Weather Wood Would

An ice and wind event during January brought down a few edge line red alders in the conservation wildlife corridor along Weiss Creek, our Coho Salmon Oncorhynchus kisutch stream. Red alder along these smaller waterways offer shade protection for wildlife by regulating water temperature, especially in summer droughts when aquatic species need cool, damp habitat the most. These areas are native plant restoration spaces, where nature takes its time shaping the landscape, often, with weather events like flooding.

We think of weather as sun, partly cloudy, or showers in Western Washington. Events within weather patterns would be unusual precipitation, like heavy snow in the foothills where EEC resides. Flooding in the valley is an event, but seasonally expected. Drought becomes common each summer, compounded with rising temperatures. These events are becoming more common, and will change the ecological balance and sustainable ecosystems of earth’s connected patchwork.

Trees are a big part of temperate rain forests- which once dominated The Pacific Northwest region. A century of resource extraction without any restoration, lead to catastrophic fertility loss and ecological disruption of crucial terrestrial systems like freshwater habitat- safe drinking water for all living things. These survival musts are all interconnected with the air, soil, and water. Where we draw out production, we must also put back. Instead of letting the ground grow its forest back to ancient old growth, we’ve settle in and kept cutting, up into the steep terrains, above our sources of surface water and aquifer recharge, forests are leveled every 30-40 years. It may seem like a sustainable practice, but not in the long vision of adaptable habitat for humans, sustaining the wilderness as we endear it in Superbowl commercials. In the spirit of consumer needs, including the wood I’m heating my house with right now, EEC Forest Stewardship cultivates forest restoration with integrated productivity, including capitalist earning. We do harvest trees, cutting on a scale much smaller than commercial harvesters, but trees have come down, cleared pastures remain pastures, but some trees are being replanted.

Another fallen alder, broken off mid-trunk, leaving a rooted alder and a fallen log, decomposing into nutrients for the smaller trees and shrubs growing in the foreground of the above photo. This landscape was pasture for two generations, and is now part of our CREP planing to buffer Weiss Creek with old-growth temperate rainforest. Many of these young trees are evergreen- from Douglas fir to white pine. There are also some deciduous understory verities, like cascara and twin berry. The edge spaces create the most noticeable change. A flat, open space lifts vertically with sudden force as a wall of canopy ascends, arching over flowing waters vibrant with color and sound. In the case of recent downed treetops, wind howled inland from coastal fronts, massive air shifts moving moisture from Pacific tides up hills and into mountain crests where falling back down as precipitation, snow and ice crack what’s left of compromised branch and neck.

These violent transitions relapse into passive structures of dynamic adaptation. More light breaks through the canopy, while ground crushed beneath timber weight buries nurse log bank- an investment in mycological highways. The infrastructure of forest floor is woven through centuries of debris felting in nutrient dense soil for growing giants of carbon investment- priceless ecological systems we humans still compute in timber feet. The board value of a living tree diminishes its own wealth and productivity into a mere structural product or combustion fuel. These uses are not completely removed from tree possibilities, but a collective system of old growth forest far abounds the value of wood. Still, we need wood at EEC for building, so we harvested some structurally compromised red cedar into milled rough cut timbers for a framing project. These recent fallen red alder tops will offer a few logs for mycological inoculation. We’ll only take part of the wood from these weather harvested pieces of carbon gold, leaving the rest as felting material for an ever complex living forest system in restoration.

Wildlife trails cutting through the young replanted forest shows the quickest rout through eventual undergrowth. Foot paths in a few places to tend plantings are maintained. The far right photo in this triptych snows a subtle trail to the right of the staked saplings. I noticed one young evergreen planting that was much smaller than the firs and pines. Taking a closer look, I noticed the shape of this little tree was very Cypress looking, way more spiny than a typical red cedar. Who is this mysterious seedling?

Sequoioideae is your hint.

Would this be the future wood of our forests? If oak savanna is already in play as a viable forest planting plan here in Western Washington, I think so. It’s a test planting, the only one I’ve found in this restoration so far. There are some more mature cultivars of this variety nearby, but you’d be pressed to find them wild in The Central Cascades. The worsening weather patterns will demand a lot of resiliency from the landscape, which had been adapting quite well over millions of years before human induced change. We’ve so altered the terrain around us, it’s hard to even imagine what once was. We can take a walk into a few special places set aside for our recreational appeasement and awe at nature’s wonder from our cars driving through National Parks. After which, we’ll spend another couple of hours driving through swaths of commercial timber stands, a patchwork of clear-cuts interspersed with aging small farmsteads, or occasional suburban developments creeping ever further afield from urban decay. Which would you choose?

Storms tear down and rebuild, forests grow towards climax, weathering flood, fire, and drought. Our forest here at EEC has not seen fire in 100 years, but the risk remains, moving towards eminent with each passing year of hotter summers and continued drought. The Douglas fir pictured above is well versed in fire ecology, but unless it’s given time to grow into a mature seed bearing tree, its bark cannot grow thick enough to survive a hot burn, nor its top tall enough to avoid crown fire. At the same time, trees that grow too tall, above the average canopy, are susceptible to wind and ice damage. Height also brings a tree closer to heavenly bolts of electrical discharge; lightning strikes. There is no evidence of lightning damage at EEC, but some towering cottonwood trees on a neighboring property tempt the sky with outstanding beacons.

Ice and wind are the most common tree damaging weather here in Western Washington. The trees do tower quite high, but they are also very limber, with branches often bowed over already to accommodate snow loads and generally windy days. It’s when things combine, ice weight and windy shake, which topples weakened timbers through decades of ensuing pressure from storms and grove changes. You’ll come across blow down along recent mature timber harvests. Weaker trees which have been sheltered by a greater stand are suddenly exposed to full exposure of weather events. High winds will quickly bring down the weaker trunks of stringy close growing trees. EEC has no fores type like this, but below is a pictures example from a commercial tree farm where this occurrence is most often to happen, even with planned cutting pictured right.

There’s a very famous old growth grove of trees on Vancouver Island which were left because their tops had been snapped in a wind event, leaving most of the trees with hollow rot or twisted crowns after regrowth. It’s called Cathedral Grove, and even with the damage, the trees were slated to be cut many times, but have been saved time and again, as it’s one of the last ancient groves left on the island. Stands like this remind us of what’s possible when a forest is left to mature and evolve as an intact ecosystem. When a forest is intact, it can better protect its self against weather disruption and other natural disasters, but if we keep cutting, developing, and leaving the land bare, we’ll continue to see rapid degradation on the landscape, making is much more vulnerable to climate caused environmental devastation. Plant habitat today for a more resilient tomorrow. Thin wisely and replant with drought tolerant species for long term success. EEC Forest Stewardship will continue to model evolving forest restoration practices, from our salmon stream to the back pasture, we’re replanting the forest in small, but deliberate steps towards an old growth rainforest with high ground oak savanna.

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