1 Jan 2008, 3:45pm
Saving Forests
by admin

Parking Out Camp Baldwin

Camp Baldwin is a Boy Scout camp west of Dufur, OR, on the east slopes of the northern Oregon Cascades. In 1985 the Columbia Pacific Council of the B.S.A. engaged my forestry consulting firm to evaluate the forests conditions of Camp Baldwin.

Camp Baldwin is forested with ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, grand fir. There are a few remnant old-growth ponderosas, but not many. Most fell to pioneer logging long ago.

Camp Baldwin has a long history. It is close to the Old Oregon Trail, the segment that went over Barlow Pass. When the first pioneers saw them, the east slope forests were open and park-like, with widely-spaced ponderosa pines and grassy understories. They were more or less pine savannas except along water courses and at high elevations, where other tree species found refuge from the frequent, regular, seasonal anthropogenic fires.

Human-set fires created open, park-like forests where individual trees grew to very old ages. The culprits were the Sahaptin-speaking residents of the mid-Columbia. They did not have chain saws or sawmills, and had little use for trees other than as firewood, so why not set fires?

Large cedars and pines were sometimes felled by burning out the bases. Fire-felled trees with straight grained old-growth wood could be split with wooden wedges into planks for houses, or carved with fire and stone adzes into canoes. Western red cedar was the preferred species for those uses. Ponderosa pine produced pine nuts and a sweet resin, but otherwise was mostly not useful.

The herbage of the prairie, on the other hand, was immensely useful, constituting the larder of vegetable and meats as well as the fibers that a fiber-based culture depended upon. To be sure, the mid-Columbia Indians were possessors of one of the premier salmon fishing spots in the world, Celilo Falls on the Columbia River, but as Eugene Hunn points out in Nch’i-Wána: Mid-Columbia Indians and Their Land:

A conservative estimate based on Hewes’ ethnohistorical survey (1973[1947])—later modified by Walker [1967a] and Schalk [n.d.]—suggests an average figure for the Plateau of under 30 percent and for the mid-Columbia of no more than 40 percent of caloric needs(Hunn 1981; see Table 13).

Even with a premier fishery, the Indians relied on other foods (and fibers) from the uplands. Salmon runs are distinct; the Columbia had no more than 5 or 6 per year. The runs typically lasted only a few days. There were no salmon runs from October to April. Salmon, even smoked and dried, did not keep all that well. The mid-Columbia Indians had diversified diets and enviro-cultural practices. From Nch’i-Wána:

A full-time specialization [in salmon fishing] would have required the neglect of the equally abundant edible roots and berries, the well-loved bitterroots, lomatiums, camas, and huckleberries. Except in early spring, such roots and berries are found at a considerable distance from the river. The cost of such a mixed strategy of resource use is high mobility; the benefit is a nutritionally more diverse and reliable economic base.

So and for good reasons, the Indians burned the east slopes of the Cascades, principally in late fall, every year. Burning reduced the number of useless trees and expanded the amount of useful roots, berries, and fibers. For millennia Camp Baldwin was a ponderosa pine savanna, with a ribbon of riparian willows, cottonwoods, and other water-loving species along Ramsey Creek.

When the mid-Columbia Indians were removed from landscape (by disease, murder, and dislocation to reservations), the annual burning stopped. Cattle and sheep were brought in to graze the prairie grasses and the scattered, large pines were felled for sawmills. Exotic grasses moved in, and conifer seedlings, too.

Fire was largely excluded, although fire suppression capabilities were not much in those early days. Men on horseback cannot contain or extinguish large forest fires. But the landscape was much denuded, and lightning strikes could not generate fires without fuel. And no human beings deliberately set fires on east winds in the early fall, as we had for millennia.

The conifer seedlings survived in the absence of fire. Cattle do not eat conifers, although cattle will trample seedlings and pull them up to chew on them experimentally. But once a few seedlings got taller and became saplings, the trees began to take over. Grasses got shaded out, and there was less and less for cattle to eat. The pines and firs rose up, and a forest was established.

The new forest was nothing like the old one. It was a dense thicket with a mix of species rather than the original open, park-like pine savanna. In 1985 the conifers at Camp Baldwin ranged in age from 125 years-old down to new seedlings just germinated. Most of the larger trees were from 50 to 80 years-old. The thicket was indeed dense, with over 1,000 trees per acre on many acres.

In Spring,1985, the forest at Camp Baldwin experienced its fifth straight year of a spruce budworm infestation. The Douglas-firs and grand firs had been defoliated five years in a row, and most were dead. The thicket was not only dense, most acres were packed with standing dead fuels laddering from ground level to 100 feet into the canopy. The place was a monstrous fuel pile ready to explode into a catastrophic canopy fire.

Wise heads at the Columbia Pacific Council realized that they had a problem. My job was to figure out what to do about it. I proposed that we park it out.

“Park it out” was a phrase invented by my favorite gyppo logging crew to describe the weird silviculture I practiced on certain properties. My idea, when the setting was right, was to recreate the open, park-like stands of the past, which were more fire resilient as well as historically correct. I made my loggers cut all the little crap and leave many of the best, biggest, most commercially valuable trees. They had to cut according to my marking, like it or not.

Parking it out was not the normal practice at the time (clearcutting was), and it was inefficient, expensive logging in comparison. My loggers were also my friends, however, and understood my purposes, and took pride in their work, despite their teasing me about it.

