Ah, how wonderful is the advent of the Spring! This is my favorite time of year because Spring adds new life and new beauty all around us, especially in our gardens and in our forests. I get such pleasure at seeing the first trillium flowers blooming in the forest and hearing the sweet calls of the swallows overhead after arriving from their amazing journey!
Well, the Small Forest Landowner Office (SFLO) re-organization is coming along quite well. The modification and combination of the duties of the Forest Stewardship Program positions and the SFLO Technical Assistance Forester position is complete. The SFLO Stewardship & Technical Assistance Foresters are now a statewide service! Their names and locations are:
Below is a map showing each forester’s geographic area.
These positions will provide small forest landowners with onsite technical assistance and consultative services to help you understanding Washington State’s Forest Practices Rules, forest road assessments, timber harvest systems, small forest landowner alternate plan templates, 20-acre exempt harvest activities, long-term applications, low impact harvest activities, and road construction techniques, and other Forest Practices rule-related issues. They will also help small forest landowners develop and implement Forest Stewardship Management Plans and will respond to any assistance requests for onsite professional forest management advice to support individual landowner objectives, including diagnosis and recommendations regarding forest health problems, and fire risk assessments.
The SFLO looks forward to providing you with this importance service! Later in this newsletter you can learn more about Rob Lionberger, our newest Stewardship & Technical Assistance Forester now serving eastern Washington.
Washington has five nesting species of swallows, all insectivorous and highly migratory. They spend the spring and summer here, swooping above water and the forest tops eating insects, and then return to Central and even South America, to winter. They make this amazing journey back the following year and often return to the same areas to breed. Most do not survive their first year (as is the case with all birds), but some make it back and we are treated to their amazing, swooping, insect-eating flights.
“I hate swallows! They are nesting under my eaves and they make such a mess!” Sometimes I hear this complaint and I have to clarify which species we are talking about.
It is the barn swallow. They construct a cup-shaped nest of mud and grass, often under eaves of homes and barns. These birds have gorgeous purple shiny feathers and forked tails; they are sometimes called “scissor tails.” Barn swallows are usually the birds people find annoying due to the poopy mess that can accumulate under their nests. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has a good web page with suggestions for dealing with barn swallows if they nest in an inconvenient location.
If the nest is in an unacceptable location, be sure to remove it as soon as the birds start to build, and keep removing it. Barriers of mesh netting can be installed if under an eave or other location where it could be installed (use appropriate mesh size in thick mesh so birds do not become entangled). Foil or other smooth metal can be placed over the preferred spot to prevent future mud from sticking too.
Cliff swallows also build a mud nest, which looks like a gourd with a hole in it. These birds are colonial and are usually found under highway bridges or on natural cliffs, so are seldom a problem for landowners.
Two species, the bank and rough-winged swallows, will actually tunnel into fine soil appropriately configured along eroding river banks or even stock-piled highway building materials. They are colonial nesters and there can be hundreds of burrows in a colony, many of which exist for years and years.
Swallows in the Forest
The swallows most closely associated with forests — the ones that use cavities in dead trees and sometimes nest boxes — are tree swallows and violet-green swallows. These two cavity-nesting species prefer to use abandoned woodpecker nest cavities for their annual nesting activities. They arrive in spring (the dates vary by locale), and will stake out a territory based around an available cavity or nest box. In late April and May they will build a grass nest in the cavity, line it with feathers, and produce one or two broods between arrival and early summer. The young birds will hang around the nesting area for the first few weeks after coming out of the nest, and then in early fall, they all head south. Just before migration large groups of swallows are sometimes seen congregating on wires, getting ready to go.
Tree and violet green swallows are white on the belly and both have a gorgeous, shiny blue color. Violet green swallows are slightly smaller with longer wings that reach down past their tail and striking white patches on their face.
Both tree and violet green swallows will readily take to nest boxes, particularly those placed in the open near water. Boxes for these wonderful birds can be mounted on fence posts, poles or trees with a clear flight path to the open. They can be placed relatively close together (30-50 feet), but not facing each other, as they seem to not like having neighbors!
Boxes should be built to basic standards with a 1.25” to 1.5” entrance hole about 7” above the bottom of the box. They can be constructed from 1” x 6” wood, and it is best if the back of the entrance door is rough to enable baby birds to climb out. Good plans for a swallow box are found at https://wdfw.wa.gov/living/projects/basic_songbird.html. Once per year, preferably in the fall or winter, boxes need to be cleaned out to allow for a new nesting attempt the following year. If not cleaned, they will be used again until they are full. Old nest material can contain parasites and should be removed. A maintained box will be used by swallows for many years.
