Category Archives: Forest Health

Colville NF revised forest plan objection resolution meetings April 24-26

A moose roams in a meadow on the Colville National Forest in Washington state, in this Oct. 5, 2013 file photo. USDA Forest Service photo.

COLVILLE, Wash. –  Objection resolution meetings regarding the proposed revisions to the Colville National Forest’s Forest Land Management Plan (“Forest Plan”) are scheduled for April 24-26, 2019 in Colville, Wash.

Meetings will take place April 24 and 25, from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. each day, at Spokane Community College – Colville; and April 26, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. at the Stevens County Ambulance Training Center.

The meetings are open to the public for observation.

Discussions during the meeting will be opened to eligible objectors (those who filed during the objection-filing period, which closed Nov. 6, 2018) and interested persons granted recognition by the reviewing officer after submitting a letter of interest during the advertised notice period (which closed Nov. 26, 3018). If you believe you have status as an objector or eligible person but have not been notified, or if you have other questions about the forest planning or objections process, contact
hollyahutchinson@fs.fed.us.

Background:

The 60-day objection-filing period began on September 8, 2018, after the Forest Service published its legal notice in The Seattle Times, which is the newspaper of record for Regional Forester decisions in the Pacific Northwest Region of the Forest Service in the state of Washington. The objections-filing period closed on November 6, 2018. View submitted objections here.

The Forest Service has published the revised Forest Plan , supported by a Final Environmental Impact Statement. The draft Record of Decision and other supporting documents are available on this website.

The purpose of the revised Forest Plan is to provide an updated framework to guide the management of approximately 1.1 million acres of National Forest System lands in northeastern Washington.

The revised Plan replaces the existing 1988 Plan, addressing changes in local economic, social, and environmental conditions over the past 30 years.

The proposed revision honors the time and energy invested by diverse interests since the plan revision process began in 2004. The Forest Service received 926 letters containing over 2,000 comments regarding the draft EIS in 2016. In response to substantive formal comments, and following further public engagement in 2016-17, the Forest Service modified the preferred alternative (“Alternative P”) to better reflect public input on recommended wilderness, livestock grazing, and recreation.

Before the final decision is made on the revised Forest Plan, the Forest Service follows the requirements of 36 CFR 219.5 for a pre-decisional administrative review, which provides an opportunity for the resolution of objections.

Visit the Objection Reading Room to view eligible objection letters. These letters were received or postmarked by the deadline (November 6, 2018) and met the objection filing requirements. The Reviewing Officer sent a notification letter to each eligible objector to confirm acceptance of their objection for further review.

Eligible objectors have an opportunity to participate in objection-resolution meetings, and will also receive a final written response from the Reviewing Officer after the review is complete.

Written requests for recognition as an interested person (36 CFR 219.57) must meet the requirements and were required to be submitted by 11:59 pm EST on November 26, 2018. (Please see the legal notice in The Seattle Times for more information).

Eligible interested persons who have been granted recognition by the Reviewing Officer will be able to participate in discussions with Objectors and the Reviewing Officer related to issues on the meeting agenda that interested persons have listed in their requests.

The meetings also are also open to observation by the public.

For documents, updates, and additional information about the Colville National Forest Land Management Plan (“Forest Plan”) revision process, visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/colville/landmanagement/planning/?cid=stelprd3824594


Source information: Colville National Forest staff report.

Evolving toward shared stewardship

Leadership Corner - Glenn Casamassa

As an organization that has a value around interdependence, it is important for us to create experiences for peer-learning and building collective understanding around key concepts we want to move out on.

Recently, our Pacific Northwest regional leadership team had the amazing opportunity to learn side-by-side in an interactive forum with our district rangers, research and Washington Office colleagues, state partners, and some tribal representatives to explore what Shared Stewardship means, where it came from, and how it will apply to our work all the way down to the district level.

We have heard interest from other regions and stations so we hope we can soon expand our knowledge in this arena beyond even our own regional borders.

One of the things we explored was how Shared Stewardship may be a new term for many, but it is certainly not a new concept. The evolution toward Shared Stewardship represents the convergence of several factors over the last decades—new authorities and policies that govern our work, new and expanded science that informs it, and our own internal exploration and discovery of Who We Are and how we need to show up in community.

Shared Stewardship Gallery Walk: Values-based. Purpose-driven, Relationship-focused. This image shows highlights in the USDA Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Region's journey to a Shared Stewardship approach to public lands, from 2000 to present.
Shared Stewardship Gallery Walk: Milestones in the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s journey to a Shared Stewardship approach to public lands, from 2000 to present. Click image to open a larger version in a separate window. – Graphic by USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Region.

We explored how our Shared Stewardship approach will build on the strength of our existing partnerships and collaborative groups in the region that have matured over this same time period. And we were clear that we will need to embrace new ways of doing business and different ways of being.

