefighters for a bit – myself included. I recently attended a morning briefing where our incident commander closed by saying, “Let’s get this unwanted fire off of the landscape!” It made perfect sense to me, given my involvement in prescribed fire, that fire is indeed both wanted and unwanted on the landscape around us. What makes the difference though?
I was on the Bootleg fire in Oregon when I heard those words, a fire that by any accounts was an unwanted fire. That is due to a plethora of factors, including the homes and communities threatened and destroyed by this monstrosity of a fire.
Historically, the area was covered by scattered large ponderosa pines with very little understory. Now, a carpet of smaller lodgepole pines has encroached over time through suppression of all fires and a lack of management. Throw in the homes that have popped up throughout the forest, drought, and some of the driest fuel conditions we have ever seen, and it is a recipe for disaster.
On the other hand, I assisted in several burns this spring that helped maintain the natural balance that our fire-dependent forests of eastern Washington need. These prescribed fires were of low to moderate intensity and clearly did good rather than harm to the ecosystem. They removed younger trees that were not fire-resistant, as well as brush and other fuels that had built up on the ground over the several years since the last maintenance burn.
These fires were wanted – if not needed, in some cases – and conducted using specific plans that described required conditions that produce desirable fire behavior and effects. These prescribed fires are designed with clear objectives to achieve a desired post-burn condition for vegetation and fuels management.
Wildfires, on the other hand, burn under the current conditions that are present that produce random outcomes that may or may not be desired or influenced by suppression actions.
We have finally started the process of returning nature to its delicate balance, and this includes embracing wanted fire in the many fire-dependent ecosystems throughout the United States. To continue this good work, we will need to adjust our collective thinking to allow the fires that are doing good – this includes fires that we light ourselves, as well as some fires started by natural causes in wilderness and other remote areas.
For more information on fire and our fire-dependent ecosystems in Washington, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Thanks and kudos to Gary Jennings, Mark Enty, and Jarett Cook for helping me with this article.)
By Melissa Fischer, Eastern Washington Forest Health Entomologist, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, email@example.com
The summer of 2021 has been exceptionally hot and dry in Washington, particularly on the east side of the Cascades. This of course has led to drought conditions that have become exceptional in parts of the state.
Droughts this severe can have various negative effects on our coniferous trees, such as leaf scorch, loss of foliage, reduction in growth, and dead branches. Many of you may already be seeing some of these effects.
Sometimes trees die as a result of drought. This mortality could simply be due to lack of water, but sometimes mortality is more indirect, as drought-stricken trees are more likely to succumb to insects and pathogens. Why is that? What’s going on inside our trees that allows insects and disease to cause mortality during (and well after) droughty periods?
To answer that question, it’s best to begin by discussing the flow of water through a tree.
A tree’s roots absorb water from the soil. The water then moves up through the stem (within the xylem) and is lost through the leaves via transpiration.
When you think about it, water is moving against gravity in a tree. How does it do this? Water molecules are sticky. They stick to each other (cohesion) and they stick to other objects (adhesion). Therefore, as water evaporates into the atmosphere from the surface of the leaf, it pulls on the adjacent water molecules inside the leaf, which pulls on the water molecules in the stem, which pulls the water molecules from the roots, which pulls water molecules into the roots from the soil. So water evaporating from the leaf initiates the pull of water through the stem and the properties of cohesion and adhesion allow water to move up through the stem. This is called the cohesion tension theory.
Transpiration occurs chiefly at the leaves while trees’ stomata are open for the passage of carbon dioxide and oxygen during photosynthesis. Stomata are the tiny openings or pores that are used for gas exchange. They are mostly found on the underside of a leaf or needle.
If you have ever looked on the underside of a Douglas-fir needle, you may have noticed two white lines. If you look more closely, you will notice that these two lines are made up of small circular structures. These are stomata. During photosynthesis, carbon dioxide enters through the stomata and water vapor escapes. (The whole scientific equation is six molecules of carbon dioxide and six molecules of water become one molecule of glucose and six molecules of oxygen.) In many plant species, stomata open in the light and close in the darkness. Dry air, leaf dehydration, and deficient water supply in the soil may all cause stomata to close.
Why do trees die during droughts?
