In the hunter education curriculum of Washington State, we teach a section on carrying capacity. It is the concept that all ecological habitats have a maximum support limit for wildlife. This maximum is built off of finite resources- mainly food, shelter, and water available to animals for their survival. This habitat limitation is used to determine hunting limits in a given area- called a game management unit (GMU). Wildlife biologists hired by the state, study these carrying capacities and health of different species. When a wildfire comes through and destroys habitat, the hunting limits are raised in that GMU for the season to avoid what is called “winter kill”- usually the collapse of a species because of sudden loss of habitat, resulting in a mass die off during the harsher winter months. Starvation is the root cause of these animal’s decline.
Any ecological system has a carrying capacity, and all living things within that system thrive or decline with the health of that environment. Another important detail we teach in Washington State hunter education is human encroachment on wildlife, specifically habitat destruction for development, which is acknowledged as the number one cause of the loss of habitat for wildlife. What we do not connect is the human ability to “transcend” carrying capacity, living beyond the means of their environment, through industrialization. Humans have no carrying capacity- they expand exponentially- for the most part- though virus outbreaks and natural disasters can hinder populations for a period of time. Still, human population continued to grow without any need to accommodate their environment. We do not see a reason to hinder our expansion, as humanity generally believes it is divine right or manifest destiny, which allows their ultimate conquest of the natural world.
It is this egoism and complete lack of connection to nature’s limitation, which will be our ultimate downfall as a species. There is a mass extinction in progress, brought on by human overpopulation and consumption, a nightmare in the making. Because of the disconnect from nature and the biological indicators which dictate life on earth, people have become threatened by the collapse of nature, and are scrambling to point the finger at anything but themselves. Case in point- predator species.
In a recent hunting report, I found myself wondering why the editors of this publication chose to feature historical photos celebrating the mass slaughter of cougars in the west. I was taken aback by this ending page of the report, as it seemed very insidious. Never had I seen such blatant hatred of wildlife portrayed in our field report. I wrote to the editor of this publication and voiced my concerns. He responded by saying because of mismanagement of predators in Idaho (his home) the populations of wolves and cougars had exploded, and elk and big horned sheep populations were crashing because of over predation. He warned me that soon, Washington State woulds be feeling similar effects, as we too have stopped allowing dog hunts of predators and left wolves protected from hunting all together.
He went on to say his family and beloved pets were under constant threat of cougar and wolf attacks from the wilderness beyond his backyard. As I read his response, I could not help but wonder how he didn’t see the irony in his choice to move into the wilderness, and then feel threatened by the wildlife there, blaming the animals for his situation. Without sounding too confrontational, I asked him about human encroachment on animal habitat and the likelihood of our destruction of habitat as part of the reason elk and sheep populations might be in peril. I reminded him that ecosystems were limited to their carrying capacities and that animal populations cannot grow beyond those limitations. He said he could not say- and that I should contact my local wildlife biologists to get more information.
Man- yes- men in particular, have been driven by fear of what they cannot control since the dawn of humans. This rather reptilian reaction to “other” was a once important part of discerning a threat- but remains cultivated as a way to project fear as hatred towards anything- specifically predator species, and people who don’t look or think like “us”. The willingness for people to turn into ignorant mobs and hunt down what they cannot understand seems to be an outdated model- one that would only feed destruction, which ultimately consumes all- our consumer culture today.
The insidiousness of these “hunted” cougar pictures goes far deeper than habitat destruction and human encroachment on the wilds. What my subconscious was reacting to in these pictures was a haunting familiarity to other photos I have seen in history books- ones in which it is not feared predator animals hanging, but people. Man’s desire to hate what he fears runs deep. I dare to speculate that the hatred towards wolves and cougar, are in the exact same vein of ignorance as white men’s fear of other races. This fear of the other has haunted humanity long enough, and our own carry capacity for the abuse of human rights has worn thin. My hope is that soon, this ignorant fear will collapse, not unlike the elk and sheep populations in Idaho, forcing us to take a hard, long look in the mirror.
EEC Forest Stewardship is taking a broad step in 2020, we’ve applied for our county’s Current Use Program. What is current use, you may ask? Well, it’s a process by which you give up development rights in a specific area of your privately owned land, and contractually promise to regenerate forest and/or maintain agricultural spaces for current and future food production. This fits beautifully in our mission here at EEC, and we’ve spent about five years working out our plan and trying to get other neighbors to sign on with us. We finally got our new neighbor to the east interested, and she’s agreed to co-apply together. This gave me the motivation to finish my plan, write hers, and pay the high fee to apply (almost $800 for both parcels).
It’s not cheap, but if you do get in, you’ll save more than that on land taxes each year, which will be a huge help in keeping our land affordable and accessible. Though the tax reduction is a good reason to join, we’re actually doing this more for the conservation and long term restoration plans already in place at EEC Forest Stewardship. Our Forest Stewardship plan is part of the PBRS system, so that work gets folded right into our application. The woman assessing out application has encouraged me to choose agriculture as a main focus, as food forests are not all native plantings, as cannot be labeled as forest restoration (at this time). It meant separating our plans and reworking a lot of the details, but our county support has done the grunt work (thank you Megan). Here’s the plan now-
The biggest change in the plan is separation of the two parcels, but my neighbor is still on board with the plan to enter open space, and that’s the most important designation. Her application will also be agricultural, but I won’t be libel for any missed application on her property, and she will be independently graded from mine. It does still allow us to plan together, and I hope to support a forestry stewardship plan that does include both properties in scope. My neighbor’s placement at the headwaters of Weiss Creek, our salmanoid stream, means the spring fed habitat is protected at both ends. The other end, which empties into The Snoqualmie River, is replanted in native habitat and also in open space.
Since EEC Forest Stewardship already has a forestry plan, and acts upon it, we’ll continue implementation along side the PBRS Agricultural listing- which means keeping fields open, or in our case- the production of a nut grove and orchard. It will also allow us enough grazing space for sheep and chickens. At the end of my lifetime, the whole property will go into conservation easement with a nature learning center focusing on restoration agriculture. By that time, the native forest will have overtaken the pastures, and hopefully, the agricultural plantings are established for another two or three generations. After that, the whole property will be replanted as native forest (or more likely, naturally folded back in).
