For years now, we’ve been working hard here at EEC Forest Stewardship to restore a buffer of dense, native forest around our salmonid stream. It’s the largest investment in restoration on the land so far, including many days of hard work fencing to keep livestock out. Even with six foot woven wire field fence, we can’t keep every threat at bay. Last week, I noticed soap suds in the water. Earlier that day I had also seen a neighbor washing her car in her front driveway, near the headwaters of our creek. There were too many suds in the water to have come from just the car washing, and after a chat with county water experts, we decided to take a sample to find out what’s in the water.
My concern was the volume of soap running in the stream. I’ve seen suds once in a while during major runoff periods, but nothing like this on a normal flow day. The most likely culprit- inappropriate tie in of laundry facilities too close to the stream. It’s one of the most common hazards to wild water in our county. So much bad runoff like this occurs, that the county will not make an official report until summer, during the driest period of the year, when there is little runoff to track from the creek back to the source. My local water ecologist said it was not enough runoff to address with legal action, but what about a formal site visit to fix the runoff? Nope, not without serious concern. It was hard to hear this, knowing more laundry would be draining into Weiss Creek.
Mindful design can prevent this pollution, but people often overlook ecological sensitivity when developing. Here in Western Washington, water is abundant, on the surface, and reflects the health of our ecosystem in plain, often painful sight. In Puget Sound, where this creek water will eventually end its journey to the sea, orcas are going extinct, wild salmon populations have crashed, and shellfish regularly test positive for methamphetamines because of the high concentration of sewage overflow into wild waters. Last month, we had major flooding in our county, and millions of tons of sewage poured into Lake Washington and Puget Sound. Local beaches were closed, and shellfish harvesting put on hold, actually, it was already on hold because of toxic algae blooms that have started happening in winter as well as summer due to warming ocean currents in The Pacific. People, it’s getting bad, and our pollution has been expanding, along with population.
What can we do? Be aware- of the limits our ecosystem can endure. Think about where your water is going after it disappears down the drain, or down the street. One huge action you can take right now? Stop buying toxic soaps and cleaners. I get sick walking down a cleaning isle in the supermarket- the smell of highly concentrated chemical compounds is noxious. Why these chemical agents are still legal is beyond me. Since we live on a septic system here at EEC, all products must be biodegradable. We do have a couple of grey water catchment systems- with limited use, and discharge stations into properly engineered catchment basins with sand and gravel filtration. They are also set back far away from any major water sources, from our well to the creek.
There is soap in our wild water at EEC right now, because someone is operating laundry facilities right next to the creek, with no awareness of ground saturation. The runoff is minimal right now, but over time, will lead to alterations in the creek’s chemistry, affecting our endangered fresh water muscles, salmon, trout, and any other living cells which rely on clean water to survive. This single laundry source will not kill off everything, but it’s the first of many to be found along this water’s path to the ocean. By the time this water reaches Puget Sound, its got a long list of possible pollutants which can be found here. Needless too say, our small part in keeping toxins out of wild water makes a difference. Hopefully, this sudsy mess clears up, but until the laundry being run upstream moves away from the creek, these bubble troubles will continue to persist.
A modest grove of Ponderosa Pines stand at attention on the west fence line of “the back 40” after a few inches of snow on Winter Solstice. My hair is also now at shoulder length again- growing for Wigs for Kids this year. Made a resolution to be gentler with myself- and show empathy to my faults with grace. Though my hair grows fast, the trees are slow, and with good reason- putting on what could be thousands of rings in one lifetime, while I will hope for 100. The trees behind me also mark a fence line, which I am now clearing in preparation to install a new field fence- to keep in sheep and dogs, while deterring coyote. Only two large pasture areas will be fenced, leaving the open wildlife corridor along Weiss Creek as a highway for wildlife. In another 60 years, the whole place will become forest in perpetuity.
In the mean time- make way for new lambs and more forest replanting. Our herd of Katahdin Ewes are about to burst with new life- which will double our herd and requite a lot of smart resource management. This should be the largest flock you’ll ever see at EEC. After this year, we’ll be culling and selling to get our herd down to about 8 breeding ewes and one ram. That’s the dream team of working sheep here on the land- and our barn will be a palace for the resident flock. Right now we are at 14, with at least 8 lambs on the way- 16 if everyone has twins, but I doubt that. Still, we’ll have too many animals, and we only came to this as a plan to create our own herd from good breeding stock- most of which consisted of old ewes who will pass on some well established genetic material for our fresh, young herd. The older ewes have also had time to pass on wisdom to their daughters, thus ensuring good instinct and herd habits.
The slightly deconstructed sweat lodge frame you see in the picture above was erected just before COVID by a First Nation person who had to pause on his spiritual quest, as he was assigned to a COVID ward at his hospital as soon as the virus took hold- Washington State had the first domestic cases in The US. This amazing front line healthcare worker has not been able to get back here for work on his sweat lodge, but did celebrate a union of partnership with his beloved at the end of 2020. More good news in these darker times. The lodge will eventually become active, but for now, nature happily comes back into her own.
There has been a lot of new growth here at EEC Forest Stewardship- including the continued restoration of our stream buffer. Young native plants like snow berry, Douglas Fir, and even Saskatoon berry are continuing to hold fast in the replanting near our salmon bearing stream. This restoration is some of this first large scale replanting on the property, and it’s a motivational for how quickly overgrazed pasture invaded by blackberry can quietly turn back into a native forest with thriving under-story. Though just like the Ponderosa Pines, growth is slow, the long term regeneration of this landscape is easy to see, and celebrate.