There can be several means of mortality during droughty periods. Two well-known hypotheses include the hydraulic failure hypothesis and the carbon-starvation hypothesis. The hydraulic failure hypothesis states that reduced soil water and high evaporative demand causes xylem conduits to cavitate (fill with air), stopping the flow of water and desiccating plant tissues. Basically, an air bubble is pulled up from the soil into the roots and up into the stem. Once air enters, it disrupts the cohesion of the water molecules and the water column breaks and retracts. Any part of the tree that was on the receiving end of that water column is no longer receiving water.
The carbon-starvation hypothesis states that when a plant closes its stomata during a drought (to prevent hydraulic failure), it causes photosynthetic uptake of carbon to diminish and the plant starves as a result of continued metabolic demand for carbohydrates. It’s akin to our mouths being swollen shut during a droughty period and being unable to acquire the food we need for cell metabolism. Carbon starvation is more likely to occur if a drought is not intense enough to cause hydraulic failure, but lasts longer than the equivalent amount of plant carbon reserves (plant carbon reserves would be akin to our fat stores).
Different plants have different adaptations to help them survive during droughty periods. For example, some trees have what is called an isohydric strategy during droughty periods – they close their stomata to prevent cavitation. But if their stomata are closed to prevent cavitation, they are not photosynthesizing. If a drought were to last long enough, this strategy may lead to carbon starvation.
Some trees have an anisohydric strategy, leaving their stomata open for as long as possible during droughty periods. This allows them to maintain photosynthetic activity, but may result in patchy dieback of the crown or overall mortality via cavitation. Douglas-fir is an example of a tree species with an anisohydric strategy.
Drought, insects, and diseases
Droughts have physiological effects on trees that can lower their resistance to insects and diseases. For example, a decrease in the supply of water affects the production and pressure of resin. Resin is used mechanically as a defense to basically “kick” an insect out of a tree, or compartmentalize (section off) the growth of disease. Without available water, the production of resin decreases and these methods of defense may become compromised.
Drought stress can also change the chemical composition inside trees. Many different chemicals are found within the resin of trees, including terpenes. Severe drought stress can reduce some terpene emissions, such as myrcene and limonene, and increase others, such as alpha-pinene. Alpha-pinene is a common attractant for many bark beetles that attack living but stressed conifers.
Ethanol also attracts many bark and wood-inhabiting beetles. Tree tissues produce and accumulate ethanol in response to drought. Ethanol provides the stressed tissues with an emergency energy source when their normal source of energy is impaired. Insects may use the increases in ethanol to locate stressed trees.
Concentrations of sugars and sugar alcohols typically increase during droughts as well. The spruce budworm larva’s peak feeding response occurs when average sucrose levels are increased. Glucose, another form of sugar found in trees, has been found to stimulate the growth of Armillaria root disease. Blue stain fungal growth may also accelerate because sugars are the fungi’s most readily used sources of carbon.
Reduced water content also leads to higher nitrogen concentration in tree organs. Nitrogen is limiting for many insects – therefore, an increase in available plant nitrogen during water stress could result in improved growth of many insects. Defoliator performances have been found to be higher in moderately water-stressed trees due to the higher concentrations of soluble nitrogen in foliage.
The spectral qualities of plants change significantly with increasing water stress. Leaf reflectance increases in both visible and infrared wavelengths. For example, severe drought stress inhibits chlorophyll production (if stomata are closed) and induces leaf yellowing. Many insects are attracted to yellow hues. (I’m sure many of you have used yellow sticky tape or traps to catch insects.)
Drought-stressed plants are also warmer when their stomata are closed. Because insects have limited thermoregulatory capacity, higher host plant temperatures associated with drought may enable them to grow and reproduce at a more optimal temperature. Additionally, many insects have heat and infrared receptors and can detect warmer trees.
Finally, many branch- and trunk-infesting bark beetles and wood borers have well-developed senses of sound. Cavitations of the water columns in xylem tissue emit acoustical, usually ultrasonic sounds that these insects may detect.
Will my trees die?
