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Editor’s Note – Due to challenges posting this important eco-narrative report, we need to ask for your help in viewing it.
If you double click on each of the five panels below, they should blow up into a legible for you.
Sorry for the trouble and thanks for your interest. 1,000 cheers to the Catlin 7th graders and their teachers for their excellent and important work!
Every year since we added a sawmill and dry kiln to our operation fifteen years ago, we have enjoyed watching the list of cool projects made from the forests’ wood grow longer. Over the years we’ve followed with excitement as our wood was transformed into the body of new boats – but this latest is the most exciting and impressive.
Last winter we reported that our new friends at the Wind & Oar Boat School had come to the forest and made off with several slabs of fine oak.
Roughly a year later it is terrific to see what they and the students at Merlo Station Community High School’s Boat Geometry Class have done with that wood.
Responding to a commission generously made by Tim Boyle, CEO of Columbia Sportswear, the class worked long and hard to create this beautiful Herreshoff designed Columbia Dingy.
It is heartening to know that this oak, which died a natural death after a long life, has been given a second life in this fine boat. We invite the boat builders and its new owner to come “meet the stump” and know the forest in which their oak grew.
Knowing that “way leads on to way”, we ask our Wind & Oar friends “what’s next in this tree to sea adventure?”.
Congratulations to all.
The Mystery – (and it is a sad one) – As shared in earlier posts, the Hyla Woods forests are experiencing a much accelerated rate of trees dying. Dead trees are an important part of a healthy forest, and we sometimes help things along by girdling trees to create snags. But in the past two years things have changed; once healthy and vibrant trees are dying – old ones, middle aged ones, and young ones. We’re not alone, and it seems that our mixed aged, mixed species forests are having less problems than the more monocultural forests nearby. When we ask the knowledgeable “..ologists” for their thoughts on the causes, we are given a one word answer – drought. Our Hyla Woods team thinks that the situation may be more complex than that; are we certain that the cause is drought? If it is drought, is there a chance that drought is the trigger, but that the causes might be more complex – soils, seed, disease, insects….?
While we can rise above the discovery that more 30 year old fir have died in some area of the forest, we experienced serious sadness when we discovered that a number of large, old, beautiful cedars in the wildest corner of Mt. Richmond Forest had no remaining green. The Red cedar on our “avenue of the giants” are taking on a new kind of red.
The Dilemma – How should we respond to these dead cedars? They have beautiful wood in them which we could put to good use. On the other hand, our forests are short on large, dead, downed wood that supports more life than the living tree ever did. Do the right thing? But what is the “right thing”?
A Decision – Team Hyla convened around the table and wrestled with the options. Our decision is that the best approach for us is to avoid the simplistic, “either-or” constraints and to instead try a compromise. Some of the dead cedar has been left on the forest floor where it is adding to the forest’s health. The rest of the wood from these recent casualties has been felled, bucked, and skidded to the landing where it awaits a ride from the tree taxi up to the mill. An up side of the increased mortality is that there seems to be enough dead wood to meet both goals – economic and ecological.
….And About That Bathroom – It seems fitting that at the same time as we’ve been wrestling with dead cedar and related decisions, these photos came in from a happy customer who gave one of our large, old, windthrown cedars a second life.
…and so the cycle continues – but let’s keep digging into the mystery; the forest challenges us to dig deeper.
“What’s the big deal about an Olive Sided Flycatcher?”
That’s a reasonable question.
It was answered in the course of this morning’s third and final annual bird count in our Mt. Richmond Forest. Here are a few of the reasons why we are excited to hear and see them:
- Inspiring Globe Crossers – Their long annual migrations – from as far south as Bolivia and on up to the arctic – are yet another reminder of how remarkable birds, and all of nature, are.
- They’re in Trouble – Of the birds that depend on Oregon’s Coast Range forests, they’re one of the four species that are in steepest decline. Much of this decline is driven by habitat loss.
- They’re Here – We’re pleased that the Hyla Woods forests provide reliable safe haven for these remarkable and stressed birds.