It’s important, as a land steward, to think ahead several generations. When folks acquire property (acknowledgement here of First Nation stewardship and stolen land- land which was not acquired until colonial ownership imposed its self on native people), privileged land owners act on immediate wants, rather than thinking through the long term care and succession of place. Usually it’s about building a home, shelter, which we equate to security and assets. Since that’s our current system of governance, that’s the game played. Sadly, it does not guarantee good stewardship of place.
Development goes hand in hand with population- homes won’t sell if there aren’t people to fill them. Strip malls only go in where people will shop. We are all contributing to this problem as a species, and until we act as one (globalization), our consumer impact on the natural world will continue to degrade quality of life for all living things. Small steps help, and putting land you are lucky enough to steward, into long term conservation, can have a huge impact. Targeting agriculturally impacted land allows for restorative practice, hand in hand with economic production, through agricultural sales to fund restoration.
Again, small steps- and at EEC Forest Stewardship, we not only produce agricultural commodities, but also embrace Washington State’s ecological improvement vision. Our county offers many incentives to improve habitat. From salmon stream to landslide prone slopes, EEC is replanting native forest for long term stability in the environment. PBRS, CREP, Forest Stewardship, and federal agencies like USDA work closely with land owners to meet professional goals with ecological recovery. It does mean signing contracts, and agreeing to “devalue” your property by giving up development rights. Without being able to look beyond our own lifetimes, it becomes clear that working towards restoring land is ultimately the greatest legacy to leave for future generations.
Hatching chicks in December? Isn’t it too early? Well, if you are expecting eggs by summer time, hatching out in winter is a good idea. If you do wait till spring, it will be another year before you see good egg laying. The “Easter” chicks will mature normally, but come into peak laying in winter, when, due to long dark hours, production slows. A winter rest also allows her to conserve energy against the cold. Another logical design nature gave these animals is the common sense not to attempt hatching out chicks into the cold. Commercial production birds- even the “friendly” free range, are kept under artificial lights to maintain production. I’ve never known the artificial disruption of the circadian rhythm to be a good thing. Even Certified Humane embraces artificial lighting systems.
Ok- but I’m using a ton of artificial to hatch out these chicks in winter at EEC. Yes, because I too run a domestic artificial system. However, I find the winter hatch out to be far less of a stress on the birds- because of the human intervention with consistent warmth, food, and fresh water. As the human in need of eggs, choosing to raise birds for food, my method of stewardship can play with nature’s balance to enhance my production- while allowing the flock to experience normal ovulation cycles, along with other important cycles, which give these animals a better quality of life. Hens left on a normal light cycle tend to live and produce longer than hens living under continuous laying conditions.
What about the lack of mother hen in the chick’s lives? Well, the cool thing about birds (and many other species of avian and reptilians), is the incredible built in instincts which these animals possess from birth. Just imagine hatching from an egg at the start of life. Taking a moment to understand the physics which come into play in this initial action, birds are kick ass little rebels with compelling cause. They do need social flock time- so hatching a clutch is important. The birds will work together to find food, scratching in the bedding for dropped grain. They also protect each other by giving alarm to warn each other of potential danger. Because I incubate and hatch in the house, the chicks develop in a safe space, where my voice, vibrations, and the general goings on in the home are present.
I do not imprint the chicks on me, instead, allowing them to bond with each other as birds, and usually keeping this connection together when they move into the adult coop. When you introduce young birds to a mature flock, there is safety in numbers. Already in this young brood, “older” (day or two at most) birds are taking younger ones under their wing, another level of developmental security in the clutch that forms naturally. Another point in the bird’s favor is their breeding- they are all at least half Ayam Cemani- which is far closer in makeup to it’s original jungle foul cousins. It’s driven to forage beyond the coop feeder, and prefers insects to grain. Most chicks will go for bugs, but adult layer breeds are often more inclined to the metal hopper. Below is a scene of fresh bug feeding- no one goes for the grain when fresh “meat” crawls by.
The chicks will stay indoors for another week- then quickly outgrow this initial bin and graduate into a sturdy hardware mesh enclosure in the garage with a dehumidifier that keeps the room well above freezing. It’s still chilly, but the chicks will keep their brooder heat source until fully feathered and large enough to produce enough heat mass. As the weeks progress, these little chicks will become awkward teenagers and graduate to outside. Our weather remains temperate enough for the birds, with good rain and wind shelter, to survive outside. They are then hardened up for a few more weeks, before fledgling out and moving into the adult bird coop. I’ve been working on this rhythm with the chickens for several years now, and the “holiday cycle” chicks tend to be the most acclimated, and efficient animals in the flock.
Spring and summer hatched chicks are ok, but end up being less accustomed to people because they don’t get time in the house- the weather is fine outside to brood and hatch them in the unheated garage. They also start laying in the late fall, and go into early shut down, which can give another boost to longevity, but makes the grain input too costly. This is the curse of capitalism, and not being able to fully close the circle of inputs on the farm. That’s why we are moving towards forest restoration, using livestock for a period of time earlier in the restoration to improve fertility bank for long term old growth forest. Chickens are a primo species to fold in fertility on the land with low input costs. You could just do birds and get enough regeneration in the soil, but since we’re managing in a high growth area, we also fold in sheep to keep up with the grasses and blackberry.
Chickens will outlast sheep in our stewardship restoration project. The work of these birds is tremendous, and getting eggs on top of all the free physical labor- a natural stewardship to the soil- is worth the grain input. Eventually, we could pair the flock down to just a handful to keep the garden edges free of pests, and mowing the lawn around the house. Might even go to geese then- we’ll see. But these ever present peepers are a pleasure to work with and learn from. We’ll enjoy our holiday hatchers of 2020, and look forward to more in 2021.
Our hard working cats take a break in the shade during the hottest days of the 2020 summer.
Part of any forest stewardship plan is “management” of the woods; this can look like very little actual work within the landscape, once it’s rehabilitated. Maturing forest can work towards climax without any help from people- though there are few thriving examples left to point to, because of man’s impact. Many smaller acherages in this area of hill country, western Washington presents properties which have not been stewarded at all, or poorly, since their clear cutting in the 1800s. Lands left to naturally reseed are doing alright, and at EEC, there are some good acres of this on site.