It’s hard to predict how trees will respond to droughty periods given that the response not only depends on its own adaptations, but also the nature of the drought. For example, trees with an isohydric strategy might make out alright if a drought is extreme but short-lived. If a drought is extreme and prolonged, it may cause mortality of trees with either an isohydric or anisohydric strategy. Additionally, trees that do not succumb directly to drought this year may succumb to drought-induced issues, such as insects and disease, next year or even in the years following.
If the weather continues to be hot and dry this year, we will likely see some direct effects of drought, including loss of foliage, stunted growth, branch dieback, topkill and mortality. In the following years, we will likely see an increase in the activity of insects and diseases, such as fir engraver and Armillaria root disease, similar to what we saw after the summer of 2015. If you’ll recall, Washington experienced an exceptionally hot, dry, droughty summer that year. In the years following, we’ve experienced fir engraver outbreaks, leafminer outbreaks, Douglas-fir mortality due to secondary bark beetles, and an increase in the prevalence of Armillaria-induced mortality in ponderosa pine.
What can you do?
The best way to manage drought-related forest health issues is through prevention. Thinning your stand to ensure that the residual trees have enough water to maintain their basic metabolic needs during droughty periods is key. Thinning has the additional benefit of lowering your risk of stand-replacing wildfire.
If possible, it is best to maintain a stand of trees that is diverse in both species and age classes. Different species have different adaptations during droughty periods and given the fact that not all two droughts are alike, you never know which adaptation may win out in the end. Additionally, many insects and pathogens are species-specific. For instance, if a western pine beetle outbreak were to occur on your property, many ponderosa pine may succumb, but any other tree species present will not be infested.
Finally, if you decide to plant trees on your property, be sure that you have chosen a species and/or variety adapted to the site. For example, you do not want to plant a coastal Douglas-fir on the east side of Washington. Although Douglas-fir can be found on both the east side and west side of the Cascades, coastal Douglas-fir are genetically adapted to a different climate regime and will likely fail during an extreme east-side drought.
By Ken Bevis, Stewardship Wildlife Biologist, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, firstname.lastname@example.org
Here we go again: Big fires all over the place, turning vast areas into the mixed outcomes of these events.
Fire has profound effects on wildlife, in the short and long term. All wildlife species are directly affected by fire to some degree. Some actually benefit.
Here are a few thoughts:
Short term – fleeing, displacement, and direct mortality.
Mid-term – loss of food and cover, with a need to possibly move.
Long term – recovery of habitats in varying degrees, with (usually) a particular flush of early-seral vegetation producing quality habitat for many species that use these habitat features (browsers like deer and moose for example).
A few observations: Succession happens. Resetting forests from dense to more open, even with abundant snags, allows the grass and shrub components to respond vigorously in a very short time. As an outcome, within a few years, there can be a richer shrub layer than existed before the fire, thus benefiting all of the myriad species that use the brush. We are reluctant to consider the benefits of fire to so many wildlife species that nest in, hide in, and eat the shrub layers.
Legacy structures: No matter the fire intensity or severity, pieces of burned trees always persist. Snags and down logs will exist on the site for many, many years post-fire. These legacy structures are backbone habitat features in the new, post-fire environment. They provide homes for fungi, insects, birds, and mammals, and they will feed the soil as they break down in subsequent years. Sometimes, down logs will burn up in fires, but that leaves a rich bed of fertile ash in the newly reformed soil. Retain dead stems wherever possible.
Survivors: In the old forests of Western Washington, there are often clusters of enormous, fire-blackened Douglas-fir. These made it through, and likely reseeded the surrounding forests, many centuries ago. Lots of forests are regrown after big fires. The evidence is around us, but often hidden.
For deer, elk, and moose, cover and food are diminished in the short term. But, after a short few years, browse species can increase by a lot! Many shrub species are pre-adapted to fire, and either sprout back from the root crown, or the seed waits in the duff to be released by fire (like ceanothus). The young foliage is generally within reach of browsers and of a higher quality than older shrub vegetation.
Songbirds that use the shrub layer will find good habitat after a few years as well, but eliminated habitats in the short/mid-term.
Amphibians and reptiles can sometimes go underground and survive, but return above ground to no cover and reduced food. Down wood can be their refugia.
Small landowners impacted by fire can find themselves devastated. There can be so much to deal with.