- They’re Increasing – In Our Forests – Reviewing data from our more than 15 years of careful, annual counts, we can see that that we’re successfully bucking the trend; while they decline in our region, they are on the increase in our forests. Who knows why? Our habitat is improving? Habitat in surrounding forest in other forests in the regions deteriorating? Perhaps both? We all benefit when steps to arrest their decline are successful. Their presence and increase validate that we may be working in the right direction.
- We Need and Value Then – Flycatchers, as their name reflects, depend on eating insects – lots of them! Insects help keep forests healthy, but, when out of balance, they can become a threat to forest health. These winged insect eaters help maintain necessary balance. We work for them – they work for us.
As we hang up the binos, clipboards, and stop watch at the end of yet another yearly round of bird counts, we enthusiastically raise a glass to thank and toast these remarkable birds.
Thanks also go to our remarkable, reliable, and long suffering expert birders – Char Corkran and Lori Hennings.
Visitors to our forests often ask why we work on growing forests that are multiple ages and many species. “Wouldn’t it be easier and more profitable to just grow single age, single species plantations like nearly all of your neighbors do?”. While we have many reasons for using the approaches we do – some of them scientifically based and other driven more by gut instinct – the question raised is a good one. Because of this, it is something that we always work on learning more about. As people who feel that we have a responsibility to maintain and rebuild the public values of our forests and believe that the long term profitability and health of our forests is more important than the short term, we think that avoiding the risks of the plantation approach makes good, pragmatic business sense. At the same time, we work to be disciplined in always questioning the assumptions that our approaches are based on – “what if we’re wrong?”.
Which brings us to the value of learning. We’re prompted to share these thoughts just now because of two research publications that we’ve run into in recent months. Both appear to shine light on the risks and down sides of the plantation approach that dominates our landscape in western Oregon. Though we are told that plantation silvaculture is what the prudent investor does, we question whether that conclusion is a valid one.
The first piece of research, done by scientists at Oregon State University, explores the negative impact of plantation forestry on summer stream flows. We encourage you to check it out and are happy to provide copies of the paper. Unfortunately it does not appear to be available online.
The second paper suggests that, in some circumstance trees, grow better in mixed species stands rather than in single species stands. This link provides a newspaper style report:
Here is a link to the paper: http://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-016-0063.
Because we find both of these studies to be helpful and interesting, even if not definitive, we think you may as well.
The learning continues – and that is one of the rewards of forest stewardship.
I discovered something that was really uplifting and surprising yesterday.
At day’s end I traveled back through the Mt. Richmond Forest with a sense of satisfaction – and fatigue – from having planted the last of the 2,200 seedlings that we’ve planted this winter.
Pausing by the “Beaver Pond” wetland I reflected on how different it feels to visit the spot since all of the resident beaver mysteriously disappeared from the pond and forest about five years ago. Though we have hypothesis, the puzzle of the cause remains unsolved. Reflecting on this sadness I somehow decided to dismount from my “iron pony” and hobble over to where the stream flows out of the pond. Drawing closer, something caught my eye – “isn’t that a low dam blocking the outlet – with freshly cut, green reeds woven into the sticks? Could it be…..?”
A closer look persuaded me that nothing could have made this – other than a beaver. Looking further around the wetland my conclusion was verified by finding this….
After five years of lamenting the loss and considering options for reintroduction, the problem has solved itself. What is remarkable is that this beaver (could there be 2?!) had to cross some seriously inhospitable terrain. From the nearest beaver habitat in the Tualatin River, it had to navigate roughly a mile of open, unvegetated ditch through industrial farmland, climb up a steep stream through pastureland, and find its way through another half mile of forestland that we recently bought from the neighbors. Go Beevs!
Perhaps I shouldn’t be, but I am surprised by how much my winter weary spirits have been lifted by discovering that the forest’s wetland habitat is once again home to a beaver – and that the “Beaver Pond” once again deserves its name.
