Category Archives: Science

In the News: Forest biologist discusses bighorn sheep on podcast

A bighorn sheep stands in a field

The Forest Service’s Mark Penninger, forest biologist for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, discusses natural history and conservation of the bighorn sheep on Episode 6 of the
Oregon Chapter of The Wildlife Society’s Northwest Nature Matters podcast.

Called the “koepa” by the Northern Paiute people, the bighorn sheep is an icon of the mountain West; yet complex disease issues have stalled its complete recovery. Mark discusses the history of bighorn conservation, its life history, management, and how sheep conservationists are trying to solve pressing challenges to sheep recovery.  – from the Northwest Nature Matters episode page

Listen to the full episode here: http://nwnaturematters.libsyn.com/the-bighorn

The Northwest Nature Matters podcast is produced by the Oregon Chapter of The Wildlife Society, in partnership with the Oregon Wildlife Foundation.

Recent episodes have featured subject matter experts from state and federal agencies, academia, journalism, and environmental advocacy sectors for long-format conversations about conservation, natural history, and wildlife protection issues across the Pacific Northwest.

  • Episode 4, released last month, discussed the marbled murrelet – an Endangered Species Act -listed species, like the spotted owl, requires old growth forest for nesting habitat.
Northwest Nature Matters logo
The Northwest Nature Matters podcast was launched in 2018 to share long-format conversations with subject matter experts about wildlife and conservation issues affecting the Pacific Northwest region.

Related story: The Wildlife Society’s Oregon Chapter launches “Northwest Nature Matters” podcast


Source: The Wildlife Society seeks to inspire, empower and enable conservation, environmental and wildlife professionals to sustain wildlife populations and habitats through science-based management and conservation. The Oregon Chapter of The Wildlife Society is comprised of approximately 350 members from state, government, tribal, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations statewide.

Open letter to Blue Mountains communities: First round of objection-resolution meetings a positive step

Leadership Corner - Glenn Casamassa

On Dec. 14, 2018, Pacific Northwest Regional Forester Glenn Casamassa released the following “open letter” to the communities affected by the proposed Blue Mountains revised forest plan (Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests), including those who submitted formal objections or participated in objections resolutions meetings as part of the ongoing plan revision process.

See also:

https://yournorthwestforests.org/2018/11/21/forest-service-looking-to-listen-and-work-towards-resolution-in-blues-meetings/ 

***

chris_french_baker_city

Chris French, Acting Deputy Chief, National Forest System, USDA Forest Service, listens to a participant in Blue Mountains Forest Plan revision objections resolution meeting at High School in Baker City, Ore. USDA Forest Service photo by Travis Mason-Bushman.

Dear Objectors, Interested Persons, and Blue Mountains Community Members,

I recently had the privilege of meeting many of you during the first round of objection-resolution meetings for the Blue Mountains Revised Forest Plans.  I want to sincerely thank everyone who participated.

Over 300 Objectors, Interested Persons, and public observers attended meetings in John Day, Pendleton, Wallowa, Baker City, and La Grande, Oregon.

I am grateful for the time and effort invested by each of you. I hope you will agree that this first round of resolution meetings was a positive step.

The meetings were led by objection reviewing officers based in Washington, D.C., with support and coordination from the Pacific Northwest Regional Office as well as the Malheur, Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests.

The goal for these initial meetings was to bring clarity and mutual understanding to the Blue Mountain Forest Plan objection issues.

The dialogue helped Forest Service leadership and staff to better understand your values, concerns, and views.

Spending time in Eastern Oregon improved much more than our understanding of the issues identified in the objections, though.

Through our initial discussions we also gained a deeper appreciation of local residents’ special relationships with the land.

We had it affirmed that, for many of those who live in and around the Blue Mountains, these national forests are not just places to visit and recreate – the forests are a vital part of your community life, identity, heritage, and livelihoods.

The Forest Service is striving to honor these special relationships in the Blue Mountain Forest Plan’s resolution process.