Other acres and edges, were evergreens did not reseed- remained open, likely related to short term livestock operations, or attempts at hay fields, which, on wet hillsides is quite challenging. Other lots are overgrown with blackberry, or dominated by choked red alder stands, where evergreens will take a long time reseeding successfully into the area once more. One of our management plans to help speed up the re-establishment of evergreen stands is by cutting down the red alders and planting native evergreen tree root stalk in the opened up under story.
Valentine and Dorian explore a recently dropped red alder. This tree is about 2o years old, and its growth rate has almost come to a stand still. Neighboring alders were already standing snags, as further south, maturing evergreen trees, which naturally seeded on the land after clear cutting, are now high enough to block out light. The evergreen seedling we’ll be planting in to replace the alder thrive in dappled low light when they are small, as they usually mature under the sprawling ceiling of old growth parents of intact canopy. Ecology is so complex, and that’s an understatement.
Above is a picture of the area we’re working on. This 1/2 acre stand includes maturing evergreens to the south, and a pasture, which remains open and in use, and the stand of alder and cherry to the west, on a slope, which we are thinning back and replanting with more evergreen species, like western white pine, Douglas fir, and a few deciduous species like cascara and big leaf maple. We’re staying away from hemlock, because it’s getting too dry in our fast changing climate to support wet environment species, which are sensitive to prolonged drought. Red cedar is also on this list, and unless you are planting them next to a seep, spring, stream, or wetland, you’ll see them drought stressed, and in 100 years, they will be drought stricken like the hemlock.
With tree cutting comes a lot of wood, and there are many options for what to do with the logs. Ideally, we would leave them on the landscape where they fall, adding that incredible nitrogen rich biomass to the soil for our future forest. However, another part of EEC Forest Stewardship involves connecting stewardship to place; what better way than to use timber from the land in a building project. Our old sheep shed was on its last leg, so we scraped the structure and begun a new barn in its place. Our red alder from the forestry work will become vertical pillars in our new building. The structure fits within the old footprint of the shed, with an open plan interior for maximum diversity of use. It’s going to be completely full of lambs by next spring.
Taking on a self build barn was not my first choice of projects, but I have to give a very special shout out to my partner, who has spent the entire summer and fall of 2020 throwing up a complex building by him self, with little experience. He does have rigging training, and utilized it to level the beams as the bones were lay- so to speak. I did a lot of log stripping, and hauling, but my other half really built the barn, and entirely on his own. These are the supportive ambitions which make EEC Forestry a community vision. I’m not a builder, but someone else is- and can see the value of sharing their work. Gratitude for all the diversity that helps get things done.
As with most self build projects, the going is slow, but the roof will be on tight by the end of November. This barn will have a small loft for a few bales of straw and bagged shavings, but our hay will be stored in another lean-to nearby. It’s important to keep hay in its own shelter, if possible. This divides the risk of fire threatening stock (like storing your firewood away from the house). Temporarily (winter 2020), our winter alfalfa ration stores in another covered space that is also sheltering the chicken coop, and sheep. Talk about putting all our eggs in one basket- but many farms do! Limited covered space in our Pacific Northwest climate can be tricky- especially with flooding and livestock.
The log posts sit on cement blocks, and hold aloft a sloping roof, one pitch- like the previous shed before. The water collection off this structure will be worthy of a cistern, and we’re planning to move a few cistern to accommodate the new flow. I’ve even been thinking of ways to divert the water towards the pond, or at least into a grey water catchment. Designing drainage (or better yet- retention) is a crucial part of any building in our climate. Thousands of gallons will come off this new building, and it has to go somewhere. If we do nothing, it will erode the bank down hill from the structure over time, taking away the stable foundation for the structure. With a gutter, cistern, and some long hose, we can at least set up a winter diversion system till the dry months return. In the summer, we’ll dig to lay pipe and redirect the roof catchment permanently.
This is one of the largest self-builds we’ve attempted at EEC Forest Stewardship, for agricultural use. It was a great ambition, slowly coming to realization. As of November 2020, we have a roof on, with enough materials on hand to finish outside walls and loft. Inside the barn, I’m keeping the floor plan open, so animals can be moved and penned as needed. Lambing will start in a few months, and I want to have small pens for the ewes and their offspring set up, along with a larger general milling space for the girls who are not ready to drop yet. We’ll be overwintering out young ram, “Lotto”, who was purchased this year from Canfield Farm. This new barn will allow space for him too- out of the way of the girls when they are balloons about to pop.
Turning logs into a solid structure was not an overnight process, and there is still a lot to be done before the building is completely finished, but the work has been so rewarding, and cost effective. We’re also ahead of our forest stewardship plan by a few years now, having taken down a considerable number of alder to open up planting for new long term old growth evergreen trees. One thing to note about red alder, through it is a hard wood, it will rot fast if exposed to damp conditions, so make sure your structure is water tight. We’ll be sheltering our logs with a 2 foot overhang, and additional wall liners, including metal skirting on the weather prone southwest side of the structure.
Putting up a barn in 20202 was not originally on the schedule either, but when the materials collect, and a willing builder shows up, you activate. We received a donation of metal roofing from a neighbor, and had a lot of standing lumber from other building projects, which could be cobbled together for this barn. We did still buy additional lumber and hardware, but the overall cost of this build was about a quarter of what it would have been with a professional building team, though finished much sooner. Gratitude to my beloved partner for finishing this monumental task, the shelter now provided for the animals, and the stewardship of our forest.
We’ve got a new dog in town at EEC Forest Stewardship. After loosing three sheep to predation this year (a record), we decided to address the issue in the most humane way possible- LGD. Livestock Guardian Dogs have been working with herders for thousands of years. Not to be confused with herding dogs, guardian dogs watch the flock, but do not move them around. Our herding dog, an Australian Shepherd named Valentine, moves the sheep around the land as needed- mostly blocking the sheep from running away as I move them to the pasture on foot. It’s an extra pair of legs which can move fast and assist me in herding the sheep. She’s a great assistant, and does alert bark at mischief in the field, but could not defend the sheep easily against predation.
We’ve seen many threats on the trail cam this year- two cougars, coyotes, bobcat, and bear. These are all serious animals who would happily chow down on livestock- and since that’s their nature, which we can’t fault, it’s our responsibility as good livestock owners, to protect both the wildlife and domestics from coming together in a fatal way. Many ranchers use poison, guns, or traps to kill off unwanted predators- but here at EEC, we belive in working with nature, rather than against it. Our ancestors came up with a great answer to this biological challenge- they bred BIG dogs with courage.