I recommend the Woodland Fish and Wildlife article, “My Forest Burned; Now What?” for some ideas and links to information about fire on small forest woodlands.
Coached Planning for Northeast Washington. Hybrid model, in person and remote (subject to COVID rules)
The Coached Forest Stewardship Planning Short Course is an educational opportunity for owners of family forests in Washington. The informational, hands-on, practical approach of this program will enable landowners to learn useful information about their natural resources. The program is open to all persons. Participants will be able to author their own Forest Stewardship Management Plan with guidance and “coaching” from natural resource professionals.
This nine-week program is designed to help private landowners identify their goals and aspirations for their forestland. The course covers a range of topics from wildlife habitat, wildfire preparation, timber harvesting, and many other specialized topics. Stewardship plans will meet the standards and requirements for a designated forest tax benefits plan, American Tree Farm certification, and state and federal financial assistance programs.
The Washington Tree Farm Program is also offering a series of presentations for landowners in both Western and Eastern Washington.
Westside Theme: Stand Dynamics
September 10, noon-2 p.m.: Join a live webinar presentation with Dr. Mark Swanson from Washington State University presenting on early-stage forests, how they form, their importance to plant and animal communities, and management strategies to create and protect them. He will be followed by Dr. Connie Harrington with the U.S. Forest Service, who will discuss thinning strategies in older stands, deciding between uniform thinning or alternatives like variable density thinning, and their effects on the trajectory of a forest.
September 11, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. An opportunity to tour two tree farms: B & D in Chehalis and Wild Thyme in Oakville. Additional tour details will be provided the week before the tour date.
Eastside Theme: Disturbance Fundamentals
September 9, 6-8:30 p.m.: Jack Nisbett will discuss the natural history of Eastern Washington and the effects of disturbance regimes on the landscape.
September 16, 6-8:30 p.m.: Melissa Fischer will discuss the understanding of biotic and abiotic disturbances, followed by David Peterson discussing salvaging timber considerations after a disturbance.
September 23, 6-8:30 p.m.: Dr. Jessica Halofsky will discuss climate change impacts and then Carolyn Kelly and Mike Norris will discuss prescribe fire and smoke issues.
During the 2019 legislative session, the Washington State Legislature tasked the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at the University of Washington to address a set of questions that broadly deal with the status of Washington’s small forest landowners and their lands. This assessment included their current state, trends, regulatory impacts, state policies and programs, and recommendations to help encourage “continued management of nonindustrial forests for forestry uses, including traditional timber harvest uses, open space uses, or as a part of developing carbon market schemes.”
The Legislature asked a specific set of questions, yet it is also seeking a broader understanding of the small forest landowner population and their lands, and how the state can engage in effective and cost-effective action to support small forest landowners manage their properties. The School of Environmental and Forest Sciences answered the following questions:
Has the number of small forestland owners increased or decreased?
Has the acreage held by small forest landowners increased or decreased?
Of the land no longer owned by small forest landowners, what percentage was converted to nonforest use, became industrial forestland, trust land, or some other use?
Which factors contributed to small forestland owners selling their land?
What actions can the Legislature take to help keep forestland working?
How effective are the three programs created in RCW 76.13.100(2) to assist small forestland owners and mitigate the disproportionate economic impact of the Forests & Fish rules? The assessment must include:
Evaluating the effectiveness of the Small Forest Landowner Office: Does it have adequate resources and authority to successfully address landowner concern
Has it received adequate funding to implement fully the duties as assigned through the Legislature?
Regarding the Forestry Riparian Easement Program:
Does the structure of the program adequately address economic impact to small forestland owners?
Has funding kept up with need?
Has the lack of funding resulted in the loss of riparian habitat?
Have meaningful alternate management plans or alternate harvest restrictions been developed for smaller harvest units?
Has the Family Forest Fish Passage Program adequately addressed economic impact to landowners and fish passage barriers?
Would meaningful alternate harvest restrictions reduce the financial burden on the Forest Riparian Easement Program?
How can the Legislature incentivize small forestland owners to maintain their land as forestland?
Could a program be developed to facilitate small forest landowners’ participation in carbon markets?
The University of Washington reached out to a broad variety of stakeholders for input. You might have been one of them!