Together we heard from our state partners directly and learned how they are uniquely positioned to convene stakeholders across communities to evaluate the needs and agree on cross-jurisdictional planning areas.  We started to lay out the vision for our Oregon and Washington Shared Stewardship agreements that will be signed with the states this spring and we discussed how to share decision space with governors’ offices and state agencies to set broad priorities together based on the holistic needs and values of our communities, state forest action plans and other tools.  We also worked in small groups to workshop projects ideas at the state scale to not only meet our essential timber volume and fuels acres treated goals, but also integrate them with the our other priorities that our states, tribes and communities are telling us are important, like recreation, access, and infrastructure.  

Forest Service employees and state partners workshop project ideas in small groups during the agency's Pacific Northwest Region's recent Shared Stewardship meeting with regional leadership and partners. USDA Forest Service photo by Chris Bentley.
Forest Service employees and state partners workshop project ideas in small groups during the agency’s Pacific Northwest Region’s recent Shared Stewardship meeting with regional leadership and partners. USDA Forest Service photo by Chris Bentley.

Given the strong history of collaboration in our region and the strength of our existing Good Neighbor Authority agreements, we also spent some time exploring how Shared Stewardship is different and here’s what I would offer on that account:

  • Shared Stewardship with the States will elevate planning and decision-making from the national forest level to the state-level when appropriate. Together Forest Service and the states will use scenario planning tools to assess opportunities, risks and alternatives for managing the risk, and set priorities for investments that will bring the most bang for the buck.
  • It will use new and existing science to do the right work in the right places at the right scale.  Instead of random acts of restoration, we will share decisions and place treatments where they can produce desired outcomes at a meaningful scale.
  • It will take full advantage of our capacity for shared stewardship across shared landscapes using all of our tools and authorities for active management. We will work with the states and other partners, including local communities, to choose the most appropriate tools tailored to local conditions.

As we embrace Shared Stewardship, we are also being intentional in creating a safe, supportive and resilient work environment because it is a determining factor in our ability to invite others into shared stewardship work with us—and as the Chief says, that’s what Shared Stewardship is—an invitation.

Once the agreements are signed this spring, the region is exploring how to develop more forums and workshops alongside our state partners and with our on-the-ground workforce to start sharing the priorities and planning projects across boundaries, at scale that lead to real progress.  So…stay tuned for more!

Glenn Casamassa,
Pacific Northwest Regional Forester

Panelists discuss natural resources research during the USDA Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Region's recent Shared Stewardship meeting with regional leadership and partners. USDA Forest Service photo by Chris Bentley.

Panelists discuss natural resources research during the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s recent Shared Stewardship meeting with regional leadership and partners. USDA Forest Service photo by Chris Bentley.

Source Information: Glenn Casamassa is the Regional Forest for the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region, supervising operations and staff on all national forests and grassland in Oregon and Washington State. For more information about the agency’s Pacific Northwest Region (Region 6), visit: www.fs.usda.gov/r6. (Originally published April 10, 2019, at: https://www.fs.fed.us/blogs/leaders-perspective-shared-stewardship).

Teens: Apply now for Youth Conservation Corps summer 2019!

youth wearing hard hats, holding shovels

Youth ages 15-18 who are interested in serving on Youth Conservation Corps crews working on forests in eastern, central and southern Oregon should check out the USDA Forest Service’s Youth Conservation Corps information page, which includes a link to current summer, 2019 job openings – including several in eastern, central and southern Oregon.

Applications are being accepted by USDA Forest Service partners for youth interested in serving on non-residential crews that will work on the Umatilla National Forest’s Heppner Ranger District (Heppner, OR), Willamette National Forest’s Middle Fork Ranger District (Oakridge, OR), and on the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests (various districts; crews based in Bend, Prineville, Madras, Redmond, Warm Springs, Sistsers, Crescent, and LaPine, OR).

Non-residential crew members live in their local community and provide their own transportation to the ranger district office or other assigned meeting locations for transportation to the work site; lodging and living stipends are not provided.

The U.S. Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) is a summer youth employment program that engages young people, ages 15-18, in meaningful work experiences on national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and fish hatcheries.

Youth are engaged in fun, exciting work projects designed to develop an ethic of environmental stewardship and civic responsibility such as: building and repairing trails, preserving and repairing historic buildings, removing invasive species, helping with wildlife and land research, and leading environmental education.

YCC supports the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, or 21CSC, mission to put thousands of America’s young people to work protecting, restoring, and enhancing America’s great outdoors.