In doing so, we will better respect the views of many different community members – including our Tribal neighbors, the States of Oregon and Washington, County and other local government representatives, user groups, environmental groups, industry, and business – all of whom seek assurances that the Forest Service will protect their priority resources.

During the initial meetings the Forest Service heard a lot about a wide range of topics, including access; aquatic and riparian conservation; elk security and bighorn sheep; fire and fuels; fish, wildlife, and plants; livestock grazing; local government cooperation and coordination; public participation; social and economic issues; timber and vegetation; and wilderness, backcountry, and other special areas.

Digging into these topics in person gave the Forest Service the opportunity to explore issues that were not as prominent in the written objection letters.  From the dialogue, some issues appear to be close to resolution while others will require further discussion, so there will be more steps to take in this process.

The Forest Service knows that many topics are interrelated, and we will work to pull together the related topics for discussion in future meetings, so all of us can better see the connections and consider the trade-offs of potential resolutions.

The Forest Service also understands that not all Objectors and Interested Persons were able to attend the first round of meetings or have their voices represented by others.

So, as we navigate these next steps, the Forest Service will work ensure we are as inclusive as possible in future objections-resolutions meetings.

Over the coming weeks the reviewing officers will be studying the notes and reflecting on what we heard in the first round of resolution meetings and we will be helping the Washington Office in scheduling the next round of objections-resolutions meetings. We will be in touch again to announce the next steps.

Thank you for your contributions, and I look forward to making more progress together in the near future.

Kind regards,
Glenn Casamassa,
Pacific Northwest Regional Forester 



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: Oregon’s Freres Lumber grows mass timber market

Mass timber is a term for a new class of ultra-strong construction materials produced by cross-grained layers of wood. Freres Lumber Company in Oregon is producing a type of mass timber engineered panel from sheets of wood veneer that is strong enough to be used for framing multi-story construction. Image: Screen capture from video posted by the North American Forests Partnership at www.forestproud.org: https://forestproud.org/2018/04/06/mass-timber-kyle-freres-freres-lumber-co/

The website North American Forest Partnership (NAFP)’s website shares stories from its members, a diverse coalition of forest industry professionals, organizations, and government agencies (including the USDA Forest Service) that focus on relevant, responsible, and innovative efforts for forest management, conservation and sustainable harvesting.

This month, the site features a video on the Freres Lumber Company, which is expanding the marketplace for a new wood product called mass timber, which they are doing with some help from a $250,000 “Wood Innovation” grant, awarded in 2017.

The USDA Forest Service’s Wood Innovation grants are awarded annually invest in research and economic development that expands the wood products and wood energy markets.

From the website:

For more than 90 years, the Freres family has been a steward of Oregon’s forests. With responsibility for more than 17,000 acres in the Pacific Northwest, the family-owned Freres Lumber Company has long been a pioneer in sustainable forest management and manufacturing.

Today, Kyle and his family continue that tradition, blending technology and sustainability to create the building materials of the future: Mass Timber. The same sustainable and renewable wood engineered to replace steel and concrete on a scale not previously possible. #forestproud.

View the video on the #forestproud website, or below:



Source information: Shared by the North American Forest Partnership: https://forestproud.org/2018/04/06/mass-timber-kyle-freres-freres-lumber-co/.

Forest Feature: Conifers

Frost on a Ponderosa Pine located on the Deschutes National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

This year, the Willamette National Forest continued the Forest Service’s 50-year tradition of providing the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree for display on the Capitol lawn, along the National Mall, in Washington D.C.

This year’s Capitol Christmas Tree is a noble fir, just one of many species of native Pacific Northwest conifer that are grown or harvested for use as Christmas trees each year.

Conifers are cone-bearing trees that feature needles, rather than leaves.

Dew condenses on the needles of a Douglas fir tree on the Ochoco National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

Dew condenses on the needles of a Douglas fir tree on the Ochoco National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

These trees are often very aromatic: pine, spruce, fir, and other conifers produce chemicals called “terpenes” that many people associate with our forests, fresh air, and time spent enjoying the great outdoors.