Meet Gill, a 120 lb Anatolian Shepherd from Turkey. He’s only two- and still growing. These dogs are called Çoban Köpeği in Turkish, which morphed into Kangal in English, and later Anatolian for the region of the world where they originated. It is important to note that Turkey does not recognize the Anatolian breed, and will not call them Kangal once they are exported from the country. Hence- Anatolian Shepherd, and the AKC recognition of Kangal as the same breed in America. Over 6,000 years ago, herders created this magnificent animal to protect their sheep from wolves and bears. Gill was bred in Turkey, but found his way to the USA as a family dog in a large home with children. He was socialized as a puppy in a daycare, and showed fantastic temperament with small children. Unfortunately, for the family that purchased him, Gill was not a good house pet. Not many LGDs (Livestock Guardian Dogs) make it in the home- they are large, barking behemoths, with strong instincts to protect their territory. They are NOT attack dogs- and should never be trained aggressively towards people.
Gill showed aggression towards other dogs, especially around food and toys. He was not getting the work he needed in a family home, and was quickly put up for adoption with a local Anatolian rescue. At the same time, EEC Forest was experiencing a predation crisis, after coyotes attacked and killed our breeding ram in broad daylight. Our forest has not seen this kind of bold attack before. One theory is the fact that in the past year, a neighboring farm has brought in 3 LGDs, which are deterring the predators from that property, and funneling them over to our land. Loosing this ram was the final straw, and rather than standing out in the dark with a gun like a mad woman, I took a better path towards deterrence by looking for a dog. My mentor in sheep has an Anatolian named Topher (Christopher). Since she acquired him about 8 years ago, she has lost 0 sheep. He has a great temperament with people, and tolerated Valentine on many a visit. He is also calm, steady, and imposing- all at the same time.
I cannot stress enough the challenge of taking on an LGD. These breed is large, imposing, and easily domineering if not properly trained. Gill is already 2 years old, has never worked with livestock, and has some bad habits from being inside all the time. It was clear from my talks with the fostering family that he needed a job. All working breeds need a job- and if you do not provide one, they will make one up. This can be a nightmare for the owner, as in this case, even in foster care, Gill was obsessed with guarding the back yard from rabbits. He barked day and night if any of the fuzzy creatures came into the clearing just outside the fenced yard. It was driving the fostering family nuts, and they were thrilled to help him find a farm with real work.
Here at EEC, Gill will have a great job protecting a flock of sheep, exactly what his instincts desire. Though he has never been employed in this work before, his natural talents are awakening fast, and he’s amazing. On the first evening here, he settled in next to the sheep in our new barn, and though it was his first time sleeping outside, you could see the relief in his frame as he flopped down on his dog bed to sit with his flock. They are his sheep now, and I’m doing all I can to bond him to them- rather than me. Though he sees me as boss (I feed him), he will eventually be completely attached to his flock (we hope), and will move around the land with them making sure all is well. That said, we are investing in 6′ woven wire stock fence for the entire property to keep him where he should be. LGDs will often wander, or chase a predator down no matter what. Anatolians are known for sticking with the flock, but will chase down a threat if they can- which includes other dogs not properly introduced (we’ll come back to this).
They are agile and motivated, so you must have a good fence. In the mean time, we’re tethering him for his own safety, and letting him have good walks around the property on a long leash so he can map out his territory and know the boundaries. His introduction to the animals on the farm is also a delicate process. Because he has no formal herding experience, livestock can seem like a great game- chickens flap and run, and he wants to chase- but firm correction and oversight are teaching him that the farm animals are not toys. He’s picking up fast. The sheep are also getting used to him, though they are still separated to ensure the safety of all animals. Soon we will have an introduction, on the long line, to show him the sheep are there to protect, not play with. He seems to be getting the message already, and has taken his duties on patrol quite well.
When I walk him, he takes one of two circular routs around the property. I do not allow him to explore or wander in the wildlife corridor, as that’s where the predator animals are welcome to traverse, and Gill must learn it is NOT part of his territory. I can’t stress enough the important training which will go into his establishment as a good LGD for EEC. Don’t think you can just go buy a dog and put it in with your animals to solve any problems. Please don’t do that- guardian dogs are running on great instincts, but need the human guidance to learn good habits in the field. Gill will take months to fully establish here on our farm, and his success will depend almost entirely on my strict teaching. He has to trust me and know we are working together, and the rest of the community living here will have to buy in.
LGDs bark, and some breeds are very constant with their alarming. Anatolians are less vocal, but still alert and deter with loud vocalizations. Up until the neighbors brought some in, we never dreamed of having them because of the disruption. But now that the barking is established in the neighborhood, and predators are zeroing in on the farm without a large dog, EEC Forest had to adapt, and we selected a breed that is quieter- relatively. Gill does bark, but he’ll quiet down once he sees something is not a threat. So far, the other members of our community have been understanding, and say he’s not too bad. But months down the road, that feeling may be quite different. It’s a balance of good protection without sleep disruption, and Gill has shown remarkable adaptation and restraint.
On his second day at EEC, Gill met our stock dog Valley. The two have had a few great play dates, but these are both working dogs, and too much play can be a distraction. It’s a challenge to work two dogs at once (in two different jobs). On Gill’s third day, we pushed the envelope and let him walk out with the sheep. Valley was moving them, and all was good. The sheep and Anatolian had a moment, sniffing one another, instinctively, Gill moved out ahead of the sheep and they followed. Valley drove from behind, but as we went through a gate, valley suddenly broke out and ran after Gill (through the sheep). They had ran through that gate together earlier that morning, setting a precedent. The sheep ran back to the barn, Gill continued to sniff around, and Valley went back to the house for some down time.
The following day, I took both dogs out in the morning. Without sheep, I worked with Valley to stay behind Gill and I as we walked the property. At each gate, we went through some clear signals to wait, get back, and move through. The character of these two breeds came out in force. Gill will wait, if I have his leash and can gently pull (like reigns on a horse). Valley has to lay down or she’ll keep weaving back and forth behind us. Anatolians are not obedience dogs, they will be mindful of boundaries that are set, and generally, respond to commands like “leave it” or “wait”, but that’s the limit of this breeds training. Gill is uncatchable- hence the long line, and he will go on patrol no matter what, once let out to do so. Valley wants to run, move, and drive, but she is also much more malleable to training.