Applicants must be:

  • At least 15 years old at the start of enrollment and must not reach age 19 before completion of the program
  • A U.S. citizen or permanent resident of the U.S., its territories, or possessions
  • Able to obtain a work permit as required under the laws of the applicant’s home state
  • Have a valid U.S. Social Security number or have applied for a valid Social Security number
  • Able to fulfill the essential functions of the assigned work with or without reasonable accommodations
  • Actively committed and willing to complete the assigned work projects

For more information and a link to current YCC job listings, visit: https://www.fs.fed.us/working-with-us/opportunities-for-young-people/youth-conservation-corps-opportunities?fbclid=IwAR2MZYpTQI907tbBxQylU0hvKlUItx-WUPEuIVHF9vRT7cuEn8Bmih8wYtk


Source information: USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region staff report

Smokey Bear to bring fire prevention message to Oregon license plates this summer

Smokey Bear is an iconic symbol of wildfire prevention. Oregon's new Keep Oregon Green special license plate joins 1950's artist Rudy Wendelin’s Smokey Bear with a backdrop of Oregon's lush forests. The plate's $40 surcharge will help fund wildfire prevention education activities around Oregon, which share Smokey and KOG's shared message regarding the shared responsibility to prevent human-caused wildfires.

Keep Oregon Green, in partnership with the USDA Forest Service, the Ad Council, and Oregon Department of Forestry, have partnered to bring Smokey Bear and his important message to Oregon drivers: Only YOU can prevent wildland fires.

The Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles sold 3,000 vouchers for a new, Smokey Bear -emblazoned license plate in December.

The vouchers serve as pre-payment for the special plate surcharge fee for drivers hoping to adopt the new plate; the sale of 3,000 vouchers is required for the state to begin placing orders for plates with a new design.

With 3,000 vouchers sold in just a few days, the plate is will go into production soon, and will become available to vehicle owners registering their passenger vehicles, or replacing their existing license plates, later this year.

Once the plates are released, any Oregon vehicle owner can apply by paying a $40 “special plates” surcharge when registering for new or replacement license plates, in addition to the usual registration and plate fees.

The surcharge will help fund wildfire prevention activities conducted by Keep Oregon Green, an organization that educates the public about the shared responsibility to prevent human-caused wildfire in communities throughout Oregon.

For more information, visit:
https://keeporegongreen.org/smokey-bear-license-plate/


Source information:
The Keep Oregon Green Association was established in 1941 to promote healthy landscapes and safe communities by educating the public of everyone’s shared responsibility to prevent human-caused wildfires.

Smokey Bear was created in 1944, when the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council agreed that a fictional bear would be the symbol for their joint effort to promote forest fire prevention. Smokey’s image is protected by U.S. federal law and is administered by the USDA Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters and the Ad Council.

Regional Forester: Forest Service looking to listen and work towards resolution in Blues’ meetings

Leadership Corner - Glenn Casamassa

By Glenn Casamassa, Pacific Northwest Regional Forester  –

Next week, I will be participating with a team of folks from the Forest Service headquarters in Washington, D.C., in Objections Resolution meetings for the Revised Forest Plans for the Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests. We will also be joined by other representatives from the Regional Office in Portland, Ore., and the involved National Forests.

Throughout this process, we received about 350 objection letters and have invited objectors from across the communities of Eastern Oregon to join us to discuss them.

I have worked closely with the Reviewing Officer, Chris French, for years and I know he and the team are as deeply committed to understanding your concerns as we are in the region.

We are coming to listen and hopefully begin the process of resolving your concerns and refining a shared vision for the future of these forests we all value.

It is important to all of us that we get to just sit down and talk with objectors and interested persons face-to-face.

The team has reviewed the objections and now, with this first round of meetings, we will all have an opportunity to work toward resolution—not in a room back in D.C., but rather there in the communities with you as citizens and stakeholders directly.

We hope to engage in meaningful dialogue and really listen to the issues of concern and to understand the underlying values that are important to each of you, your neighbors and the communities at large.

We’re committed to openness and are looking forward to the dialogue and opportunities for resolution that may surface.

I have had the opportunity to meet with several of your elected officials and our Forest Service partners thus far, and I have been moved by their commitment to the land and all of you.

Your communities are proud and resilient.

We want you to know that the team and I will be engaging directly with those who submitted objections during this process and we are ready to listen.

I hope to meet many of you next week.

Kind regards,

Glenn Casamassa
Regional Forester;
USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Region


Source Information: Glenn Casamassa is the Regional Forest for the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region, supervising operations and staff on all national forests and grassland in Oregon and Washington State. For more information about the Blue Mountains Forest Plan planning process and scheduled objections resolution meetings, visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/r6/landmanagement/planning/?cid=fseprd584707&width=full

 

In the News: First-of-kind torrefaction plant to open in eastern Oregon

A forested hill, with snow-dusted mountain tops in the distance.

Northwest News Network reporter Tom Banse explains “torrefaction” in this story about a first-of-it’s-kind facility for converting wood chips into a material that can be used as a substitute fuel in coal-fired power plants.

The facility will be located inside the Malheur Lumber Company mill in John Day, Ore. Wood chips will be supplied from biomass produced by stewardship work on the Malheur National Forest.