Many people think of conifers are “evergreens,” plants that keep their color and foliage all year. But that’s not always true! Some conifers, such as Douglas fir, are evergreens.  But others, like the Larch, are not – they shed their needles every fall.

Ponderosa pines hold a dusting of snow at Mt. Bachelor on the Deschutes National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

Ponderosa pines hold a dusting of snow at Mt. Bachelor on the Deschutes National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

Many Pacific Northwest conifers grow straight and tall, which makes our forests an excellent source of timber for lumber. Conifers are categorized as softwood trees. Timber from conifers is often used products like paper, cardboard, and the kind of board lumber used in many types of construction.

The noble fir’s symmetrical shape, silvery green needles, and stiff branches make it an excellent tree for hanging ornaments from. Douglas Firs and Grand Firs are other Pacific Northwest conifers that are also used as Christmas trees.

A child poses with a noble fir, harvested for use as a Christmas Tree, in this archival photo. USDA Forest Service photo.

A child poses with a noble fir, harvested for use as a Christmas Tree, in this archival photo. USDA Forest Service photo.

Did you know you can harvest your own Christmas tree on National Forest -managed lands? Permits can be purchased from your local forest or a local vendor – contact a district ranger’s office for the forest you want to visit for more information, or visit the forest’s website. Find a forest at www.fs.fed.us.

Fourth graders can receive a free holiday tree permit when they present their complimentary “Every Kid in a Park” program access pass at a Forest Service district office.

Women select a Christmas tree to harvest on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

Women select a Christmas tree to harvest on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

Conifers also bring us many other benefits. Like other trees, they absorb odors, carbon dioxide, and other pollutants. Their shade cools the mountain streams where salmon swim and spawn. On hillsides and river banks, their roots slow water runoff and hold soil in place, slowing erosion.

Living conifers feed birds with their seeds, and provide habitat and shelter for many wildlife species. Downed trees also provide food and habitat for wildlife and plants as the trees decay.

Pine trees dot the Chewaucan River valley on Fremont-Winema National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

Pine trees dot the Chewaucan River valley on Fremont-Winema National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

While conifers are a traditional source of lumber and firewood, researchers are developing new ways to use their wood for construction materials, fuel, and heating homes.

Cross-laminated beams and timber panels can build not just houses, but office towers. Wood pellets burn more efficiently and produce less smoke than logs. Processes like torrefaction and biochar can help wood burn even more efficiently, harnessing it’s energey as fuel to produce heat or even electricity!

If you look, you can probably find something in the room you are reading this in that’s made from a conifer. And if you go outside… you may not need to go far to find a conifer there, too!

More information:

An expanse of conifers rolls across distant mountain ridges, viewed from Bald Knob Lookout on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

An expanse of conifers rolls across distant mountain ridges, viewed from Bald Knob Lookout on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.



Source information: Forest Features highlight a new Pacific Northwest species (or sometimes family, order, kingdom, or genus) each month, as part of the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s regional youth engagement strategy.

If you’d like more information about this topic, or other ways the Forest Service can help incorporate Pacific Northwest environmental education and forest science in your classroom, email us at YourNorthwestForests@fs.fed.us.

The Wildlife Society’s Oregon chapter launches ‘Northwest Nature Matters’ podcast

Northwest Nature Matters logo

Northwest Nature Matters is a new podcast produced by the Oregon Chapter of The Wildlife Society (in partnership with Oregon Wildlife Foundation).

The people of the Pacific Northwest value beautiful natural scenery, clean air and water, and abundant fish and wildlife resources, John Goodell, podcast host and producer, said.

“Conservation is important to us, yet sourcing accurate scientific information can be difficult in this age of polarized content. The goal of the podcast is to serve as an antidote,” he said.

The podcast brings experts together for conversations around scientific information about natural history, conservation, and other natural resource issues here in the Pacific Northwest.

Three episodes at a time will be available online.

