America's Nonfederal Forests

Larry Caldwell larryc at
Sat Jan 31 05:34:10 EST 1998

In article <mcaldon-2901981503490001 at>,
mcaldon at wrote:

> |A regular harvest cycle creates forest edge environments where most 
> |wildlife lives.  

> Huh? What are you trying to say here? That wildlife likes chain-saw music?

Chuckle.  That's a cute phrase.  No, I was saying exactly what I meant, 
thought I may have been guilty of the regionalism that I accuse so many
other people of.  A closed canopy western fir forest is pretty inimical
to wildlife.  Firs are so efficient at competing for light and nutrients
that the forest floor is almost sterile.  Plants are limited to ferns and
moss, while animals are limited to rodents and their predators.

I believe this is precisely the reason that the spotted owl was selected
as an indicator species.  They have set up shop in a very marginal 
environment, and live where most animals would starve to death.

Other regions may have different results.  I have to admit I've never lived
in a region with a broadleaf climax forest, or even a predominance of pines.
Those trees produce much larger and more plentiful seeds than firs, so 
may support a population of larger animals.

Anyway, in my area, you need to make holes in the canopy for wildlife to
flourish.  Birds prefer to nest on forest edges, while brush and ground 
covers produce the food that wildlife needs.  Two hundred years ago, the
indians just set fire to the forest and burned it down to keep the game
plentiful.  Nowdays we need the wood, so we log it instead.  The results
are pretty similar.
> Interesting concept if true.  IMO, tree farms consist of undiversified 
> species designed primarily for fast growth.

That's a matter of management style.  I have a tree farm that is certainly
not undiversified, for a number of reasons.  First, I happen to like 

Second, my property is a patchwork of microclimates and soil types, from
shaded and moist north slope to scorched south face, and from deep loam 
to decomposed basalt.  In general, each area is inhabited by the trees
that grow best there.  Rather than fighting with nature, I take the hint
and try to promote what is already happening.  

Some of my work is experimental.  I have a small stream with serious bank
erosion problems.  I've been trying plantation of California Redwood 
along the stream bank, even though the nearest native redwoods are probably
200 miles away.  If I can get them established, they should provide bank
protection for several hundred years, assuming the beaver don't get 'em.

Also, I  don't pretend to know the future.  While the trees I am planting
are mainly commercial species like ponderosa pine and douglas fir, I
am leaving the better specimens of native trees like broadleaf maple and
Oregon white oak.  The maple promises to be a high value cash crop some
day, while very few trees grow as well as white oak in very hot, dry 
sites.  An oak will hang on a hillside that would barbecue a billygoat.

I think my property is pretty typical of nonindustrial tree farms.  You
don't make a profit fighting with nature.  I have one canyon full of
incense cedar that put itself there.  I'm not going to fight with that,
I'm going to manage that canyon for cedar.  A quarter mile away, there's
another canyon with one lone western red cedar, and room to plant a few
more.  I may see if western red cedar would like to grow there.

Even the industrial forest operations are diversifying their stands.
I took a silviculture course last fall from Dan Newton at Lone Rock
Timber, and there is a guy with a passion for growing trees.  He
advocates collecting seeds from a stand before logging it, and replanting
with the same genetic microstock that came from that particular piece
of soil.  This is not a fringie, this is a guy who runs a major industrial
silviculture operation, and is acknowledged as an expert by the entire

> |Farms can be established in areas suitable for repetitive timber harvest, 
> |allowing permanent layout of skid trails and roads.

> This is hardly a "contribution to the environment."

How not?  Would you rather someone unfamiliar with the property bulldoze 
new roads every 40 years?
> |Of course, all the benefits of air and water purification are the same
> |as for a wild forest.  A tree doesn't care where it is growing.

> I'd say trees care a lot about where they're growing.  Apparently they
> don't care to g row in areas that have been clear cut, judging by the
> lack of success in reestablishing forests  in many clear-cut areas.

I know some areas that never should have been logged in the first place,
which were followed by inadequate reforestation efforts.  However, the
absolute best time to reforest an area is right after a clearcut, before
grasses move in to compete with the seedlings.  If you let grasses get
established, you have a real battle in front of you to get the little
trees to grow.

I'm attacking one of the toughest forestry problems - afforestation.
This means establishing trees where they are not historically present.
Not only do I have to suppress the grass around the tree, but seedling
survival is highly dependent on the weather.  Two summers ago we had
0.25 inch of rain between June 15 and September 1, with 25 days above
100 degrees.  My seedlings died like flies at a Black Flag reunion.
I replanted, and last summer was milder, with good seedling survival.
One more mild summer and they will be well enough established for me
to relax.

If replanting does not work, you have to get right in there and replant
again.  Unless you destroy the topsoil cover, you will eventually be

-- Larry

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