On January 11, the University of Washington published the report, titled “Washington’s Small Forest Landowners in 2020 Status, Trends, and Recommendations After 20 Years of Forests and Fish. The results of the above questions were sent to the appropriate committees of the Legislature and the Forest Practices Board with recommendations to improve mitigation measures for small forest landowners and improve retention of working forestland held by small forest landowners.
I would like to provide you with some of the more interesting results from the report:
Small forest landowners own approximately 2.88 million forested acres in Washington
46 million acres in western Washington, and
42 million acres in eastern Washington
There are approximately 218,480 small forest landowners across Washington state
164,996 landowners in western Washington, and
53,484 landowners in eastern Washington.
There are approximately 161,805 parcels of 20 acres or less (70 percent of total parcel acreage), of which 60 percent have some level of improvement on them.
The most important aspects of ownership for small forest landowners, on average, are beauty and scenery, provision of wildlife habitat and environmental benefits, and privacy and personal attachment. “The protection of water resources” ranks highly as an ownership objective among Washington state small forest landowners.
At the ownership level, evidence suggests personal and family financial needs may be the most salient triggering events for land sales that subsequently put small forestlands at risk for development.
Small forest landowners generally do not plan on selling or transferring their forests as they approach old age, instead preferring to retain ownership for as long as possible.
Projections based on existing trends suggest continued statewide conversion of small forest landowners’ forests into other uses.
Small Forest Landowner Office:
The Small Forest Landowner Office does not have adequate funding and staffing to fulfill its legislative mandates. Despite substantial decreases in funding and personnel, the Small Forest Landowner Office is evaluated positively by many stakeholders and survey respondents.
Survey evidence suggests that paying for all outstanding Forestry Riparian Easement Program easements would help mitigate the perceived negative impact of riparian regulations in general.
The Family Forest Fish Passage Program is well reviewed by most landowners and stakeholders, with the most common survey comment being that the program is a good use of public funds on Small Forest Land.
Trend results from 2007 to 2019:
Small forest landowners account for 15 percent of forest acres across the state. Small forest landowner forest acres declined from 2.99 million acres in 2007 to 2.88 million acres in 2019 (a 3.7 percent decline).
The number of small forest landowners increased from 201,000 in 2007 to 218,000 (+17,000) in 2019, while the number of parcels increased from 256,500 to 261,800.
Between 2007 and 2019, Small Forest Landowner forest acres in the three smallest size classes (<20 acres, 20-100 acres, 100-1,000 acres) declined by 117,000 acres while the two largest size classes (1,000-5,000 acres, 5,000+ acres) increased by 13,500 acres.
The number of small forest landowners increased across all size classes, with the largest increase in the 20-100 acres class (+9,700).
In 2007, 71 percent of small forest landowner acres were in the forestry or natural land use classes, followed by residential (18 percent) and agriculture (10 percent). By 2019, small forest landowner acres in forestry or natural land uses declined by 121,500 acres (or 5.7 percent), while residential increased by 48,600 acres (or 9 percent).
Parcels transitioned both out of and into the small forest landowner class. Between 2007 and 2019, approximately 450,000 acres (or 15 percent) left the small forest landowner class while 238,000 acres (an equivalent of 8 percent of 2007 area) transitioned into small forest landownership.
Topics having the most impacts on small forest landowners include property taxes, wildfire, and the development of nearby lands for residential purposes.
One of the most notable outcomes in the report shows that the most effective measures that can be taken to help keep small forest land and their owners as a part of the landscape are additional, secure resources for outreach, education, and technical assistance for small forest landowners.
With that in mind, I am pleased to announce that the Small Forest Landowner Office has hired an additional regulation assistance forester to help landowners navigate the Forest Practices Rules. He will be a valuable addition to the Regulation Assistance Program!
I want to personally thank each person who took the time to answer the survey questions that University of Washington put forth. It is with this information the Small Forest Landowner Office can provide you with the best guidance and support to help you successfully manage your valued forestland.
I wish you all the very best as we move in to wonderful springtime, and please keep yourself and your loved ones safe.
