Forest Management

P Pine Forest

 Forest management concentrates on restoring and maintaining healthy stands of trees and returning natural processes like fire to the ecosystem. Dry ponderosa pine forests and associated plant communities are currently the management focus.

Western white pine was once a primary component of the forests of the Refuge. However, due to deaths from the accidentally introduced fungus- white pine blister rust- more than 95% of Western white pine trees have died in the last 75 years. The Refuge is working to restore these trees to a place in the ecosystem. In order to accomplish that, 2,500 Western white pine trees were planted in October 2016 in the Cedar Creek drainage on the Refuge.

Past timber harvesting practices and a century of very successful wildfire suppression tactics have provided the impetus for our forest habitat management. Lacking on the Refuge and  generally throughout the surrounding area is a  significant component of old mature forest. Most of the large trees were removed for lumber in the early 1900’s. Coupled with this is many, many years of forest fuels accumulation including unnaturally dense stands of younger trees as a result of the interruption of wildfires, a naturally occurring process that helped to maintain a healthy forest.

In order to revert natural processes and restore our forests, we have begun to pre-condition them for a return of fire. In order to accomplish this we have instituted a multifaceted approach consisting of pre-commercial thinning, commercial logging and prescribed burning operations. Our goal is to treat 1,000 acres per year so that natural processes, particularly fire, will be reintroduced as a tool for creating and maintaining quality wildlife habitat and reduced potential for catastrophic wildfire.

Habitat assessments, marking, cruising, cultural resource surveys, timber sale advertisements and permits are completed for commercial treatments of our Wildlife Habitat Management Units. Commercial logging operations use mechanical harvesters and forwarders. This method of logging is well suited to our desire for completing operations on a relatively short time frame, mid-fall through late winter, and has a low impact to the site as compared to other ground based timber harvesting methods. In addition to generating funds for the U.S. Treasury, which may be used to benefit a variety of federal programs, the Refuge receives direct benefits in the form of improvements to roads and noxious weed control as stipulated in the permit. These enhancements are a direct benefit of the commercial logging program.

About one quarter of the Refuge forest consists of dry ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir. About one-half to two-thirds of Refuge forests are mixed moist forest comprised of Douglas-fir, grand fir, western larch and lodgepole pine. Most stands will be thinned with careful attention paid to both the horizontal and vertical structure of the existing stand with the objective being to allow for the development of mature and old growth forest types. While it is basically a “low thin,” that is removing suppressed and co-dominant stems which are below the general level of the existing canopy, it also respects wildlife needs regarding canopy structure, tree groups and age classes. At least one research project has lately described a similar approach as “variable density thinning” which is a convenient way of describing our technique that endeavors to retain a natural distribution of various age classes and structure. Our management plan regards irregularities in tree conformation, and most mechanical damage as attributes rather than “defects” as with typical commercial and economic wood fiber producing forestry practices. A simpler way to describe our approach may be managing for decadence. In forests where natural processes are permitted to occur there tends to be a wide range of variability from areas where old large trees have given way to new young seedlings, to mid-successional stands to old growth with various degrees of rot, breakage and decay. From a wood fiber producers vantage this old growth would be termed decadent, but to a producer and manager of wildlife habitat this decadence translate to diversity and diversity is the penultimate of forest habitat management. Implementing this brand of habitat creating and enhancing, forestry is challenging and perhaps unique to the LPO NWR.