A major challenge to the Forest Service ability to coordinate stewardship work is the lack of commercially viable markets for biomass, which includes small-diameter trees and branches of the type removed during fuels reduction and forest thinning projects. The agency contributed financially to the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, Inc. wood-to-energy grant program, which funds research towards developing new, commercially-viable wood-based biofuels products .

Full story, via Spokane Public Radio: http://www.spokanepublicradio.org/post/your-word-day-torrefaction-first-its-kind-plant-open-eastern-oregon

Fighting fires with fire: Prescribed fires restore healthy balance in forests

A firefighter with a radio monitors walks through brush in an area being treated by prescribed fire

As another hot, dry summer of fighting wildland fires winds down, National Forests and other Pacific Northwest land managers have begun to turn their attention to prescribed fires, or fires intentionally set to perform ecological work on the landscape.

Fire is an essential, natural process, having shaped the landscape for thousands of years, releasing, and recycling nutrients from vegetation, duff, and soil layers, improving the overall health of plants and animals.

In the Pacific Northwest, forests evolved to experience periodic fires that can thin overgrowth on the forest floor and make space for larger, healthier trees. On forests and grasslands, some invasive species may prove vulnerable to fires, while some native species actually require fire to release or germinate seeds.

“Prescribed fire is the right fire, in the right place, for the right reasons,” Rob Allen, fire staff officer for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest said. “It’s a proactive step- a choice to put fire to work for our communities and forests rather than just fight against it year after year.”

A stand of trees previously treated with prescribed fire.

After a prescribed fire on the Ochoco National Forest, Oregon, mature trees enjoy healthier spacing, while charred wood from dead trees provides wildlife habitat and fast-growing grasses and low-growing vegetation removed by quickly return to the area. USDA Forest Service photo.

Land managers have increasingly embraced prescribed fire as a management tool in recent years, as research began to point to an increasing number of larger, hotter “mega-fires” in the region that are believed to be fueled, in part, by a century of fire management decisions encouraging suppression of all fires — including the smaller, lower intensity fires, such as those set naturally by lightning during the cooler, wetter months.

Paul Hessburg, a scientist for the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station estimates prescribed fires (and management of suitable natural fires) need to occur at six times recent rates to restore the “historical fire regime” to forests in Washington and Oregon.

In Central Washington, firefighters from seven agencies across the state will manage prescribed fires across central Washington, including the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, as part of a formal training exchange (TREX). Sponsored by the Fire Learning Network, TREX provides a unique opportunity for fire personnel from across the region to learn about prescribed fire and forest health across agency boundaries. Land managers from multiple agencies plan to burn up to 950 acres during the two-week TREX, and up to 5300 acres across the eastern Cascades this summer.

A low-intensity prescribed fire burns grass and brush while leaving larger trees intact.

A prescribed fire burns “low and slow” across an area on the Colville National Forest, Washington. Large, healthy trees with thicker bark may lose lower branches, but typically survive low-intensity fire, while smaller trees, brush, and diseased trees are typically burned away. Some native Pacific Northwest tress, grasses and wildflowers trees depend on fire to propagate, or have fire-resistant seeds that thrive in spaces where fires have cleared competing non-native species and seeds. USDA Forest Service photo.

On the Malheur National Forest in northeast Oregon, land managers have announced plans to burn parcels ranging from 150 to 4,000 acres, as weather permits, this fall.

On the Siuslaw National Forest, located on the central Oregon Coast, firefighters will burn “slash,” piles of debris and limbs that have accumulated throughout the year from timber sales and large scale restoration projects, to reduce the risk of these debris becoming fuel for wildland fires. All burning will be administered and overseen by trained firefighting personnel.

“This is the ideal time,” Dan Eddy, Siuslaw National Forest deputy fire staff officer, said. “The ground is damp from recent rains making it an effective way to remove non-merchantable wood debris before it can become a hazardous fuel in the dry summer months.”

Firefighters will also conduct prescribed burns in the Drift Creek area, (6 miles east of Waldport), and off Forest Service Road 52 in the Tidewater area (12 miles east of Waldport), on the Siuslaw National Forest.

Safety and smoke are the two concerns most people raise when they hear about plans for prescribed fires in their community.

That’s understandable, Allen said. “Clean air matters to all of us.”

A firefighter uses a drip torch to set fire to brush

A firefighter uses a drip torch to set fire to brush during a prescribed burn on the Klamath Ranger District on the Fremont-Winema National Forest, Oregon April 26, 2013. USDA Forest Service photo

Each prescribed fire represents many weeks of planning and preparation. Prescribed fires are managed using techniques that reduce fire intensity and smoke, such as careful site selection and attention to air and ground moisture,  atmospheric pressure, and wind.