  • In episode 1, Dr. Tom Cade, a conservation biologist and founder of the Peregrine Fund, and Kent Carnie, a retired military intelligence officer and a leader in the North American falconry community, discuss the return of the Peregrine Falcon, which was de-listed from the Endangered Species Act in 1999
  • In episode 2, Jay Bowerman, a leading Oregon herpetologist and expert on the Oregon Spotted Frog expert, discusses the natural history and conservation of this currently threatened species, whose historical range extends from central Oregon to southern parts of western Washington.
  • In episode 3, Davia Palmeri, conservation policy coordinator with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, discusses the history of conservation, new challenges, and potential future of legislation regarding wildlife conservation policy in the U.S.

For more information, visit: https://www.myowf.org/nwnaturematters

To download episodes or subscribe:

In the News: Adriana Morales, Siuslaw NF district fisheries biologist

Adriana Morales, Hebo District fisheries biologist, Siuslaw National Forest, wears waders and poses with a depth measurement tool while collecting stream data

How does a girl from Bogota, Columbia, who grew up in a city set high in the Andes, fall in love with the ocean and end up working for the Forest Service in Hebo, Ore.?

The Skanner News recently profiled Adriana Morales, a district fisheries biologist for the Siuslaw National Forest, as part of a running series highlighting diversity in the Forest Service, and opportunities in the natural resources career fields.

Morales is passionate about working with partners to restore the Pacific Northwest’s salmon and steelhead habitat, which relies on the clean, cold streams supplied by forest shade and melting mountain snow.

She’s also dedicated to sharing her love of the natural world with others; she frequently conducts bilingual outreach events and opportunities that open outdoor experiences to youth from under-served communities.

From the story:

“We are sharing this planet … and we need to recognize and ensure that conservation, preservation and rational use of natural resources needs have a balance with the interest of the society, and with other animal and plant species, because this is our legacy for future generations,” Morales said.

Read more, at:
https://www.theskanner.com/news/northwest/27715-adriana-morales-makes-a-difference-as-a-usda-forest-service-fisheries-biologist

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An icon, gone: Saying goodbye to the South Selkirk caribou herd

A mountain woodland caribou bull, in a snowy forest

An iconic Pacific Northwest species’ declining numbers has resulted in its quiet withdrawal from its last remaining historical habitat in the United States.

According to researchers, the Selkirk herd of woodland caribou, which lingered as one of the most threatened species in the U.S. for decades, has all but disbanded. After a harsh winter that disrupted a last-ditch recovery effort, just three female caribou remain.

The last-remaining herd of woodland caribou in the U.S. ranged from north-eastern portions of Colville National Forest in Washington State and lower British Columbia. The herd struggled for years, challenged by everything from habitat loss and freeway development to predators and even snowmobiles in its south.

A taxidermy caribou head and antlers

The antlers from one of the last South Selkirk mountain caribou were recovered after the animal was injured by a vehicle strike on Canada’s Highway 3, and subsequently killed by an unknown predator (bear or wolf). They are displayed in the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Dept. of Natural Resources office, The herd was stabilized at around 50 individuals for more than a decade, but declined sharply from 47 in 2008 to just 11 by 2017. As of spring 2018, only three caribou from the herd remain, all female.

In recent years, state, and federal agencies and their Canadian counterparts began working with the Kalispell Tribe of Indians and Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, and private organizations launched an ambitious plan they hoped would help the herd restore its rapidly diminishing numbers; building an enclosure to house pregnant female caribou each winter to protect them and their offspring from human harassment and predators, during the winter months.

Volunteers spent months collecting and drying hundreds of pounds of lichen, the caribou’s preferred winter food.

As winter approached in late 2017, they were ready.

And then, record-breaking snowfall buried the fence. The caribou left the pen, and rejoined their herd. Before the season, there were just nine caribou were counted in the preceding census. The following spring, surveyors found only three – all females. A bit later, they confirmed that none of the tree were pregnant.