By Matt Provencher, Western Washington Stewardship Forester, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, email@example.com
Spring is in the air! As of the writing of this article in early March the Indian plum is beginning to leaf out and the daffodils and crocuses are flowering in many locations. Temperatures are warming (slowly), birds are chirping and I’ve even been hearing the peepers for about a month! (“Peepers” is a New England term for the frogs you hear singing in spring.) Many of our trees in Western Washington are getting ready for spring growth.
As we get later into spring and even into the early summer, I often get calls or go out on site visits regarding young trees that appear to be dying. These trees range in age from seedlings planted last year to trees that are approaching the pre-commercial thinning age, around 10 to 15 years old depending on location and site. Quite often it involves yellow or chlorotic-looking foliage, sparse foliage, and branch or needle dieback. Though a variety of conditions could cause these symptoms, a foliar disease is often the issue in the spring and early summer.
Virtually every tree species is affected by foliar diseases, and many tree species have multiple foliar diseases. They are most often caused by fungi and tend to be more widespread when spring is relatively wet, or when trees are planted in off-site conditions. “Off-site” could mean a tree planted on a marginal site for the particular species in question, or it could be that the planting stock came from a different area of the tree’s range and therefore the trees aren’t adapted to the local site conditions. There are far too many foliar diseases to talk about all of them so I’ll focus on a few of note for Douglas-fir.
Swiss Needle Cast
Douglas-fir is the only host of Swiss Needle Cast. Though its name implies it might be a foreign invader, it’s a native foliar disease of our region. Though the disease infects current-year needles, the infection typically occurs during the fall. Often by the time signs or symptoms of infection are observed, there may be a new flush of growth during the next growing season.
The disease affects the needles by clogging the stomata, the pores on the underside of the needle that allow for gas exchange between the tree and atmosphere. The fruiting bodies, called pseudothecia, are noticeable as black specks on the underside of the needle, often in a row, and can be visible by the naked eye when present in large numbers, or with the help of a hand lens. In the spring or early summer, the previous year’s needles can begin looking yellow chlorotic. This is often the first symptom noticed by landowners and forest managers.
This disease is present throughout the Pacific Northwest and anywhere Douglas-fir is grown, including overseas. Locally, we see the greatest damage with this disease near the coast. As you get to within 20 to 30 miles of the coast, where the coastal fog is present at least part of the day for most of the year, it presents an excellent environment for the fungus.
Also, remember above I talked about off-site plantings? Though Douglas-fir was always found in these coastal areas, the species was historically present in much lower densities than it is currently found. Western hemlock and Sitka spruce, unaffected by Swiss Needle Cast, are well adapted to these areas and prior to modern forest management were likely the dominant species closer to the coast. Thus, there were fewer susceptible Douglas-fir hosts in the past than today. The result is a disease that historically was always present in low numbers and seldom caused widespread problems can now cause significant growth and yield loss in coastal Douglas-fir stands. You can read more about Swiss Needle Cast here.
Rhabdocline Needle Cast
Rhabdocline is another foliar disease that only affects Douglas-fir. The current-year needles are infected beginning shortly after bud break, and infection can continue into early summer. Early signs of infection appear as yellow or brown blotches on the needles in the summer or into fall. As the disease progresses, small reddish or purplish-pink fruiting bodies develop. The spores from these fruiting bodies are released the following spring and the disease cycle continues. There are some small insects that can cause similar damage to Rhabdocline, so actually seeing the fruiting bodies is the best way to diagnose this Needle Cast.
I must say that this is a disease I didn’t know anything about until last year. Last June, I received a call from a landowner and through some back and forth with the landowner and DNR’s forest pathologists, we were able to determine the landowner’s Douglas-firs were suffering from this disease. Then in a case of “once you know what to look for,” I diagnosed the disease on a few other landowner’s fir trees as well.
Melampsora fungi have several hosts. One part of the fungus’ life cycle occurs on aspen, cottonwood, or willow, and then another part of their life cycle occurs on Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine and true firs (such as grand fir).
The disease overwinters in dead leaves of the hardwoods, with spores produced in the spring. These spores then affect current-year needles. The interesting part of this life cycle is that spores produced on Douglas-fir trees can’t infect other Douglas-firs, so if you do any pruning or thinning, there is no need to manage any cut branches.