Because firefighters choose the place, time, and conditions under which prescribed fires occur, they typically have much less impact on the surrounding community than wildland fires that aren’t planned.

Over time, land managers believe having more prescribed fires will reduce the amount of smoke experienced by communities, by preventing or limiting the size and intensity of wildland fires that occur on previously burned acreage.

More information:

Learn more about why fire on is needed on Pacific Northwest landscapes – and how prescribed fires can help in –  at https://www.north40productions.com/eom-home/.

Guest blog: Hungry, hungry caterpillars (WA DNR)

close-up of a male Douglas-fir Tussock moth catepillar, undated.

The USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region helps monitor forest health in Washington and Oregon via annual aerial forest health surveys, conducted in partnership with with the Washington State Dept. of Natural Resources and the Oregon Dept. of Forestry. When signs of a widespread disease or insect pest activity are detected, more intensive monitoring programs may be established.

In this guest post from Washington State DNR, the state agency discusses about its efforts to trap, monitor, and collect better data on the patterns surrounding one such insect which periodically impacts the health of trees, especially in eastern Washington – the Douglas-fir Tussock moth.

From Washington State DNR:

“The life of a Douglas-fir tussock moth is not an easy one. The females can’t fly, and food is often scarce, not to mention viruses that make them explode. What’s more difficult than being a tussock moth, is having those moths in your forest.

“Every ten years or so, the tussock moth population skyrockets in some areas of eastern Washington, well beyond what the forest can support. When that happens, these insects can eat so much that they literally kill the fir trees they feed on, sometimes up to 40 percent in a single stand. If a tree is lucky enough to survive the infestation, they’ll then be much more vulnerable to disease, pests and wildfire.

“Often when we talk about species that destroy forests, those species are invasive. They didn’t come from the areas they’re killing. The tussock moth is actually a native species here in Washington, so what causes their once-in-ten-year eating rampage? We know that historically, the event happens approximately every ten years, but with a potentially disastrous ecological hazard, being as precise as possible is very important…”

Read more, on the agency’s “Ear to the Ground” blog:
https://washingtondnr.wordpress.com/2018/01/07/forest-health-the-hungry-hungry-caterpillar/

close up of a Douglas-fir Tussock moth on a conifer branch

An undated field photo of a male Douglas-fir Tussock moth. USDA Forest Service photo by David McComb (via Bugwood.org).

More information:

For more Douglas-fir Tussock Moth photos, check out this USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region Forest Health Flickr album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/151887236@N05/albums/72157685469658140

For photos from annual aerial health forest survey conducted jointly by the USDA Forest Service and Washington State, and surveys conducted with the State of Oregon, visit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/151887236@N05/albums/72157679829533950

Caging cones: Investing in a future for whitebark pine

A cross-section of an immature pine cone reveals the seeds developing inside.

A small vault, filled with neatly-ordered rows of seeds, with the potential to repopulate a forest — that could be a description for a pine cone, but it also describes the Dorena Genetic Research Center on the Umpqua National Forest.

“People have no idea,” Haley Smith, seed program coordinator for the research center, said. “We have a really valuable resource on the Umpqua, our seed bank, that’s been here for 50 years.”

For Smith, the Dorena Genetic Research Center is a place where suiting up to saving a tree species could mean donning a snowsuit rated to resist the freezer’s subzero chill, or strapping into a harness to scale trees in search of the cones that have given rise to a catalog that’s now 250 million seeds strong, and counting.

An employee wears a snowsuit and gloves to retrieve a drawer from a large storage freezer

Haley Smith retrieves seeds stored in a specialized seed-storage freezer at the Dorena Genetic Research Center on the Umpqua National Forest, Oregon, in an undated photo. This freezer stores 250 million seeds, collected from 35 species. The center also stores seeds for dozens of additional species in a separate cooler. USDA Forest Service photo (provided by Haley Smith).

In July, Smith was among a small team of Forest Service employees collecting seed for the bank from a stand of whitebark pines, Pinus albicaulus, perched high on the Umpqua National Forest’s Tipsoo Peak July 26.

Several of the trees had proved resistant in previous testing against White pine blister rust, an invasive fungus that has blighted stands of five-needle pines for more than a century.

The fungus, Cronartium ribicola, originated in China and arrived in the continental U.S. at the turn of the last century, where it quickly established itself on both coasts and began to spread. It reached in southern Oregon by the 1950s, and arrived in Colorado a decade ago.

“It’s still on the move,” Joshua Bronson, a plant pathologist for the Southwest Oregon Forest Insect & Disease Service Center, stationed on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, said.

Bronson helped organize the Tipsoo Peak cone-caging expedition.

“All of the high-altitude species are a concern to scientists, as we monitor the effects of the warming climate,” he said. “But with the disease, this one is especially urgent.”

A view of a climber in a tree, placing hardware cloth cages on developing pine cones.