The caribou herd’s ability to replace itself naturally was gone; and with it, the Selkirk herd’s future is in doubt.

“We mourned, we all had a period of grieving. We were distraught,” Ray Entz, Director of Wildlife and Terrestrial Resources for the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, said. But all is not lost, he said. “We see this as an opportunity to redouble our efforts, to get it right.”

The mountain-dwelling woodland caribou is not extinct. But the numbers don’t look good. A few dozen more herds exist, all in Canada. They too are in rapid decline; their total number is estimated at fewer than 1,400, down from 1,900 just ten years earlier.

Why did the caribou’s begin to disappear? Over-hunting in the early 20th century is believed to have caused steep losses. But habitat fragmentation from other human-influenced activities may have further complicated the species’ ability to recover.

As development, logging or fire broke up larger swaths of forest, deer populations may have grown – attracting predators and increasing their numbers, who found the caribou to be easy prey.

Mike Borysewicz, a wildlife biologist, at his office on the Colville National Forest,

Mike Borysewicz, a wildlife biologist for the Colville National Forest, has worked on caribou protection and monitoring for years. The South Selkirk herd, the last remaining woodland mountain caribou in the U.S. which ranged in British Columbia and the forest’s Salmo Priest Wilderness, is now considered “functionally extinct” in the U.S. with just three female caribou remaining in the herd as of mid-2018. The caribou remain endangered in Canada, where about 1400 caribou are thought to remain.

On the Colville National Forest, forest rangers distributed pamphlets, advising snowmobilers to look out for caribou tracks when riding off-road to avoid stressing caribou and prompting them to run, or even to abandon a ridge entirely after repeated encounters.

The forest, especially the Salmo Priest Wilderness, was actually a sanctuary for the herd, Mike Borysewicz, a wildlife biologist for the Colville National Forest, said.

“Most of the habitat on the U.S. side is … at elevations above 4,000 feet, on wilderness or National Park land,” Borysewicz said. “Essentially, what that’s meant is that the timber stands that were suitable for caribou haven’t been disturbed.”

In Canada, British Columbia wildlife managers launched an aggressive lethal removal program to protect the South Selkirk, and other caribou herds, from wolves.

But the South Selkirk herd was especially vulnerable to losses. It’s range is separated from other herds; by roads, by development and logging. It’s own range is also divided, by Highway 3 – one of Canada’s busiest cross-continental highways.

In early 2009, when the herd’s numbers hovered around 45 animals, three caribou died in traffic collisions on the busy east-west route. Several more were killed in a single collision with a semi-truck.

When the herd’s numbers dwindled to less than two dozen, wildlife managers began discussing the possibility of augmenting the herd with caribou from other parts of Canada.

An earlier effort to relocate caribou from healthier herds to augment the South Selkirk population, shortly after the species was listed for U.S. Endangered Species Act protection in the 1980s, was not successful.

“We’ve learned a lot since then,” Borysewicz said.

Those earlier transplants were introduced to the Selkirk mountains via a “cold release” released into the herd’s traditional range. Without members of the herd on hand to lead them to forage, the newcomers wandered away from the protection of the herd – taking their potential contributions in numbers and reproductive potential with them.

Today, wildlife managers would conduct a “warm release” that introduces newcomers to the herd in a more controlled manner, giving them the opportunity to be fully integrated into the group before being released from, he said.

But first, the coalition of organizations working to save the herd had focused their attention the other side of the equation – stabilizing the number of pregnant females and calves.

In 2008, the Nature Conservancy of Canada acquired the Darkwoods Conservation Area, a wilderness reserve deep in the heart of the herd’s winter range.

The organization began working with natural resources managers for the Kalispel Tribe in Washington State and the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho to build a maternal pen for the herd.

IMG_1091“That’s kind of why we (the tribal agencies), are in the middle of this. It’s easier working across the international boundary,” Entz said. “It’s going to take all of us.