In 2020, dieback was quite severe in some areas, likely due to the moist spring we experienced, and I even observed some Douglas-fir seedlings that had experienced near total dieback of current-year needles. Yellow-orange fruiting bodies can often be seen on the underside of the needles in late spring and into the summer.
Management of Foliar Diseases
So how important is it to actually know which foliar disease is affecting your trees? Surprisingly, often the only reason to know which foliar disease is affecting your trees is simply to satisfy your curiosity. This is because management of these diseases is essentially the same regardless of particular one that may be afflicting your trees.
First, understand that these diseases will naturally be more prevalent during conditions that favor the disease. In other words, no matter what you do, you’re likely to a foliar disease at some point in the life of your forest.
Second, all these diseases can be especially problematic with off-site plantings. If you’re on or near the coast, consider planting western hemlock, Sitka spruce or western redcedar. If you still want to plant some Douglas-fir, m ake it a minor species.
Regardless of whether you’re on the coast or inland, ensure that you are getting the right tree for your site. Last summer, I wrote an article on the topic of seed zone and selecting trees for your site that you can read here.
Finally, airflow is important to try to reduce humidity. If trees are newly planted, there may be little you can do to promote airflow other than keep grass and other vegetation away from the seedlings so there’s as much airflow as possible. For older stands, thinning and pruning can help promote airflow and reduce the occurrences of these diseases. Your friendly stewardship forester can help you assess options for your forest or stand.
Keep in mind that outright mortality from foliar diseases is rare except in the most severe outbrea ks. Most often, reduced growth is the long-term effect of these diseases. The visual appearance can often be difficult on landowners. Though the tree can look bad, if you’ve taken the steps outlined above, rest assured – the trees likely will pull through and continue to grow. And remember, if you have any questions or concerns, we’re here to help!
By Ken Bevis, Stewardship Wildlife Biologist, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, firstname.lastname@example.org
Now you may have heard of a beaver
Who lives in a lake or a stream
But I’m a mountain beaver
Lemme tell you a little ’bout me
I date back millions of years
And I’m as primitive as can be
I dig deep burrows, don’t make no dam
And the name Mountain Beaver, is really a sham
Call me Aplodontia
Or Boomer for short
Cuz when it comes to beavers
I really ain’t that sort.
Dr. Cleetus K. Zobrist, Primitive Mammal Songwriter
The wet hillside was peppered with burrow openings, big ones. They were about 6 to 8 inches in diameter, and looked to go way back into the moist earth.
Steve lay down on the ground and put his arm and shoulder deep into the cavern and found no end he could reach. The ferns and forbs around the opening were snipped back, almost like little scissors had cut them down. And just up, down and across the hill, were many more of these openings.
Welcome to Boomerville.
Yes, mountain beavers, “Boomers,” Aplodontia rufa live here. They occur in what could be called colonies, as seen by these obvious burrow openings. Sometimes quite a few live near each other.
Underground is an amazing, elaborate tunnel system with chambers dedicated to particular uses: food storage, resting, toilets, (TV? Internet?). But it’s not an interconnected colony like, say, prairie dogs, who share communal burrows.
Surprisingly, Aplodontia are solitary burrowers, and each system is self-contained. Burrows are self-draining, with water directed away from living areas, and can be surprisingly deep into the earth (10 feet down has been recorded). Apparently they are only social during breeding season, and even then, not for very long. Mom raises the kids.
Mountain beaver is a common name, but (as Cleetus points out above in his masterful blues), it is a misnomer. Aplodontia don’t live in water or build dams. They can swim, but mostly don’t. They have primitive kidney systems, however, and drink lots of water to keep their systems working. They are the only surviving member of their ancient genus in the world. They look kind of like a giant hamster, with long claws, or a beefy guinea pig, but you won’t likely see one. (If you have burrows, put a trail camera right on the entrance!)
Boomers are a fascinating animal with important ecological roles in wet forest systems. They serve as prey for carnivores such as owls, foxes, bobcat, fisher, or coyotes; they aerate forest soil systems; they spread seeds and spores from their vegetarian diet; and they act as a pruning force on understory vegetation, keeping the growth green and lush, thus benefiting other herbivores.
