why so few hardwoods in the PNW?

dwheeler at teleport.com dwheeler at teleport.com
Tue Aug 11 12:00:23 EST 1998

In article <MPG.1039a9114c2ef32d98972e at news.teleport.com>,
  larryc at teleport.com (Larry Caldwell) wrote:
> In article <01bdc2e3$b0a65f20$8f3b8ed1 at laptop>, fotoware at jps.net says...
> > I would definitely have to agree with you on this one, Don. Fires, big and
> > small, were rare in the rainforest type areas but, they did happen. In the
> > redwood forests of California, fires were essential to the survival of
> > redwoods. Their thick bark is testament to that and is part of their
> > survival strategy and dominance. Since we can't go and burn much through
> > the redwoods, logging has to suffice as a means of simulating the natural
> > occurence of fire. Picking and plucking trees that would have naturally
> > died while identifying and saving those genetically superior trees is
> > essential to today's forestry.
> The reason you can have a doug fir forest is that something killed all
> the trees.

Sorry Larry. At least some DF can survive forest fires. This is usually a
function of how close the trees grew. While DF can be dependent upon fire to
regenerate in some areas, other areas (I've seen this in both Clackamas and
Linn counties) are merely thinned by the process.

> I don't know where you got the idea that fires were rare in the PNW
> before Europeans arrived, but it's not true.  Generally the west slope of
> the coast range stays pretty wet and hard to burn, which is why the
> native spruce forest is limited to that area.  Once again, you're talking
> about a different species and a different forest.  The photos of giant
> trees 12 feet across the butt are photos of spruce, not doug fir.  DF
> doesn't live long enough to grow that large.  Find a native spruce forest
> and you define the footprint of woods that were too wet to burn.  The
> small extent of native spruce forest demonstrates that forest fires were
> the rule, not the exception in the PNW.
A number of other hardwoods
> have niche markets, like myrtle, chinkapin, cottonwood and alder.  Red
> alder is developing its own industry, since it is a nitrogen fixing tree
> that yields short rotation timber crops....

Actually, Red alder is no more nitrogen-fixing than Douglas fir. Both trees
have mycorrhizal hosts which provide the niches necessary for nitrogen-fixing
bacteria. This complex symbiosis has been little studied to date. However,
the North American Truffling Society several years ago solicited collections
of fungi to test for the presence of nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Four species
were tested: Hymenogaster parksii, Rhizopogon vinicolor, Rhizopogon parksii
and Tuber gibbosum. These truffles were found to be 100% colonized by
nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

> Much of the PNW was also oak savannah up until the Europeans arrived.
> The local natives used fire to clear land for hunting, and for thousands
> of years set fires in the dry season.  Even today some ranchers continue
> the tradition, and you will see many thousands of acres of grasslands
> dotted with oak groves.  This is white oak (quercus garryana) and has
> recently been found to be an excellent substitute for European white oak
> in wine casks.  There is a small but growing cooperage industry in the
> PNW.
Excellent point Larry. Also important is that Quercus garryana hosts truffles
which may be of economic consequence, just like France and Italy.

> A common hardwood that is rarely mentioned is madrone (arbutus menzeseii)
> which is rarely considered a commercial species.  It can be found
> plentifully near oak savannah.  It survives fire by suckering from the
> roots, which leads to dense stands of spindly stems.  If you happen to
> have mill sized logs of madrone, it is quite valuable, but finding one
> that has survived unburned long enough to form a log is a rarity.  Like
> redwood, it's real hard to kill a madrone, though doug fir will
> eventually overtop it and shade it out.
Madrone is also associated with at least one species of truffle. And the wood
makes dandy firewood. This is one reason it is so hard to find marketable-size
trees: pioneers loved to burn it. Residents of the Powers, Oregon area prefer
using Oregon myrtle for firewood.

Daniel B. Wheeler

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