Woodland Wander

It’s great to visit other local woodlands in the area of EEC Forest Stewardship. Washington State, like many western states, has what’s called a patchwork land development system contrived by the federal government when railroads pushed west. Even in highly developed suburbs of Western Washington, the checkerboard of some parcels still remain forested public land. You can find a great interactive map to learn more about public land in Washington here. The patch wandered today, was once actively logged through the first half of the 1900s, then became an urban park, part of a larger wetland area around a lake. The ecology is indicative of a natural reseeding after two commercial logging endeavors. A lot of wood has fallen in this forest, as no natural thinning activities have occurred- like elk browsing, wildfire, or thousands of years of old growth development, which was disrupted with the first cutting at the start of the 1900s.

Mycology is present, and helping to break down the woody debris laying all around. Mushrooms play a vital role in developing soil in a forest. The fallen logs are full of tough fibers and tannin, which delay molecular breakdown. If the debris sat on its own, even in the wet environment of Western Washington, it would take so long to decompose, most of the nutrients would be lost before turning back into productive loam for the future old growth forest trying to return. In 4th generation timber stands, there is a noticeable lack of topsoil and nutrients in the ground. The industry now pollutes the ground with treated sewage, to replace badly needed nitrogen, to make more trees grow. This mono-culture catastrophe will never recover in that kind of short sighted industrial management. Fungal factories are still hard at work in commercial forests, and can be severely detrimental to profits in these fake forest when mycological outbreaks happen across the anemic stands.

Within this park forest where my wander too place, tale tell signs of fungal infection appear. Laminated root rot is rampant in The Pacific Northwest, partly due to mono-culture, and I believe, partly due to a loss of ecological players, like millions of elk, which browsed across a rainforest mega-complex now reduced to a herd of a few thousand in tens of isolated groups. Megafauna cannot survive in fragmented habitat, current “mature” forests are not even a shadow of what once grew and thrived across The Pacific Northwest. Mycology is trying to correct the strange human induced kerfuffle that still is ecological genocide. There are trees in this suburban park forest failing because of fungal parasites, but not all the trees are infected. Because of profit loss in commercial groves costing mere millions of trees- considering the loss of forest due to logging in The Evergreen State (at least 60 billion board feet in 100 years). 500 board feet is about one “mature” (NOT old growth) tree. Calculating the value of a single old growth tree today is complicated, in the 1970s, at the height of clear-cutting the last large stands of old growth in Western Washington, industry didn’t really care.

Fungal invasions of today are helping to open up long term old growth areas in the same way beaver, weather events, and geological upheaval do. Clear-cutting is also part of that cycle, if kept to a scale comparable to the other natural cycles it could mimic. Timber industries love to talk about how their forests are renewable. Green washing consumerism teams up with timber industry forest replanting as “plant a tree” carbon offset glitter, and, as the washing implies, it’s not all gold (profit). The cost in biomass lost from the landscape through a century of tree removal is immeasurable. Board feet does not include erosion of silt into streams- unless you want to look at salmon population crashes, but then you have all the hydro power to contend with. What a web! Like the mycelia that brought down the tree below, there are a trail of clues to help us unravel cause and effect. It will be interesting to watch this forest evolve. There could be a logging date in future for this plot, most state land is in a timber harvesting forest plan.

It’s a comfort to know that, no matter what the state of a forest, fungal friends will be at work shaping and remaking habitable space. The lessons they offer in ecological partnership are humbling. Humanity has the adaptability to fold back into the landscape in much the same way. Working within the limitations of environmental factors dictated well beyond our control, evolving in close relationship to place and the layers of intricate cooperation necessary for success. Learning from environment while being in it- bare feet on the ground, cuticles peeling back after immersion in acidic soil. Muddy knees and scraped ankles wading around in blackberry, struggling to get past the edge space, transition from field to forest. The flashes of mycology host knowledge banks about the environment, chemical signatures, decomposition age, geological record, transformation in progress, blueprints of potential. Most of us are just passing by and don’t stop to smell the roses.

At this patch of state land, the clearing is blacktop with neat upper class homes- 1990s build, with park land surround. There’s no blackberry, but cement ecoblocks hold demarcation at one entrance into forested public realm. No camping or large gatherings, it’s a jogging, biking, ride your horse, walk a dog or two on leash setting. At this moment of exchange, after a dry, hot October, the mushroom fruiting was modest, but very much in action through a period known as the mushroom spring. I enjoy coming to this forest location because the ground cover is thick with a range of fallen debris and lots of wetlands to keep the ground saturated, even through drought periods. That’s another reason this forest was not developed. It’s part of a larger wetland area that acts as a drainage catchment for the surrounding neighborhoods where the forest was cut and a lot of infrastructure went in, removing the crucial sponge on the landscape which best worked in a rainy, cool climate. Consequently a lot of rain runs off the buildings and pavement, with no sponge left to soak it up, so overflow is diverted into designated wetland areas.

There are a great set of paths through this wetland area, and most of the trail remains above flood areas. That’s a sign of smart trail design with thought and care, unlike much of our development to date, which sprawls at best. The trail has a main rout through the public land into a greater lake park, with multiple entrances. Winding makes the journey longer, but there’s still a good buffer of forest without much human disturbance- for a suburb. Deer brows through, as they traverse the rest of the neighborhood, but they have to keep moving through, as the patch of forest is a larder stop with finite resources, and somewhat limited verity, but restoration planting has occurred, slowly diversifying the ecology for a more adaptive and productive forest. The diversity of fungus within most forests, boggles the mind, and yet, without old growth, there’s a marked difference in scale. Fruiting fungus- like the capped mushrooms we’re most familiar with, are much larger in old growth settings that I’ve observed. Chantrelles on the other hand, don’t pop up in old growth often, as they prefer younger, disturbed areas, like commercial fir stands, especially the 15-30 year old plantings. So again, every species has its preferred environment. Since this suburban public land forest is mostly fir, 20-30 years old, we’re in a chantrelle habitat, and I’ve found them here in past years, but this season, with the drought still on, it was the surface verities, mostly wood eating verities (not chantrelles), which were blooming in the light rains that had finally come.

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