Barak Obama’s forecast that the sun would rise on the day after the election verified, yet on November 9th as I looked east from the top of Mt. Richmond Forest over the folding ridges, valleys, wetlands, and hills of the Tualatin Valley toward the rising sun, I realized that while the familiar landscape looked unchanged – it felt very different.
Just as I know and value this place’s ecological diversity, I also appreciate the healthy political diversity of my neighbors. The success of our forest business and the experiments that we explore depends on many dimensions of this landscape. Uncertainty goes with the territory – for both better and worse – but the rising sun of November 9th illuminated a place with many new uncertainties and fewer certainties.
Culture – Like many businesses, our forests depend on the hard, careful work of recent immigrants; will their new fears be realized or will we find ways to help them feel welcomed, valued and appreciated?
Ecology – In this landscape that has been transformed in so many ways to suit the needs of humans, and where we and others work together to rebuild the land’s health and wealth, will federal laws like the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act continue to advance this process?
Climate, Atmospheric – Human driven climate change is already impacting our forests’ health; what impact will the newly elected have on our ability to change course on climate alteration before it is too late?
Climate, Human – Our years in this valley have shown us how kind, respectful, honest, and good hearted so many of our neighbors are; how will this fair in a national environment shaped by a president and his followers who consistently demonstrate hate, intolerance, fear, and intellectual dishonesty?
This election rocks the world that we and our businesses work within. How should we respond? It seems that we should respond in at least two ways:
- As prudent business owners and as citizens we should be ready and willing to stand up and fight for those things that are important to us, and
- We should apply the lessons taught by the forest by taking the long view.
Our forests are increasingly islands surrounded by a sea of young plantations whose owners normally clear cut their trees when that reach the age of forty years that is considered to be “economic maturity”. The November 9th rising sun shines on a land whose ecology and human culture both run long and deep. We’re reminded of this by the eyes of the pictographs that have looked out from the cliffs across the valley for many thousands of years. The photo below and the huge stumps in our forest reminds us that while elections may get us worked up and amplify uncertainties we’re just ignorant newcomers flopping around in a place with a deep, long and remarkable past. The photo, taken on the central Oregon coast, just over the hill from Mt. Richmond, shows the stump of a tree that was cut in the 1920s and sprouted in 580 BC intertwined with and nourished by a tree that sprouted in roughly 2600 BC.
Yes, it is in our business interest to pay attention and resist changes that threaten our interests – but our forests also teach us the wisdom of taking the long view.
(Editor’s Note – The Hyla Woods Team is thrilled to have an ongoing partnership with the 7th grade students and faculty from Catlin Gabel School in Portland. Each year, with the excellent leadership of their teacher, Jesse Lowes, and other adults, the students do important and useful scientific investigations in the forests. The report below is just one of the many summary reports that the students have produced. The class cooperatively made the decision that Hannah’s report would be shared. We thank all involved for their hard and careful work.)
Into the Woods – A Report on a Scientific Investigation:
By Hannah Renee Langer
It was drizzling. The skies looked overcast and positively cranky, clouds bumbling about and bumping against each other grumpily. We all stood underneath the awning outside of the gym, bundled up in rain jackets. Though the benefits of tromping in the soggy forest for hours may not have been immediately discernible, we all knew that the environment – and us, to a certain extent – would greatly profit from our hard work and the extensive evaluation we did on the water quality of a little creek in the Coast Range.
We, one of the four science classes that make up 65 students total, were about to board a school bus to leave for Hyla Woods, an experimental forest plopped down right in the middle of Oregon. Tall trees of all different sorts reached towards the sky, awe-inducing, like decorated church spires. The moment I stepped off the bus and took a deep lungful of the crisp autumn air, I knew this environment was nothing like the one I was living in. Hyla Woods had a certain quality about it that made everything about it seem even more enchanting: the assorted bird calls that echoed throughout the treetops mournfully, the feeling of a soft pad of moss underneath the sole of my rubber boots, and the simple quiet of the place. Almost immediately after arriving, we all stood in a circle, closed our eyes, and simply focused on the noises of the forest. Instead of hearing construction, cars whirring by, and the busy hubbub of the city that we had just tuned out and accepted as everyday white noise, we were exposed to a magical forest almost out of a storybook where birds gossiped, a distant creek burbled, and stray raindrops hit the ground, twirling and falling helplessly from the verdant boughs of nearby trees and rich vegetation.