Parking it out was perfect for the Boy Scout camp. Camp Baldwin is a Program Area with camping, hiking, cabins, mess hall, artificial lake, canoeing, swimming, and all your common scouting activities, not a commercial tree farm. By restoring the historical forest, the setting would be improved for scouting in many respects, not the least of which would be fire safety.

The Council signed on, I prepared the “timber sale” and contracted with my favorite gyppo loggers, and off we went to “park out” Camp Baldwin. I had the loggers cut all the dead trees down to 3 inches, where they balked, so those I cut myself. They yarded everything, including tops, to the landings. We sold what sawlogs we could and the rest went for chips, but somehow we all made a little money, including the Council.

I had the loader pile tops, limbs, and debris on the landings, which gradually filled up with burn piles. One pile was 100 feet in diameter and as tall as a 2-story house. The next winter, when it was below zero and with two feet of snow on the ground, we skied in on cross-country skis and set the piles on fire. They went off like massive barn fires. The flames went 150 feet into the air. We all had to back up a ways due to the intense heat. It was spectacular.

A few leave trees at edges of landings got scorched. We salvaged those the next spring, selling a couple more sawlog loads that made everybody a few more dollars and disproportionally a lot happier. I planted ponderosa pines on a few small (2-acre) openings that we had created.

And so Camp Baldwin got parked out. And it became, and still is, a beautiful forest there, and fire-safer, although more follow-up with broadcast burning would be nice.

I also repaired the fish ladder at the little dam on Ramsey Creek, so salmon and steelhead could access a few more miles of spawning beds. We were (are) a multiple-service outfit.

Interestingly, there was a pair of spotted owls living at Camp Baldwin, nesting in one of the stands we treated. This was 1985, before the spotted owl was listed as a Threatened and Endangered Species. The owls and their fledgling watched us log. They are curious birds.

Ten years later those owls were still living in that treated, heavily thinned, restored forest at Camp Baldwin, and they were still fledging young.

I have not been back to Camp Baldwin for many years. I do not know if spotted owls still live there. But Camp Baldwin has not burned down, although fires have approached it. I feel confident that if a wildfire did enter the restored stands, it would drop to the ground and not kill many trees. That safety window is gradually closing, however. Follow-up treatments are recommended.

Forest restoration is not perfect for every property, but it is for Boy Scout camps and most of our National Forests as well. It’s possible, economical, esthetically-pleasing, and protects, maintains, and perpetuates forests in a historically-proven, sustainable way.

And it is good for wildlife, watersheds, and Boy Scouts, and the rest of us. Restoration forestry is the answer to many of our forest problems. We really should apply it on a landscape-scale right away.

I’m ready. I’ve been ready for 30+ years, however, and have lost considerable patience. Now I’m more than ready. And I cannot help but think what a tragedy it is that so little restoration forestry has been done in all that time, and how many millions of acres of forests have been destroyed that could have been saved.

Maybe 2008 will be different. Maybe this year we can make some headway and get going on the restoration forestry we so desperately need. Let’s park out the Umpqua N.F., the Rogue, the Willamette, the Klamath, whatever is left, before they burn to charcoal in devastating megafires. Let’s save some forests this year. Let’s make that our shared resolution for 2008.

1 Jan 2008, 9:39pm
by bear bait

If you ever need company marking trees in restoration forestry, I am game. Old, fat, opinionated, and all those other faults come with me. But it is not all about technology. There is an element of art to it.

I helped mark a savanna restoration next to town. We marked all the fir to be logged and many oaks. Left the white oaks and madrones, and left them spaced. But I balked on a half dozen widely-spaced hooter firs about four foot on the stump and maybe 60 years old. I like the way they broke up the skyline, and I liked the Stellar jays and the raptors that used those few trees. I won over great objections.

When the logging was over, and the piles half burned, it was a truly different space. Not one complaint from neighbors or any of the eco-advocate busybodies. People respond to logging that does not clearcut and they are supportive. This little chunk of ground could have become a battleground, but those few firs on the skyline made it look like nothing had ever happened. And some time down the road there will be some very large fir trees on that land, in a little grove among the oaks.

Contracts have a hard time directing art. Marking trees is part art in that you have to leave trees that will thrive, have biological values now and in the future, and become a part of a visual landscape.

Art comes with trust. I often wonder if restoration forestry tree markers should have an education experience in the arts, and maybe some landscape knowledge, before they get their silvicultural learning and product value education. I say that because the way the final product meets the beholder’s eye is very important in whether the process will be accepted down the road. The biological function follows the landscape form.

1 Jan 2008, 10:49pm
by Mike

Wolf trees are better to leave than snags. Wolf trees are early site occupiers and grow with little competition. The branches remain green close to the ground. Consequently the trunks of wolf trees are often studded with giant knots, so they have little value at the sawmill, anyway.

Snags rot and fall over, often within a few short years following mortality. Wolf trees are green and living, and so can last for centuries.

At Camp Baldwin we left the wolf trees, and a few snags. The snag situation was that more than 2/3rds of the trees were dead, i.e. a stand full to bursting with snags. In the end the only snags we left were dead wolf trees, and those were more than plenty.

In the historical, open and park-like forests, almost all trees were open grown and thus wolf trees to some degree.



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