An unidentified USDA Forest Service employee places cone cages on a whitebark pine tree on the Fremont-Winema National Forest July 18, 2015. The cages are used to protect cones from wildlife until harvesters return to collect their seeds later in the season. USDA Forest Service photo by Haley Smith.

A half-century ago, initial investments into research into white pine blister rust resistance often focused on Western white pine and sugar pine, species important to the region’s timber industry, Robin Darbyshire, a silviculturist for the USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest regional office, said.

In contrast, whitebark pine is found in alpine environments that are often too steep or environmentally-sensitive to log. Yet it brings extraordinary value to the forest in other ways.

The tree is considered a “nursery species” because it creates shade and shelter for other plants at those high elevations, Darbyshire said.

Its seeds are high in fat and protein, a prize for any creature trying to survive in the wild.

“It’s really the iconic tree at higher elevations, like around Timberline Lodge. There’s also a bird, Clark’s nutcracker, that’s dependent on the seeds,” she said.

In fact, the tree is also dependent on the birds. To reduce competition, the pine has evolved a tough cone that keeps most critters away – but also prevents its seeds from sprouting, without an assist from the outside.

“(The nutcrackers) have these long bills that can get in there to get at the seeds,” Darbyshire said. “They’re the only species that can get in there. Maybe a bear could crack them open, but, that’s about it.”

And if the cones aren’t opened, the seeds inside won’t germinate, she said

This symbiotic relationship is just one of the intricate ecological dependencies threatened by white pine blister rust.

A pine tree, with a single branch blighted by White pine blister rust, is visible in the foreground against a panoramic view of mountain peaks and a lake.

Mount Thielsen and Diamond Lake are visible in this view from Tipsoo Peak on the Umpqua National Forest, taken during a cone-caging expedition, July 26, 2018, in preparation for harvesting seed later this year. A single branch of whitebark pine tree in the foreground has been damaged by white pine blister rust, a fungus that has blighted stands of several five-needle pine species since it was introduced to North America about a century ago. Researchers are working to identify and collect seed from trees with disease-resistant characteristics in an effort to help repopulate lost stands and prevent the species’ extinction. USDA Forest Service photo by Joshua Bronson.

The fungus bores into the tree’s twigs and needles, developing spores that erupt from blisters on its bark and spreading to low-growing carrier plants, which carry it between stands and make the disease difficult to contain or eradicate when it enters a new area.

The infections leave scars, or “cankers,” that cut-off the flow of water and nutrients in a branch. Eventually, enough branches die to kill the tree, or the tree is weakened enough that it falls victim to insects, drought, or other stresses that finish the job.

In 1966, Forest Service researchers at the Dorena Genetic Research Center began collecting seeds and genetic material from five-leafed of pines, in an effort to test individual trees for disease-resistance, and clone or breed the most disease-resistant trees.

Today, the lab’s staff continues that work. They also breed Port Orford cedar for resistance to a root disease, and manage the USDA Forest Service’s National Tree Climbing program.

The systematic cultivation, testing, and breeding for disease-resistance is painstaking work.

A hand holds an individually potted, labeled seedling, lifted from a larger batch of seedlings on a tree nursery table

Whitebark pine seedlings, in a July 25, 2018 photo taken at the Dorena Seed Research Center nursery. Seeds are pre-treated to convince they’re going through winter, a process called “stratification,” then germinated under controlled conditions. White bark pine’s stratification process takes 120-140 days. “That has the tag for a tree that I climbed on, it’s a tree on Mt. Bailey,” Haley Smith, Seed Program Coordinator for the center, said. The seeds underwent stratification in November, 2017, and planted in April, 2018. If grown for testing, they will be exposed to clouds of white pine blister rust spores and monitored for disease-resistance to assign the parent tree a “letter grade” to determine whether the tree should be tracked for future harvests, which may occur every seven to ten years. If the seed is from a previously-tested tree, they could also be used to replant when tree stands lost to disease or fire. “Clones” grown from clippings taken from disease resistant trees can also be grafted to mature root stock and used to establish an “orchard” for future seed harvests. USDA Forest Service photo by Haley Smith.

“We have (seeds) that have been collected since the sixties. And for each of those trees, we know exactly which one it is, where it’s located, where the ‘mom’ tree is – or was, it may not even be there anymore,” Smith said. “If it’s one we bred in our nursery, we might even know which ‘dad’ the pollen came from.”

But before any of that can happen, someone has to collect those seeds.

A woman in a hard hat smiles in a

Haley Smith shoots a selfie while caging pine cones for later seed harvest in a stand of White bark pine being monitored for White pine blister rust-resistance on Tipsoo Peak, Umpqua National Forest, Oregon July 26, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Haley Smith.