However, sometimes Aplodontia are considered pests, especially in new tree plantations, where they have the troubling habit of nipping off planted seedlings. In these cases, armoring seedlings with tubes can work, but is difficult to do, or the population can be reduced through trapping. But, first I always recommend assessment of whether the damage has reach a threshold to require action. Some simple plots and nip counts could determine this decision. Then, if need be, action.
Chris Baus recently became a regulation assistance forester in the Small Forest Landowner Office, but his forestry roots tap into growing up around his family’s maple farm in Tennessee. We sat down with him recently and we learned that he’s a burgeoning blueberry farmer who’s taken a liking to lichen.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m the new Regulation Assistance Forester with the Small Forest Landowner Office, and I have a background in forestry, botany, and geology. I’ve lived all over the U.S., growing up in a military family and then enlisting myself, but I permanently moved to Washington about four years ago. Outside of work, I enjoy all the outdoor activities the Pacific Northwest provides, like fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking, and motorcycling. My wife and I also recently undertook a new adventure, becoming small-scale blueberry and chicken farmers, which has been a lot of fun so far!
How long have you been working in forestry? Why did you go into this field?
Professionally, I’ve been working in forestry through part-time/project positions, and now full-time with DNR, for about five years. But I actually got started in the field as a kid helping during summers on my family’s maple tree farm in Tennessee. While in college, I started off with seasonal projects and part-time work for several years, doing projects like mapping invasive species in Olympic National Park and performing restoration work in coastal redwood forests. I joined DNR Forest Practices in 2018 and have really enjoyed my time here so far.
I got into forestry because I’ve always had a love of nature and a fascination with forest ecosystems, probably from spending so much time in the woods on my family’s tree farm growing up. Being able to work outside and help conserve our natural resources has always sounded like a dream job to me, and forestry was a great way for me to make that happen.
What sort of jobs have you had? Schooling?
Right out of high school, I enlisted in the Army National Guard for six years. I started off in the infantry for a few years before taking a career change to be a bridge engineer. While still in the Army, I got my bachelor’s degree in botany with a minor in geology from Humboldt State University. While at Humboldt, I worked an odd mix of part-time jobs, ranging from studying fire-prone forests, to cataloging lichen and bryophyte diversity, to working in a paleobotany lab studying fossilized liverworts from the Devonian Period.
After that, I worked for a little over a year as a microalgae specialist for the Squaxin Island Tribe’s shellfish operation, where I monitored water quality and levels of harmful algal blooms in Puget Sound, and grew phytoplankton to feed juvenile shellfish in a nursery. From there, I started working for DNR as a Forest Practices Operations Specialist in 2018, and during that time got my master of environmental studies degree in forest management and geology from The Evergreen State College. And finally, I just started my current position as a Regulation Assistance Forester on March 1 of this year.
What do you emphasize when talking to small landowners?
I emphasize listening with small landowners to make sure I fully understand what their management goals are with their property. Then, I can help them find the best path to make that happen, whether that’s solely improving forest health or planning for future harvests. Forestry is complex in terms of both regulations and management, and I can speak from experience that when you’re new to it, it can seem overwhelming. I like to make sure I understand their goals exactly and emphasize the different ways to make them happen.
Why do you think our work is important?
I think our work is important because when we help small forest landowners with their land management objectives and navigating the regulations, we’re helping to protect natural resources and keep family forests on the landscape. Small forest landowners make up a large portion of Washington’s iconic forestland, and through the work we do assisting and providing resources to small landowners, we’re in turn helping them conserve natural resources and steward their land.
What is your favorite kind of tree and why?
That’s a tough one for me to answer, but if I have to pick one I’d go with the coast redwood, Sequoia Sempervirens. These trees are probably my favorite because of how unique they are and the incredible ecosystems redwood forests create. While going to school at Humboldt State, I spent a lot of time hiking and biking through the redwoods and the awe of how giant and ancient those trees are never wears off for me.
Anything else you would like to add?
One of my favorite parts forest management is the often-overlooked area of lichenology and bryology, and the important roles they play in forest ecosystems. I really enjoy talking to folks about all the different mosses and lichens in this area and spreading awareness about these tiny organisms that are so common in our Pacific Northwest forests!