At this forest, we tracked the question “How can we tell if an ecosystem is healthy?” and did so by investigating the stream that sauntered through the forest, Louisignont Creek. We completed many tests on the water quality of the stream, including an inventory of the organisms that were folded inside of the stray leaf packs that were scattered and rooted in the silt. Though I wasn’t used to getting mud everywhere (everywhere, I tell you!) and shielding myself from the drizzling rain for hours on end, while I was there, in the moment, I felt like I was completing important work – and I was!
This important work was completed over two days in October and November. To ensure that our evidence and findings were meaningful, there were 12 research sites in total that different groups worked at along the bank of the creek. Our topic question, how can we tell if an ecosystem is healthy?, is very important because we live in one! It’s very important to know how to tell whether an ecosystem is healthy or not, and how to improve and measure that health, because this information is necessary in order to take care of the big, wet rocky sphere we inhabit.
While visiting Hyla Woods, we conducted tests on the creek that bubbled through the woods. We tested the temperature of the water, as well as the pH of the water, the amount of dissolved oxygen (DO) in the water, and the turbidity (cloudiness) of the water. A good water temperature for Northwest aquatic life is 5-15 degrees Celsius, and the class of 2020 tested the water to be 11 degrees, which is perfect! The air temperature was also around 11 degrees Celsius that day. If the water temperature was too hot, some organisms would not be able to thrive in the environment, and it’d throw the whole food web out of whack! The optimal pH range is 6.5-8.3, and our class measured the pH to be 6.7 (the average from 12 research sites over two days), which means there’s a healthy pH value in the stream. If the pH value weren’t in this optimal range, however, it may impair the vision of fish or prevent fish eggs from hatching. The DO (dissolved oxygen) range that is most suitable for Northwest aquatic life is at least 8-12 ppm (parts per million), and our class measured the DO to be 9.1 ppm, suggesting that the stream is right in the ‘healthy’ range. If the DO was lower, the water may not be suitable to the organisms, because they may not be able to breathe in water with less dissolved oxygen. Finally, our class measured the turbidity (cloudiness) of the water to be 10 NTUs (Nephelometric Turbidity Units), which is healthy! To find this information, we filled a tube with water from the creek until we couldn’t see the bottom anymore. Many groups kept filling it until it overflowed, and they were still able to see the bottom of the tube, meaning the water was very clear. 10 NTUs means that the water isn’t so cloudy that it disrupts the organisms or their homes.
After testing the water, we planted an artificial leaf pack. Leaf packs are natural clumps of leaves that form in streams and act as perfect homes for assorted aquatic macroinvertebrates, tiny little creatures that dwell in ecosystems like the stream we investigated at Hyla woods. Some examples of these are caddisflies, midges, and aquatic sow bugs. Based on how sensitive the organisms we discovered living in our leaf packs were, we could then determine whether or not the ecosystem was healthy. For example, if many sensitive macroinvertebrates like alderflies and mayflies are living in the stream and thriving, it means the stream is healthy. But, if there are many tolerant species living in the leaf packs like leeches or midges and not many sensitive species, it means the stream is somewhat or very unhealthy. To efficiently measure the amount of sensitive and tolerant species living in our leaf packs, we plugged the species we discovered at all twelve sites into an equation and came out with a number, the Biotic Index, that we could then use to judge the healthiness of the stream. Our class average for the Biotic Index was 3.76. This data comes from the artificial leaf packs we placed, but some leaf packs were either lost or compromised. This means the water quality was good (nearly excellent) because the range for excellent water quality is 3.75 or more.