I’d like to brag about my Australian Shepherd, Valentine, for a moment- though she is not a guard dog, she is a dedicated companion who aims to please. Her ability to read a situation and anticipate has astonished me on several occasions. In this new relationship with Gill, she’s starting to shine. After only a few corrections, she began to understand that we let the Anatolian lead in our walks. At one point, we changed directions and moved towards Valley. She could have engaged Gill in play, but she was in the work with us, and as I said, “get in back” (which I’d never used before as a command), she darted around my left side and got behind us. It was a great moment of complete cooperation and communication.
So much learning in this new partnership- like all relationships, though non-humane companions are always a bit more challenging with a language barrier, not to mention, species. What Gill is teaching me- priceless awareness of self and environment. Another training reflection that comes to mind is a walk yesterday afternoon in which the two pups were playing in the back field (without sheep). A sharp barking from the neighboring yard suddenly drew Gill and Valleys attention. I did not have hands on the leash and watched in distress as Gill began charging towards the fence where this other agitated K9 was dissenting. It could have been a bad scene.
Anatolian Shepherds are serious guard dogs. Please understand that this dog is about protection from other predators- not people, though some idiots do try to make them aggressive towards people, and woe to both the dogs and the people who try. This breed was developed in Turkey to guard flocks, and as the dogs became too old to go out into the surrounding hillsides, they would stay at the village watching over the people, especially young children. All Aantolians had to be good with humans, and were selected for temperament for thousands of years. However, the drive to protect against other animal threats was encouraged, and unless an animal, especially predators like dogs, are properly introduced into an Anatolian’s flock/pack, a strange dog is a wolf in the eyes of the Anatolian breed, sometimes called “wolf killers”.
male Anatolian (Kangal) on right- ears are cropped in Turkey
Gill stood at the edge of the hedge barking in high alert as the neighbor dog continued his complaint. This was an important training moment. I did not want to stop Gill from alarming, or showing good guarding instincts, but I did want to shift away from the neighboring fence to deescalate the aggression. Grabbing the leash (much like the man on left pictured above) I gently gave a tug on the leash and called Valley to come with me. Both dogs shifted, still in erect postures of protection, but moving calmly with me across the field. We went back into patrol mode- with Valley being more interested in maintaining contact with the neighbor- most likely with play drive in mind. Gill went back to sniffing the trail ahead, ambivalent to the neighbor dog now that he could see I was non-reactive.
If I had yelled at Gill to shut-up or stop barking, coming on with high energy agitation, I would have been reinforcing the protection message to Gill, imprinting on him a feeling of aggression from me (pack leader) when another dog barked. This breed, as I have mentioned before, is not an obedience champion. They are pure instinct, reading the sensitivity of their pack at all times, guarding the flock by keeping a close contact energetically as well as physically. We as people, especially “Westerners” are not so in tune with our energy or physical communication. It’s part of the domestic sedentary prescription, which most people in America take. Screen time isn’t helping, so our general ability to relate animal sensitivity continues to wane. It’s an argument to remove animals from most households- *gasp*.
Gill will continue his work at EEC Forest Stewardship, keeping the flocks safe and teaching us all about the importance of staying connected. The coyote will still be moving through with his agenda, and Gill will be there to help remind all visiting predators, that this forest is a predation free zone. Our trail cams will continue to monitor activity around the landscape, and especially in the wildlife corridor, where the habitat still belongs entirely to the wildlife, including out resident cougars, coyotes, bears, and bobcats. My hope with this project is to demonstrate how agriculture and wilderness can thrive together. I don’t have to shoot something wild and not considered a food source. The sheep don’t have to keep being sacrificed on the landscape. What amazing continued experimentation between wild and domestic living!
Crackly Cap Boletes and Chantrelles in the frying pan make a delicious fall treat for us to eat. It’s best to cook these friends- and most mushrooms, for about 10 minutes on med/high heat to “sweat” out excess moisture. Don’t pour off the broth- it’s fantastic, in reduction, as added flavor. Add some oil after the sweat is over (butter is always best); salt to taste. Cook the mushrooms in oil until desirable texture is reached- I treat chantrelles and most boletes like onions, wishing them to be caramelized, but not scorched. Simple cooking brings out the best flavor, but mushrooms can also be incorporated into almost any dish.
There are many amazing mushroom cookbooks, and the online world of recipes adds endless possibility. Often when wild harvesting, you come across a large cash of fungus, so knowing the best way to preserve mushrooms can be helpful. Most either freeze or dehydrate well, but check an experienced source for specific verities. I just learned how to process Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus), which involved blanching before freezing the “meat”. It was a little more processing, but worth it for the two large (gallon) bags now in the freezer for a winter treat. Knowing the freshness of your harvested treasure is also crucial in both eating and preserving.
Chicken of the Woods has a fast and furious bloom, often getting too woody for palatable pleasure within a day. Learning to see and feel the ripe nature of a mushroom is an art form in its self. Laetiporus‘s common name refers not only to the taste of this saphoridic (wood eating) fungi, but also includes texture. In the picture below you can see how a fresh fruit tears apart like tender chicken. If the mushroom is overripe, it will break apart like brittle chalk. The tactile experience of working with mushrooms adds to the fun, as well as reinforcing proper mushroom processing. I think sometimes people have “bad” (taste) experiences with culinary mushrooms, because they were not harvested or prepared properly. Experience is the key to ensuring a yummy taste, so spend time with the fruit, and read up on other first hand accounts.
Mycology is a deep knowledge- constantly changing as we learn more about these amazing lifeforms. Eating them is an adventure, though to be clear- only a few species are easy to identify and prepare correctly, so go with someone who you trust as a knowledgeable mushroomer. With that in mind, there are a couple of great edible picks here in The Pacific Northwest, which many people enjoy, so don’t be shy about asking experienced pickers. If you are a newbie to the field, please don’t assume- for instance, chantrelles are said to not have any dangerous look alike species (in some circles), but I have taken numerous first timers out and asked them to bring me examples of what they think chantrelles are. I’ve had all kinds of mushrooms brought to me as potential chantrelles- from sulfur caps to jack-o-lanterns, basically, anything that looks yellow/orange.