It is not necessary to make boxes out of cedar (as recommended in some plans); it is likely that the box will crack and fall off of the mounting place long before it rots. The author has several dozen boxes around his property in eastern Washington and enjoys the annual spectacle of swarms of nesting tree and violet green swallows flying about his home.
These beautiful birds are one of the beneficiaries of retaining standing dead trees (snags) on your small forestlands. Please help them and many other species by leaving standing dead trees of at least 8” in diameter. Remember, about 40 percent of forest wildlife is dependent on dead wood, or “wildlife trees” of some kind. Swallows are beautiful, greatly beneficial birds that help us by eating many, many insects (including mosquitoes) and gracing our lives with their beauty.
Let me know if I can help you with wildlife habitat on your forestlands, and send me pictures of your cavity and nest box habitats in use!
Meet Rob Lionberger, our newest Stewardship & Technical Assistance Forester, will be serving landowners in eastern Washington.
Tell us a little about yourself, Rob.
I was born and raised in North Idaho, but a short part of my early childhood was in Texas where my dad is from. I spent a great deal of my time outdoors and camped with friends and family as often as possible, and I still do when I can. My love for the forest was a gift from my dad, who worked for the US Forest Service until his retirement several years ago. I owe him a great deal for that, since it shaped my life and career path.
My wife and I are empty nesters (with two adult sons) who call Colville, WA our home. We love to travel, hike, camp, and explore the beautiful area around where we live. I enjoy good food, and will gladly give reviews and dining suggestions to anyone unsure of where to eat. I also enjoy cooking, home brewing, and meeting interesting people.
How long have you been working in forestry? Why did you go into this field?
I have 30 years in forestry related work, beginning with a fire crew in Priest Lake, Idaho. While fire was our reason for being there, we spent much of our time doing forestry projects like pre-commercial thinning and tree marking. I fell in love with the job and asked my boss how I could do this for the rest of my life. He wisely told me that a four-year degree in forestry would be needed to fill his job when he retired (even though he didn’t have one). I started taking forestry classes the following year and switched from a psychology major to a forestry major shortly after that. I have tried several other lines of work along the way, but nothing brings me greater satisfaction than helping others to grow to love the forest the way I do.
What sort of jobs have you had? Schooling?
This is the hardest question yet… I have had a job since I was about 8. When I have to boil it down to just forestry related positions on a resume, it still takes a couple of pages!
Starting with forestry related jobs, I have worked for the Idaho Dept. of Lands, Montana Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation, US Forest Service, Oregon Dept. of Forestry, Washington Dept. of Natural Resources and a few private companies. My duties in these jobs included firefighting, timber cruising, timber marking, reforestation, road construction and maintenance, prescribed fire, precommercial thinning, fire prevention, tree nursery labor, logging, and finally, helping small forest landowners as they take on some of these same tasks.
A few of the other jobs I’ve had are an appliance and electrical salesman, everything from janitor to manager in food service (concurrently, while in college!), used textbook buyer, landscaping laborer, small engine repair, pastoral intern, sound engineer, facilities maintenance and changing irrigation pipe.
I got my Forestry degree from the University of Montana in Missoula.
What do you emphasize when talking to small landowners?
I try to emphasize that this is their land and that their objectives are what should drive the decision-making process on their property. I love to help small landowners take what they value about their land, whether that is wildlife, aesthetics, recreation, a healthy forest and/or extra income, and then building an action plan to move toward their goals. The key is, regardless of what your particular values are, the target condition of your stand of trees will require action over time. None of the objectives that most landowners value lead to a plan of leaving everything like it is. There is always work to do to create, restore or maintain your forest in a condition that is consistent with your goals.
Why do you think our work is important?
I believe our work is one of the most important in the forest health arena. Small forest landowners make up a significant portion of the forested land in our state, so the condition of their lands are naturally going to have a great effect on overall forest health in our state. We are in a position to be able to influence this essential part of the solution to our existing forest health crisis. I take this very seriously and try to seize any opportunity to help influence the small forest landowners in eastern Washington to move their forests to a healthier and more resilient condition.