From what I’ve learned, I’ve come to the conclusion that a healthy ecosystem is an ecosystem that is balanced and thriving. A healthy ecosystem should be filled with many different organisms that work together synergistically to support their environment. In class, we studied food webs, which perfectly sums up invertebrates in an environment and how they all connect and help each other out. We also interviewed different people in our lives outside of school, asking them about what they considered a healthy ecosystem to be. My mom pointed out the fact that an ecosystem should be rooted and connected, sometimes so much so that when one piece falls from the puzzle, the whole construction collapses. Ecosystems should be tightly woven, like a quilt made up of a wide plethora of different kinds of organisms. After completing many tests on the water quality and examining the organisms that live in the Louisignont creek, this year’s Catlin Gabel 7th graders have come to the conclusion that Hyla Woods continues to be a healthy, thriving ecosystem.
Talk of “divides” is all around us. Red/Blue, Urban/Rural, Rich/Poor, White/Brown…..
Of course it’s not new, but it seems to be more acute than at any other time in my brief sixty years. There seems to be agreement that is a problem deserving of our attention, which leads to the good question of “how”?
The Hyla Woods team thinks and cares about this issue and question. One answer that we’ve focused on seems simple and manageable – reach across a divide and find some reason to work together. It’s not rocket science – (or far more complex, ecosystem science) – but many drops of water do turn the mill. Here are examples of what we’ve done and learned by doing this.
We’ve identified products that grow in our forests that urban people need and we have provided them. Many years ago, thanks to a “block party” organized by our friends at Ecotrust, we met and visited with Christine and Robert. They’re both retired from interesting lives as members of religious orders, live in SE Portland and – most importantly – want a load of firewood each fall. They don’t want just any wood; they want wood from what feel is a well cared for forest. In addition to the “cord in the Ford” making the drop off each fall, we connect with them in other ways. They enjoy honoring the salmon that return to the forest each year and are always asking for updates on the ups and downs of life in the forests. With each passing year and interaction, we come to know one another – and the realities we live in – better.
We know that our main logging contractor (logger!) holds strong political opinions that are very different from our own. The day after the election I (peter) sent Brandon an invitation asking whether he would like to get together for a conversation over a greasy breakfast. Our getting together started with him smiling and declaring “I like food” and ended with us each understanding one another better and agreeing that the things we share in common and agree on are more important and powerful than the things we part company on. In between we discussed our hopes and fears for our country, our families, our local communities, and our businesses. Because we need him and he needs us, we look forward to continuing to work together. With hash browns and eggs in our bellies, he headed off to trouble shoot a blown hydraulic line on his loader and I set out to try to fix our sawmill.
Forests certainly do not heal all things, but they can help.
Do you remember encountering, at some point in your school, a lesson in tipping points? Phenomena the may change at a slow, regular and predictable point but then cross a threshold, or tipping point, when they can change dramatically and rapidly? I do. Images of the concept stick with me; I think of it as I read news of melting ice in the polar regions or the prospect of the Gulf Stream radically shifting. Those of us owned by forests think about these things in the early morning hours. Over the past two year’s the concept has been brought home, literally, and made real as we watch the impacts of recent drought on portions of our forests. In our areas of mid aged Douglas fir, we are accustomed to watching some trees vibrantly thrive while others sputter along with less vigor. We know that these differences may be caused by many things – soils, available moisture, seed source……. But until recently, experience always taught us that change in the condition of the underdog trees would be gradual and predictable. Now that has changed. A tipping point threshold was crossed and in several parts of the forests we have significant areas where, in the period of one or two years, 20 to 60 year old trees have begun dying – not gradually, but in the course of one or two years. As the theory has been brought home in the shape of brown and falling needles, curling, dry bark and falling trees we now must answer the question of “now what?” While we assume that many factors may work together to create the problem, it seems probably that drought pushed these trees across the tipping point threshold. Is the drought a consequence of human caused climate change? Will we ever know for certain? Regardless, these dead trees in their even aged, monoculture plantations reminded us of something we already knew – that a forest that is diverse in age and species is better suited to a changing world than one that is less diverse. Applying this lesson in tipping points, on all scales seems important. Right Donald?!