Finding a mushroom takes a trained eye, and new pickers really don’t have myco-vision yet. There are endless subtle differences between species, and some, like spore shape and DNA, cannot be identified with the naked eye. The academic world of mycology is ever expanding, and as we learn more, we discover that human understanding is, as usual, grasping at just the tip of the iceberg of knowledge. But to enjoy a good feast of mycology, you only have to know one or two good eating mushrooms well. So don’t be hindered by fear- find a mushroom picker friend and forage together for some good learning time. Also feel free to take samples for identifying from any species you find. Just be disciplined about keeping edible mushrooms you pick in a completely different container/basket to prevent any mixing.
This year, fall 2020, I harvested another black-tail deer from the land here at EEC Forest Stewardship. It was a wonderful gift from the land, and part of the stewardship practice here at EEC. For many, hunting is a very controversial subject, and I’ve talked about it a few times in this blog, so forgive me if I’m repeating myself to some readers. I am a passionate and ethical hunter, also a hunter education instructor here in Washington. My love of harvesting my own food has compelled me to hunt, and share this invaluable legacy with others to preserve access to the privilege of harvesting wild food.
Many other countries have no access to public land, or enough habitat to allow hunting. Here in America, hunting is conservation- all tags, licenses, gear (including camouflage clothing and ammunition) gives a percentage to conservation of land for public assess. The land bought with this money is public for all, not just hunters, and thousands of acres have been put into public domain through hunting. Wildlife biologists who study these public lands are funded by hunting. It’s how legal limits of each species, where they can and cannot be hunted, and general health monitoring of the ecosystem takes place. Hunters fund more wildlife studies on public land, than any other institution in this country.
Hunters have eyes in the woods, and observe wilderness first hand through scouting and siting during the hunt season. I hunt mostly in a recreational forest that is also an active logging facility. 100,000 acres spread across several miles directly east of EEC. Animals that roam there are linked to our forest, so what’s happening at the neighboring forest will have direct impact on EEC Forest Stewardship. When I’m scouting the clear-cuts, I am aware of how many there are, where they were made, and how the wildlife is reacting to the change in habitat. I see the streams nearby, and check to see they have a good buffer of trees still in place. Observing other indicator species, like salamanders and the croaking of Pacific Green Tree frogs lets me know the wetlands are intact. Bobcat returning to her den in a slash pile shows me the loggers did leave behind shelter for the wildlife. I would not see all this if i was not out hunting in these woods. It’s part of my greater stewardship of place.
When I set intention to eat something from the wild, I want to know that it is clean food. One might think, wild=clean, but this is no longer the case. Hunters back in New England will know what I’m talking about- there an horrific wasting disease is making the resident white tail deer population sick and mangy. The meat is diseased, and not recommended for human consumption. Hoof and mouth is also haunting wild animal populations, and more infection will come as domestic cattle continue to range unimpeaded into public lands where they infect wild deer and elk populations. This cross contamination might one day completely infect all wild populations, leading to mass killings- like the COVID infected mink. Harvesting wild game allows me to check the health of our resident deer population. I can look at the animal, his organs, and the amount of fat on his body to see that he is a healthy deer. So greataful for this good food, and all the nutrition it will give us this winter.
After harvesting the animal, I age the carcass in our walk in cooler for a few weeks before butchering. The amount of food from one animal is more than enough for me and my partner to share through the next year. Between that and our livestock, we don’t have to buy any commercial meat. That keeps our money out of industrial fast food feed lots. It also reinforces my direct connection to my food, from birth to death- even this deer was eating off the land which I tend, and enjoying all the rich biodiversity planted at EEC Forest Stewardship. In return, the deer feeds me, and I again plant more food and restore more habitat for the deer. It’s a restoration cycle which benefits all life.
Not all hunters respect the privilege of hunting, or tend good relationship with the land. But I do, and I greatly appreciate the practice, and recognize that it could be taken away if we as hunters do not show respect and good stewardship to place. The numbers of hunters in the field continues to drop over time, and this will lead to a loss of presence in our wild lands, lands that will instead be developed in the interest of other natural resources, like fossil fuels. In hunter education, new students are taught the concepts of carrying capacity, habitat restoration, and ethics of hunting to improve habitat and wildlife populations. Conservation is hunting, and by harvesting wild animals on the landscape, we weave ourselves into nature.
The grass is growing fast as hooved herbivores process the landscape. What a transformation we’re witnessing- mere grasses, forbs, and shrubs turn into prime lamb deliciousness. The sheep are entirely driven by mowing down lush green pasture, something EEC Forest Stewardship has. Though some of our pastures are transitioning into old growth forest, that shift will take generations, and intermediate care of the still open ground between plantings should be managed to ensure healthy restoration. Blackberry and grass are tenacious tenants of the land, and shading them out with trees is the slow, but effective answer.
The intact forest, pictured above, has a partially closed canopy, allowing dappled light through to the young trees below. On the forest floor, a thick layer of debris and rotting branches and logs weaves an intricate web of life, including nurse logs for young trees, the future giants of the forest. When EEC forests reach this stage, we’ll have only a few sheep tending, and light activity on the land. Katahdin sheep are foragers- allowing them to eat beyond grasses. This diverse browsing instinct mimics deer and elk more closely. Perhaps at this stage in our forest’s regeneration, elk might be wandering through.
The sheep are not only producing meat, but also playing an important role as invasive managers. They happily eat knot weed, blackberry, and canary grass. They poop out fertility for our young trees, and continue building biomass to support a climaxed forest one day. That fertility can be too much, if the numbers of sheep become too great to be supported on the landscape. Carrying capacity is crucial to understanding how stock work the land. There are so many irresponsible livestock owners who think you just turn an animal out onto a field and that’s that. It’s why so much desertification happens in ecosystems that were once rich and abundant. Mankind takes so much for granted. I’ve had sheep on the land for only two years, but before that there were goats (less in number) and throughout all eight years I’ve been here (Summer 2020) chickens and goats have managed the landscape.