What is your favorite kind of tree and why?
Western larch is my favorite tree for many reasons: it is the most insect, disease and fire resistant species in most of the areas it grows, it is the only deciduous conifer in our area, the vibrant greens in the spring and the golden color in the fall are unbeatable, it makes top-notch lumber and firewood, it is an extremely important wildlife tree with value throughout its life, old age and many years after its death, and it shares my home range.
In particular, I love the fire adaptive strategy of larch. Like a ponderosa pine, they have thick bark to insulate from the heat and a deep taproot that is safe from the hottest fires. They can sustain a 100 percent crown scorch and survive as long as their fire resistant, thick buds are not killed. They lose their needles every fall anyway and will put on their new needles in the spring as if nothing happened if the buds survived. More amazingly, they could repeat this process every year for several years in a row since they carry a three- to five-year supply of food in their roots! After the fire, they are often one of the survivors in a stand, and their light, easily wind-blown seeds disperse into the surrounding newly exposed dirt and quickly create a carpet of seedlings that can help stabilize the slopes and prevent erosion.
I really could go on about larch and the other fire adaptations, but I need to save something for my site visits. I am looking forward to working with you and the landowners of eastern Washington!
You can contact Rob at (509) 703-9988 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and he’ll be glad to help you shape and protect your piece of paradise.
As the seasons change and the weather warms, we tend to get more inquiries about tree health related issues across the state. Some issues — root disease or Douglas-fir bark beetle caused mortality — are relatively common, while others are less common but equally attention getting. These latter issues include red and dead branches, red and newly dead trees, and impacts on trees of various ages and sizes. A couple of issues in some of our most common tree species have emerged this year, including western hemlock defoliation and mortality and tip dieback in Douglas-fir. You may have seen some of this damage on trees on your own property or while travelling from here to there.
Western Hemlock Defoliation and Mortality
In 2015, reports of western hemlock trees losing green needles throughout the spring, summer and fall were widespread across the region, including in western Washington and northwest Oregon. The foliage loss was initially attributed to the very dry, warm weather conditions that occurred across the state. Western hemlock is considered very susceptible to drought stress, which basically means that it doesn’t grow very well when it doesn’t have enough water. Many tree species shed foliage in an effort to reduce transpiration-related water loss in times of drought stress. The foliage loss observed in western hemlock was attributed to this cause. However, about the same time in 2015, a new foliar disease was observed and identified on western hemlock trees in Oregon. Symptoms of the foliar disease were similar to the foliage loss symptoms observed in western Washington (Figure 1).
The foliar disease affecting western hemlock is a fungus called Rhizoctonia butinii. Professor Jared LeBoldus’s lab at Oregon State University has been investigating this pathogen and disease since 2015. The first detection of the disease was in Washington in 2016 and symptoms have been observed scattered across western Washington since then. The fungus appears to have a wide range of hosts, including western hemlock, Douglas-fir, Sitka spruce, Pacific yew and true firs. Not all of the patterns of defoliation among host species look the same as the disease does in western hemlock where the pathogen tends to start in the lower crown causing foliage loss and dead branches and work its way upwards.
The disease appears to have an association with drought conditions, so damage and possible mortality may be seen in western hemlock trees of all sizes and ages that are growing in water-limited, or dry soils. Western hemlock is also susceptible to several root diseases, with the most common being Annosus root disease caused by Heterobasidion occidentale. Damage and mortality to western hemlock may increase when Annosus root disease, Rhizoctonia foliar disease and drought all interact at the same time. Damage may be reduced in some areas by thinning overstocked western hemlock stands to reduce water competition among the trees. In areas where damage and mortality is already observed, it’s best to avoid replanting western hemlock when conducting reforestation and, instead, choose a species that’s known to grow well in your area.
Western hemlock defoliation and mortality caused by Rhizoctonia butinii and drought. Notice the different sizes of trees affected, as well as those trees that have recently died (left and center photo). The photo on the right shows characteristic defoliation symptoms starting in the lower crown.
Douglas-fir Tip Dieback
Another tree health issue being reported and observed right now in western Washington is tip dieback in Douglas-fir (Figure 2). Basically, the branch tips and some tops of young Douglas-fir are red and dead. The dead portions are adjacent to a dark, sunken area on the branch, which is usually indicative of some type of fungus-caused canker. Samples have been collected and sent to Oregon State University, so we’re likely to have a cause identified soon. There is likely an association with droughty and dry soil conditions.