Our new Livestock Guardian Dog, Gill, has been a wonderful addition to the stewardship program. He continues to show great social ability and good manners at EEC. With a lot of good structure, routine, and patience, I’m learning how the Kangal (Anatolian) Shepherd works and plays. Gill has become good friends with Valentine, and the two can play for hours while I’m working in the field nearby. Though Gill came to us with a history of dog aggression, especially with toys and food, we have slowly been working on these behavioral challenges, and found that most of them melt away once Gill began to trust Valley as a balanced animal. She has never shown any possessive behavior, and happily drops a stick or bone if Gill wants it- he in turn grows tired of grabbing things the other dog could care less about, and goes back to his watch on the sheep. With his natural instincts fed, Gill shown no interest in what might be called delinquent behavior. It’ a win win for us and the dog.
In other animal news, baby chicks are growing up fast, showing lots of great instinct as fair feathered friend of fertility- pooping out organic yummy for our compost, and scratching away at the ground as soil aerators and bug pest predators. Yay chicken systems! We’ll plan to cull older hens in February, to make room for our new young pullets. A local outdoor educator has asked to buy a few hens from the cull for a survival class. It’s always great to support outdoor education, and lessons in animal processing is a specialty at EEC. In the mean time, cold winter weather has kept the chicks inside until more favorable temperatures arrive. In a few months, these young birds will also have enough plumage, and body mass to go outside. They will remain in their “round pen” setup next to the house for a few more months, gleaning bugs and weeds around the edges of our buildings so we don’t have to mow. I’ll also make use of them in the garden, turning the soil, in prep for the planting season.
Speaking of gardening- I spent the Fall trying to rebuild edges- specifically along the driveway where greens began reaching into the road, pushing cars and trucks into the water redirect ditch on the other side. I pulled back the rock wall and began uprooting the invasion onto the road. The garden became a nursery for young native plants a few years ago, and this fall, many were uprooted from the garden and replanted into the greater landscape around us. The kitchen garden remains the most active cultivation garden near the house, but the front garden is the largest, and right now, full of grass. I have to admit, I’m not a great gardener- not in the veggie sense- and this winter, I am committed to working on re-establishing productivity in the gardens with the redesign of a greenhouse, and some major planning for seasonal replanting in the gardens. But that plan will have to wait a bit longer, as a more crucial infrastructure project is looming.
With the introduction of a Livestock Guardian Dog- Gill, the Anatolian Shepherd, we’re doing the responsible thing by establishing two large fenced fields to allow him free roaming space, while protecting our sheep from coyotes and roaming dogs by erecting 2,000 feet of six foot high field fence. This new boundary will establish the edged of the property (good fenced make good neighbors), while inviting our large dog to patrol freely, especially at night, when most predators are on the prowl. It’s taken a while to finally plan out fence lines, as these boundaries will be permanent (through my lifetime) and create hindrances to wildlife. We established the wildlife corridor first, so the migration paths of the animals could find the clear rout through. Once the new fencing goes up, wildlife will be funneled down to the creek, where they can pass through safely.
Though it is often encouraged to get fencing up quickly, at the start of a land stewardship project, I would say it is even more important to first know where the animals are moving, their trails and established territories within the landscape. Permaculture observations talk about human flow and traffic patterns, which dictate paths and gates. Animal paths are also important, though often overlooked when establishing hard edges on a property. This is one of the greatest challenges in dividing up a landscape into property lines. Hard boundaries often ignore natural features, animal migration routs, and even critical ecological niches where rare species are often found. Think of “The Wall” on our southern most boarder here in The US. There are massive lawsuits in action to stop the destruction of indigenous sacred sights, protect critical animal migration routs, and allow natural flow of a meandering habits of a huge river system.
In planning the long term management of EEC Forest Stewardship land- we cemented the long term reforestation plan with King County in our Public Benefit Rating System application, finalized in October of 2020. This contract will bind the land in a long term plan to slowly convert from agriculture to native forest over the next few decades. In setting resolution to be gentle with myself this year, I also put into action the slow plan of restoration, now on the books in our local county offices. In short- 20 years of sheep, then transition to another 20 years of replanting. The livestock will be fully phased out when I get into my 60s. As by then, the fertility of the land should be reasonably capable of supporting a forest, and my body will not be able to keep up with stock any more. In 40 years, the established forest will have grown tall enough to shade out most of our pastures, and without livestock, the land will need to be replanted to prevent blackberry from taking over again.
Our “zone 1” landscape will remain open, with orchard, out buildings, and residential habitat. In this area human activity will continue indefinitely, as long as it needs to. Right now, that looks like my home, but in 40 years, that could be an educational building or museum dedicated to holistic land stewardship. These are visions right now, and do not have to come to full fruition any time soon, slow growth, like the trees, making it easier to formulate the best design in time. Recognizing that anything could happen to disrupt, change, or eliminate this strategy, and that’s where continued adaptability comes into play. This is how nature survives, and EEC will too- maybe not as a forest as I see it, but as a landscape none the less. It is through strong intention, observation, and planning in both physical replanting and restoration, and legal definition which can help to formulate a strong future for forest on this property. May these actions help, not hinder, the natural world.
The struggles of 2020 were unprecedented in this world, and I fear the challenges will only continue. When we put our focus on the earth as a whole, transcending out personal fears and accepting our ignorance, we are open and ready to relate. Through relation with the world around us, we can better serve community needs, adapt to changing climate, and prepare for long term survival. Not just human survival, but ecological survival. As humanity confronts it’s ultimate vulnerability, perhaps we can restructure our consumer culture, to a more productive, collective mindset of restoration and rehabilitation for ourselves, and the environment. Gratitude for all the rich experience, opportunity, and privilege of land stewardship. Happy New Year!
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.