He and Bart George, the Kalispel Tribe’s lead wildlife biologist, helped supervise construction of a “maternal pen,” 19 acres of walled-off wilderness on the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s land.

The tactic has been used elsewhere to support declining caribou populations by protecting reproductively-active females and their young. Pregnant caribou and their newborns were especially likely to fall prey to predators, because the cows leave their herd until they’ve calved.

A USDA Forest Service regional cost-share grant helped pay for the pen’s construction.

Hundreds of volunteers worked with the Selkirk Conservation Alliance to collect and dry nearly 300 pounds of “Old Man’s Beard,” a soft, airy lichen resembling Spanish moss that makes up the caribou’s preferred winter diet.

In 2017, the first caribou were netted by helicopter and released into the pen for what was to be the first of a three-year trial.

Then, it snowed.

“We had double the average snowfall in that part of the Colville. You just can’t plan for that,” Borysewicz said.

First, the shelter provided to house guards who would watch over the penned cows, collapsed under the weight of the snow. The guards were forced to abandon their post for the season.

The snow kept falling.

It piled in drifts so tall the caribou, with their snowshoe-like hoofs, eventually would have needed only to step over the 15-foot tall fence to slip back into the forest.

No one knows what happened, after that.

Maybe animal predators, stressed by the deep snowfall, exacted taken an unusually high toll on the herd that year.

Accidents or poaching could have taken some members from the herd.

Or perhaps, the deep snows that typically offered the caribou their best protection from danger were what betrayed them, burying them in an avalanche, somewhere where their bones may never be found.

For the communities and agencies, organizations and individuals who had banded together to save the South Selkirk Herd was as devastating, if not entirely unexpected.

“They were an accessible and readily available food source when times were tough, and caribou sustained plenty of people in valley because they were readily available. Part of the problem we have now is they are so readily hunted, by predators and people,” Entz said.

Now, the herd’s future is uncertain.

It seems likely some caribou will eventually be relocated – either new animals will be brought to the Selkirk mountains and introduced to the remaining three members in hopes of reviving the herd, or the remaining Selkirk caribou will be joined with another struggling herd in hopes of bolstering its numbers.

A mountain woodland caribou bull, in a snowy forest

A mountain woodland caribou bull. US Fish and Wildlife photo.

Biologists have fitted them with radio collars this spring to track their movements, and are hopeful the remaining caribou’s movements could lead them to an answer about what happened to the rest.

While the future for the South Selkirk herd is grim, those involved in the recovery attempt said their efforts were not wasted.

“The lichen will keep for a while, that effort is not a lost cause. Once it’s dried and stored, it has a long shelf life,” Mike Lithgow, Director of  Information and Outreach for Kalispel Tribe’s Dept. of Natural Resources, said.

With recovery, there’s hope that one day, caribou will once again venture south to the Colville National Forest and the Salmo Priest Wilderness as long as the habitat remains in place to receive them.

“This is not the end, it’s the beginning of a new fight,” he said.

Entz said he’s more than more than hopeful there’s still a future for the mountain caribou, whether in the South Selkirk mountains or beyond them.

“We aren’t going quietly into the night. We’re going down fighting,” he said “They took care of the tribe when it needed them. Now it’s our turn to take care of them.”


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.

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

Forest Feature: Fungi

Mushrooms bloom from a downed log

Our Forest Feature for September is this “fun guy” – the fungi! Fungi are incredibly diverse, making up an entire kingdom of organisms. We have fungus among us, everywhere we go.

But our favorite fungi live in the Pacific Northwest’s national forests.

Fungus grows from the side of a mossy log

Fungi and moss help with the decay of a log on Brice Creek Trail in Umpqua National Forest, Oregon, on the Cottage Grove Ranger District May‎ ‎28‎, ‎2017. USDA Forest Service photo.

If you shopping at a grocery store, you might buy mushrooms that were grown on a farm. But you can also buy wild mushrooms, and some of these are collected from National Forests!

Have you heard of the humongous fungus? How big do you think it might be? As big as a basketball? As big as a car? It’s even bigger!