Above is the earliest photograph of EEC Forest Stewardship land (boxed in green). Here, by the 1930s, all the old growth had been cut, clearing the land for dairy farms, which quickly began developing throughout the Snoqualmie Valley. Many cuts were not replanted, and so, natural seeding began. This is evident on the northern part of EEC, above Weiss Creek, also drawn in and labeled. Just to the right of our Forest Stewardship property, there is a dark grove, left untouched. This grove is still untouched today, with a few second growth giants hiding within. To the right of the old grove, there is massive disturbance- right in the middle of the creek. I’m not sure what was going on, but all evidence of human activity is covered over in alder trees today.
The 1930s aerial was taken about a decade before my northern neighbor built a dairy farm in what is now a sensitive wetland area. There are very few evergreen mature trees on the property, and most are ironically, near the farm house.
Near the living spaces of our Forest Stewardship acreage, the clearings are maintained to access what light we can for more intensive agricultural pursuits, and the psychological benefit of sky and light. Looking at the aerial photo below, it’s easy to see how eventually, the south grove of evergreens will one day breech our skyline, hemming us back into canopy as well. It will be well past my lifetime. When the light goes out, this land will have transformed back into healthy forest, and should be capable of stewarding its self. A few walking trails, with information about the restoration of the forest, will allow community a place to enjoy trees, streams, and wildlife. Till then, EEC will continue to produce clean food and healthy habitat for people and livestock; working towards the restoration of temperate rain-forest.
The growing demand for change billows up, like the fantastic cumulonimbus clouds gathering in our skies. Recent storms have produced record breaking cloud tops for Western Washington- which means the true power in these thunderstorms is awesome. I’m a gal from Oklahoma, where not only the wind comes sweeping down the plain, but also the storms. Moving to Washington, I found that if a t-storm did occur, it was brief- with only one or two claps of thunder. Over the past two years, storms, especially in late Spring, have become real beasts. Last June, 2019, we had record breaking lightning strikes in the greater Seattle area. Perhaps as climate continues to claim, these more turbulent weather patterns will become the norm.
One morning, in early June, the NOAA weather radio alerted us of powerful thunderstorms erupting in the early morning across our state. It actually alarmed twice, which I’d never experienced before. In less than an hour, I’d rushed to put away all the animals and tie down any loos tarps around the property as thunder rumbled almost continuously all around. The storm warning predicted 60mph winds, with catastrophic lightning strikes. We missed the high winds, but had at least two strikes on the land. It was such a unique situation, yet the forecasters have continued to warn that these formations will continue as the pressure systems grow.
A quick note on weather formation and why these storms are happening. When clouds rise up high into the sky, they become dense and cold. If the ground far below remains warm- heated up by warm Spring weather- this convection stirs up the atmosphere and brings turbulent weather down upon us. That film at the top of the page shows the stirring of the air as warm and cool air collide through an unstable front. The jet stream also plays a role in this upheaval. During the winter, the jet stream sits over Washington state, bringing us all the tropical rain from The Pacific, keeping us soaked. In Spring and Fall, the powerful stream of air moves, traveling up into Canada in the warm months, allowing high pressure systems to bring all the sun, and then falling back down into Washington in the Fall. These transition times are unstable, with cold and warm air moving together in turbulent systems of change.
Change is often bumpy, as settled ways become upended, bringing instability and concern. It is good to be aware of changes, especially in the air currents, and in social shifts as consciousness continues to grow. Having an understanding of the weather, even on a seasonal level, can help us prepare for change. Strengthening our resiliency towards both social and meteorological instability takes a lot of learning, and adaptability. The success depends on flexibility, morphing into new shapes, and releasing the old. This is always a struggle in human evolution- how to evolve without loosing the familiar. But mother nature never rests, and what may have always been predictable, such as weather, is changing fast.
Here at EEC Forest Stewardship, we are constantly reworking our adaptations to work with weather, rather than against it, because in the end, nature’s fury will win. So, what to do? Here’s a short list of examples being implemented at our property now:
-steeper roof pitch on all future buildings to address heavy snow loads in winter
-metal large gauge gutters to handle intense rain events
-replanting of all steep banks on the property to combat erosion and land slides
-selecting livestock that can handle the range of temperatures and climate in our area
-retention of water and its even dispersal across the landscape to prevent flooding and drought
-watching weather patterns to be aware of impending storms and dramatic shifts in temprature
In October, 2020, we had an incredible arctic storm arrive before Halloween. Usually at this time of year, we receive wind events, which knock out power and bring down any loose branches and trees. It’s intense, but this year, it came with extreme cold. How cold? Well, we went from the usual 40s at night to teens in one weekend. In my 10 years of living here, I’ve never experienced such a shift so early in the fall. It’s hit farmers hard, and put stress on the animals, who are still shifting their own biorhythms from summer to winter. Our saving grace was having a prediction of this dramatic change in time to winterize our pipes and set up shelter for the animals against the freeze.
These events will continue, and rather than feeling like we’re always trying to catch up, we’ve initiated full engagement with these climate extremes, and braced for change. It would be unsustainable to constantly fight it, fear it, or deny these climate shifts. Sadly, a lot of people are afraid, feeling helpless, and unable to adapt. Layer COVID-19 into the fray and you’ve got a perfect storm. At EEC Forest Stewardship, we’re battening down the hatches and checking our tie downs on the hay. Embracing the new change that’s arriving, and celebrating another day of thriving abundance here in Western Washington.
Introducing fertility inputs to the soil is usually seen as a good thing- nitrogen, carbon, and potassium are the most common, and many people use compost, manure, or wood chips as inputs with these elements. In our enthusiasm to build fertility at EEC Forest Stewardship, during the early days, we said “yes” to a few offered free inputs which, on reflection, might have been a naive impulse. The long term costs of adding biomass from outside a holistic system can be underestimated- here are some examples we’re struggling with at EEC.
It was late winter, and I wanted to get a start on veggie gardens by the house for the upcoming growing season. It had taken over a month to dig out all the rhododendron on the site. We removed them because they were very toxic to goats, and they did not priduce anything people could eat, so we dug them out. Should have sold them, but it was already enough work to get them out. The we were left with a tattered plastic covered mulch bed with some large holes. A neighbor offered free composted goat manure from her barn. I said yes, knowing how good the manure would be to jump-start the gardens. In general, manures are great inputs for your soil, especially gardens, which are often employed in growing vegetables, which require a lot of inputs to produce consistently year after year.