At Tipsoo Peak, Bronson and Smith were joined by Kayla Herriman, manager of the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region seed extractory on Deschutes National Forest; Russell Oakes, silviculturalist for the Umpqua National Forest; Zachary Dimare, a Forestry Technician on the Umpqua; and Skylar Hamilton, an intern at Dorena.

The team hiked to the peak, a climb of approximately 1,500 feet, each carrying up to 80 pounds of outdoor essentials, climbing gear, and wire cages to protect selected cones from hungry nutcrackers until they return for the harvest.

“Whitebark pine is one of my favorite trees to climb. It’s got wide open branches, and it grows in places that tend to have incredible views,” Smith said.

Dimare said the long hike, heavy pack, and climb into the treetops at Tipsoo Peak was almost worth it, just for that view.

“It’s really dramatic up there. You can imagine you’re at the top of the world,” he said.

It’s hard to put a price tag on those drawers of seeds in storage at Dorena, but one measure is the labor cost that goes into collecting the seeds — seeds which are perishable, and must be constantly replenished.

It takes at least three trips to a stand of trees to harvest their seeds. Bronson’s first hike to scout the site is an annual requirement, to ensure if the stand’s cone and seed production is on track to produce enough seeds for a harvest.

It’s a trip that is repeated many times each year, often without results. For the whitebark pine, an individual stand of trees produce a crop sufficient to be harvested for seed only about once in every seven-to-ten years. If successful, a cone-caging trip follows, and then a third trip to collect the harvest — hopefully, before the snow falls.

Once collected, the supply of stored seed must constantly replenished. Conifer seeds keep five to fifteen years in storage, but it takes ten to fifteen years for seeds, once germinated, to grow into a tree capable of producing seeds of its own; even if they are grafted to mature root stock to accelerate the process.

Hardware cloth bags cover pine cones in a tree on a mountainside.

Hardware cloth bags protect White bark pine cones identified for later seed harvesting on Umpqua National Forest, Oregon July 26, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Haley Smith.

Participants in the Tipsoo Peak expedition caged cones on five whitebark pines; four that had been previously tested for white pine blister rust disease-resistance. The fifth tree’s seeds, when gathered, will be tested — a process that entails germinating trays of seedlings, isolating them, and then inoculating them in a cloud of white pine blister rust spores, and watching to see how quickly they succumb to the disease

“The major limiting factor, besides access to the trees, is how many of the cages we can carry,” Bronson said. “We can’t cage everything… I’m hoping we can get at least 30 cones from each of these, and by the looks of it we may have up to 50 from some of them.”

With similar expeditions taking place on forests across the Pacific Northwest, the region’s seed program  is on track to harvest 700 bushels of cones from various species, or approximately 550 pounds of seeds, this year, Darbyshire said.

A yellow sign nailed to a blazed tree reads:

Durable signage marks a tree being monitored for disease-resistant characteristics on the Fremont-Winema National Forest July 18, 2018. Some forests have “orchards” of trees, grown from seeds or clones of trees that have previously proved to be disease-resistant, to increase the supply of seed stock available for re-planting and future survivability of at-risk species. USDA Forest Service photo by Haley Smith.

While the work is arduous, the need for seeds is critical. Forest seed program managers try to keep a 10-year supply of seed in stock at any time. Many are used to restore areas impacted by severe wildfire, and a bad season can easily reduce those stores to just a 1-2 year supply.

The loss of trees to fungus and the race to establish more disease-resistant stands only adds to that urgency when it comes to replacing White bark pines. While it was one of the first trees studied, it took researchers years just to figure out how to germinate its seeds.

“These trees grow in such a harsh environment. You really have to convince them that conditions are just right for them to grow,” Smith said.

Once a tree’s seeds are collected and it’s seeds germinated and tested for disease-resistance in a lab, scientists must to wait years until the parent tree again produces enough seeds to collect, plant, and raise into trees that are again ready to harvest seeds from.

The entire process can take decades, if it can be completed at all.

Darbyshire said she has helped harvest seeds from trees she planted at the beginning of her career. “I never thought that would happen, it’s an incredible feeling,” she said.

On the other hand, she’s also seen trees planted in hope of future harvests consumed by wildfires.

“If we lose orchard, that’s a really hard loss. We’ve invested so many years in those trees,” she said.

While the research investment represented by any single tree enrolled in the genetics program is enormous, the work required to collect even a single seed is probably more than most people would imagine, Smith said.

“When you think about how long it takes for us to climb those trees… that was days of preparation, that was several people in the field all day, and then we come back, and clean the seed,” she said. Seed is stored in an envelopes, each organized by tree and by year.

“There are 20 little envelopes in each one of the drawers. It’s a ton of work, in each one of those little envelopes. And I’ll produce about eight of those drawers in one year,” she said.

A person in a climbing harness places a metal mesh bag in a White bark pine tree.