A genet is a genetically distinct organism. Some genets of the Armillaria ostoyae, also called the “shoe-string fungus,” grow very, very large. Several of these fungi genets are living in the northeastern part of the Malheur National Forest in eastern Oregon, and one of them has been named the “humongous fungus” because it’s the largest known single fungus organism in the world.

It’s as large as 1,665 football fields combined — that’s 3.4 square miles in size! It’s believed to be 2400 years old.

This “humongous fungus” is not good for the trees it colonizes. It kills and decays the root systems of certain conifer trees, resulting in Armillaria root disease.

Armillaria ostoyae mushrooms

Armillaria ostoyae mushrooms, sometimes called “honey mushrooms,” October 7, 2010. USDA Forest Service photo by Kristen Chadwick (USDA Forest Service, Region 6, State and Private Forestry, Forest Health Protection, Westside Service Center).

If a tree is infected, you might see a scalloped ring of mushrooms emerge from its base after the first fall rainfall. Or, you might see clusters of smaller, round mushroom caps. At other times, you may see a thin layer of white fungus, like paint, on the tree when mushrooms aren’t present. If you look at the roots of a fallen tree that has hosted the fungus, you might see black “shoe strings,” or rhizomorphs, which the fungus uses to spread from tree to tree below ground.

If you see signs of Armillaria root infection, be careful – some trees around might be dead or dying, and could fall at any time.

A stand of dead standing and fallen trees affected by a root fungus

A grove of Douglas Fir trees affected by the Armillaria ostoyae fungus, which causes root disease. As the infected conifers die, other species – such as western larch and Ponderosa pine – may grow to take their place, while the dead trees provide important wildlife habitat. USDA Forest Service photo by Kristin Chadwick (USDA Forest Service, Region 6, State and Private Forestry, Forest Health Protection, Central Oregon Service Center).

 

Has anyone ever warned you not to eat mushrooms that you find outside? Mushrooms are produced by some fungi to help them reproduce by opening up to spread spores. And one reason fungi sometimes have a bad reputation is some mushrooms are toxic – it takes a lot of training to know which are poisonous and which are safe to eat.

Lots of people enjoy collecting wild edible mushrooms and other fungi as a hobby.

In Pacific Northwest forests, morels, matsutakes, chanterells, are some mushrooms people like to collect to use as food.

Another type of fungi, the truffle, grows in the ground, but is also popular with foragers.

If you want to try collecting mushrooms or truffles, contact a local mycological society to find out what mushrooms grow in your area, and how to get started. Some species are endangered and should not be disturbed. You may also need a permit to collect mushrooms at certain times of year on National Forest land – contact your local Ranger District office for more information.

Chicken of the woods mushrooms grow from a standing tree

Chicken of the woods mushrooms grow from a tree trunk on the Olympic National Forest ‎September‎ ‎16‎, ‎2011. USDA Forest Service photo.

While some can cause problems, fungi actually play a very important role in forest ecosystems. By decaying vegetable materials like wood and leaves, they help make nutrients more accessible to insect larvae, worms and plants. This decay is also neccessary for removing debris from the forest floor, and creating healthy soil that new plants and trees will need to grow. And, like people, many animals enjoy foraging for and eating wild mushrooms and truffles that grow in our forests!

If you’re an educator who would like to explore Pacific Northwest fungi with your students, you can find more information, activities and lesson plans at the below links.

More information:

A thready orange fungus resembling ocean coral grows from a bed of moss and shamrocks on the forest floor

Orange coral fungus grows on the Olympic National Forest, Washington, December‎ ‎4‎, ‎2015. USDA Forest Service photo.



Source information: Forest Features highlight a new Pacific northwest species (or sometimes family, order, kingdom, or genus) each month as part of the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s regional youth engagement strategy. If you’re an educator who would like more information about this topic, or other ways the Forest Service can incorporate Pacific Northwest environmental and forest science in your classroom, email us at R6Update@fs.fed.us.

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.

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