Lumber prices for 2017 were significantly higher than previous years, averaging $425/mbf for the year – the highest prices in real terms since 2005, the height of the previous housing boom. After reaching an average of $376/mbf in 2014, west coast lumber prices fell to $317/mbf for 2015. They recovered slightly in 2016, averaging $341/mbf.
Prices for the `typical’ DNR log were also markedly higher in 2017 than previous years, averaging $611/mbf for the year. The `typical’ DNR log averaged $521/mbf in 2015, having fallen from an average of $591/mbf in 2014. The average price for 2016 was slightly higher at $536/mbf. The decline in 2015 was primarily due to the dramatic slowdown in demand from China and to an ample regional supply of both logs and lumber. The increase in prices through 2017 was primarily due to increased lumber demand. Prices are expected to remain high through early 2018, though are unlikely to increase significantly.
A continuing downside risk for the forecast is timber and lumber demand from China, which has already experienced a steep decline. A further decrease—due, for instance, to a slowdown in Chinese economic growth or a trade-war—would undermine overall demand and would most-likely weaken prices.
Since the expiration of the Softwood Lumber Agreement (SLA) in late 2015, the U.S. and Canada have been without a trade agreement that covers lumber. The U.S. has imposed duties on Canadian lumber and there has been a finding by the U.S. International Trade Commission that the U.S. was harmed by subsidized Canadian lumber. However, Canada has appealed the finding to a NAFTA panel and has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO). The uncertainty caused by the lack of an agreement is likely to cause volatility in lumber markets until a final deal replacing the SLA is reached. This volatility may impact timber markets, though lumber price volatility does not always predictably influence log prices.
More robust growth in U.S. residential improvements and housing construction would provide a high-side potential. Both measures have improved since the end of the recession in 2009, however, even with the growth forecast in the next two calendar years, starts will still remain below underlying demand. Robust growth hasn’t yet occurred because of significant demand and supply side constraints. Although housing demand is strong overall, there are still a number of impediments—persistently stringent lending standards, a continued tough labor market for younger workers, student loan debt, and general economic and social malaise. Most of which are easing, but none of which show signs of completely abating just yet. Additionally, there are a number of supply side impediments constraining construction growth, primarily a lack of skilled labor and a lack of readily buildable land. It is possible that the tax cuts passed in late 2017 will spur investment in real estate, but it is far from clear that this will really help the market give that the tax cuts are unlikely to alleviate any of the demand or supply side issues.
Finally, it is unclear how long U.S. economic growth can continue in the absence of coherent, growth-driven federal economic policies.
As we saw this the year, and as the deadly wildfires in California remind us, aggressive wildfires are our new norm. Fortunately, we were able to keep 96 percent of our fires to less than 10 acres — a credit to our brave friends and neighbors who confront these firestorms. But despite our best efforts, it wasn’t enough. The simple truth is that we cannot fight our way out of these fires — we must prevent them. And we prevent forest fires by improving forest health.
That’s why this year we launched the 20-year Forest Health Strategic Plan for Eastern Washington. This first-of-its-kind plan provides a framework for systematic forest restoration and management that will accelerate the pace and scale of forest treatments so we can restore forest health and make our lands more resistant to wildfire.
The Forest Health Strategic Plan is bold and can only be accomplished through innovative partnerships, which will include private forestland owners, small and large.
My concerns are not limited to our eastside forests; climate change threatens the productivity of lands on both sides of the Cascades. That’s why in early January, I outlined Four Resilience Principles of a smart carbon reduction policy:
Tackle the root cause – carbon pollution – and invest in reduction efforts
Strengthen the health and resilience of our lands, waters, and communities
Accelerate carbon sequestration
Invest in and incentivize solutions with multiple benefits
For our forests, for example, this means investing in programs that keep working forests working and maximize the carbon stored in trees and soils. It means incentivizing property owners to preserve forestland and not convert it to other uses. It means investments to grow forest management jobs, improve soil moisture storage, increase timber value, sustain timber production, and increase resistance to wildfire and insects. And it means minimizing the unintended effects of carbon policies on residents and trade-intensive industries such as timber and agriculture.
By restoring and strengthening our working forests, by making investments to ensure they are resilient to climate change, we create economic security for the individuals and communities that depend on these lands. I look forward to working with you on this important effort.