Zachary Dimare, a forestry technician on the Umpqua National Forests, places a hardware cloth cage over a whitebark pine cone to protect it for later collection during a seed-caging expedition on the forest’s Tipsoo Peak July 26, 2018. The seed is the primary food source for Clark’s nutcracker, one of the few species that can penetrate its cones’ tough exterior. USDA Forest Service photo by Joshua Bronson.

A climber, sitting on a tree limb, places a metal mesh bag on a pine cone

Russell Oakes, a silviculturist for the Umpqua National Forest, places a hardware cloth cage over a whitebark pine cone to protect it for later collection during a seed-caging expedition on the forest’s Tipsoo Peak July 26, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Haley Smith.

After more than fifty years, these efforts – and many more like them – add up to an  investment that could decide the future of the species.

Whitebark pine is not currently listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, though it remains a candidate for future listing.

Scientists have said without intervention, it could become extinct in its native range within the next 100 years.

Dimare said that knowing he is helping make a difference in the species’ chances for survival is one reason he volunteered to become certified as a climber.

“I’m a forestry tech. I spend most of my time cruising timber and marking trees (for cutting). But these trees need our help to survive,” he said.

Cover photo: Seed collectors perform a “cut-face test” cones to determine if a tree is producing cones with sufficient, healthy seeds to harvest. For white bark pine, the standard is least eight viable seeds on the cut face, which means the cone contains an estimated 40 to 75 healthy seeds. USDA Forest Service photo by Joshua Bronson.

For more photos from the Dorena Genetic Resource Center, visit the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Forest Health Flickr album:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/151887236@N05/albums/72157670761346628


Source information: Catherine “Cat” Caruso is the strategic communication lead for the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s Office of Communications and Community Engagement, and edits the “Your Northwest Forests” blog. You can reach her at ccaruso@fs.fed.us.

Forest Service credits forest treatments for containment of Timber Crater 6 fire

A fire burns alongside a road in an area of previously thinned forest.

The Forest Service often talks about using thinning and prescribed fire for “fuels reduction” and forest restoration – but in recent years, wildfires that crossed paths with these treated areas have provided vivid demonstrations of how these treatments not only improve forest health, but also reduce the intensity and challenge of containing later wildfires, improving public safety and firefighters.

In mid-July, a lightning storm passed through southern Oregon, igniting multiple fires in the drought-stressed forest in and around Crater Lake National Park. Firefighters quickly contained most of these fires, but several grew together and became the Timber Crater 6 Fire. It was projected to grow as large as 20,000 acres. But earlier fuels treatment projects conducted in the area allowed firefighters to pursue an aggressive full-suppression strategy, which kept the fire to just 3,100 acres.

 

firefighters working among well-spaced pine trees

Thinning projects improve tree spacing and remove dead trees, while prescribed fire helps reduce ground duff and underbrush that could cause future fires to burn faster and with more intensity. Because ground plants and grasses have evolved with regular wildland fires in this region, native species often rebound quickly following low-intensity burns, while high-intensity fires may kill trees and damage surrounding soil. USDA Forest Service photo.

Over the years, the Fremont-Winema National Forest and Crater Lake National Park have worked collaboratively on a variety of thinning and prescribed burning projects in the Antelope Desert area of the Chemult Ranger District.

The Timber Crater 6 Fire was burning in an area with heavy fuels with few breaks where firefighters could work safely. Fire behavior can be extreme under these conditions. But, the nearby treated areas gave firefighters safe ground to operate and respond under more favorable conditions. The treated areas were critical in keeping the wildfire shorter in duration, less costly, safer for firefighters, less threatening to private property, and with few smoke and economic impacts to local communities.

Often, firefighters need to do significant preparation before starting a burnout operation, including removing trees, chipping, and digging fire lines. The burned area, now cleared of potential fuels, can then serve a “fire break” against a advancing, larger fire.

Two firefighters use a chainsaw to clear brush below a stand of pine trees.

Firefighters prepare an area for burnout operations on Fremont-Winema National Forest as part of efforts to contain the 2018 Timber Crater 6 fire. USDA Forest Service photo.

Because the treated areas required little prep work, crews were able to move in quickly to conduct a burnout operation, and confining the most dangerous part of the fire and removing fuels in its path.

In less than three weeks, the Timber Crater 6 fire was confined to just 3,126 acres and many firefighters were freed up early to move on to other fires.

Old-growth Ponderosa pine trees were protected from high-intensity wildfire, no community evacuations were required, and this fire did not contribute to the longer duration smoke impacts that occurred across the region this season.

The Timber Crater 6 fire demonstrates the value of fuels treatment projects. Many areas across the Pacific Northwest, especially in the wildland urban interface, need thinning and prescribed burning to improve forest health and reduce wildfire risk.

That’s why the Forest Service is working closely with state partners and local communities to increase the number and size of these fuels reduction projects in conjunction with efforts to strengthen fire-adapted community preparedness.


Source information: USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region staff

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