A dump trailer arrived with the rich brown and black soil, I saw some paddock gravel sprinkled in, but didn’t care so much, as the manure was at a perfect rate of decomposition for the gardens. The trailer backer right onto the garden location and dumped about two tons of ready to garden soil. Instant garden! I was thrilled, and began planning out all the patches and rows for my first ever garden. That was 2014.
A few weeks later another offer from the same barn came for free manure compost. This soil was from a different barn, and seemed more composted, darker in color, showing more carbon base. I asked that it go on the edge of my land outside the fence, for easy access with a truck when we needed some. It worked well as a staging area for biomass (with permission from the neighbor). I would bring my 10 gallon pots to the soil pile, fill up, and return them to the greenhouse for planting. Some of the soil was simpy shoveled into the back of the pickup and driven to a site on the land where a raised bed was going in, or fresh soil was needed to amend fruit trees, etc. That rich manure compost went to many areas of the land, and fostered some great young plants into fruition. But the soil brought something else with it, and we did not find out what until it was too late.
I honestly don’t know if the soil came with it or not, the seeds of this tenacious weed spread quickly thorough any landscape where it is introduces, and can lay dormant for years. I’m talking about common bind weed, or morning glory. It’s a vine with a lot of reach- over 30 feet below ground, with roots that bear tiny hair like rootlets, which can form new plants easily if left in the soil after the larger roots are pulled out. In short, you can’t weed them out like most other plants. They thrive on disturbed soil, and love a good pruning back, which then stimulated the rootlets underground to grow faster. You may think you only have some on the edge of your land, but it reaches under the soil, across the lawn 30 feet, then pops up in your garden, then under the ground another 30 feet to your orchard, throwing up new sprouts along the way. A truly abundant species, in the worst way.
Morning glory has been present at EEC for five years now, and has spread across the entire upper 3rd of our property. It’s not covering everything, not at all, as I pull most of it up, and let the sheep eat the rest, or most of it. However, the plant spreads under ground, and since I initially took soil from the infected pile, and dispersed it around the landscape, it’s come on 5x as strong. Where the sheep can get at it, things are managed, and the spread has stopped. In the kitchen gardens, I have to spend 4x as much on weeding. In other parts of the property, I won’t know it’s there until the white flowers pop out in late summer. Cone flowers form, seed is inevitable, so I have to throw away any flowering plants I pull.
Over the past few years, I’ve stopped moving soil around from the gardens, and quarantined older potted plants. One is photoed at the start of this post- a young river birch which is now hosting the unwanted weed. I’ve since watched many more bind weed populations springing up around our grater area, so the seeds might have already been in the area, and just spread into my soil once it arrived. I cannot confirm this, but the weed is here now, and ready to take over. It’s more work I don’t need, but a necessity to prevent complete takeover, especially in the food gardens. It’s the current worst offender, next to blackberry, which at least offers a sweet treat in late summer. But weeds are just the beginning- what other unwanted companions can be lurking in other biomass inputs?
Where the composted manure pile lay, we began staging all our biomass; including hauled in logs and brush, which were then placed into different areas of the property in need of woody debris (like bare spots caused by erosion from increasing heavy rains). I did check all the brush and logs for invasive such as beetles, fungus, and weeds. But can you ever really be sure of your source when it comes to biomass? Full logs betray most rot and fungus if you look close and know what to look for- I’ll not get into that today, but here’s a great website to learn more.
The two main fungi which are bad news here in The Pacific Northwest are honey fungus (Armillaria mellea), a parasitic fungus causing an intensive white rot, signifying the death of tree. Considered to be one of the most dangerous parasites known to trees. The other is laminated root rot, Coniferiporia weirii (formerly Phellinus weirii), a fungus (may also be called P. sulphurascens in some reports). Infection spreads from tree to tree, eventually leading to root decay. Trees are infected and killed regardless of individual vigor. It attacks mostly firs, and since our forests are dominated by the Douglas fir, and it’s the tree in timber commercial harvesting, it’s considered a huge threat.
How would inputting biomass from outside our land invite these fungi? Well, if you’ve ever said “yes” to free wood chips from a local arborists, you might have invited it with open arms. The risk of wood chips being infected cannot easily be gauged, but think of this- most arborists are cutting down diseased or otherwise compromised trees. If they know the true cause of the rot, they might be able to self quarantine infected wood, by staging it in a contained facility- but there is not anything like that set up in our area (that i know of) for the simple fact that fungus like the laminated root rot can live on in dead wood for decades. If you were to lay that wood down on the ground somewhere, the fungus would travel in the soil to the nearest healthy tree; wood chips would infect in the same way on your land, so watch out!
We’ve covered two major input sources which can have drastic consequences for your land if you invite them in. Keep in mind there is a host of bacteria which can also hitch a ride in biomass, as well as parasites (for animals and plants). Does this mean don’t get inputs? No, but it does mean really think hard about where you source your materials from, and be very weary of free biomass- it’s usually tainted with no legitimate place to go. I’ll share one more example, not a fertility input, but another free biomass I turned down, with better foresight.
Our pond is dug into glacial till- meaning it will never fully fill, and hold that volume of water without being lined in some way. We’ve priced out thick liners, and that’s expensive- as well as easy to puncture and damage. The best option would be clay, and there is a lot of blue dolomite clay in our region. However, it’s still pricey, and takes machines to haul in and place- adding up to similar costs as the plastic liner. Clay is our preferred option, and in late 2018, I got an offer for three truckloads of free dolomite clay. It was being taken off site in Seattle that day, and had no scheduled place to go, so I could have it for free- in return for taking such a large amount of biomass on short notice. It was so tempting, and would have been enough clay for the pond. But there was also a red flag- the clay was coming from Seattle. I asked where in Seattle, and the reply shocked me- Fauntleroy Ferry Landing in West Seattle.
Why? Well, The Puget Sound is amassed with pollutants; toxic industry litters the coast throughout the sound, and West Seattle was no clean oasis in the sea of filth. On top of that, it’s clay dug out of salt water- to line a fresh water pond? No, it would have killed the pond, and the ground around it, and maybe even my well, if the salts were to soak into the ground and into the water table. What a potential nightmare! Of course I said “no”, and the clay went who know where after that, (scary). This is how our good intentions with regards to inputs can cause great harm. Please, if you take away one thing from this writing- know your inputs, what they are, where they come from, and the questions to ask before saying “yes”. Otherwhise, you might end up with some very unwelcome companions.