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Forest Issues and Challenges

The primary objective for the forest is to keep it healthy and attractive.  The secondary objective is to maintain screening from South Century Boulevard and from our neighbors, primarily from Oregon Water Wonderland.  While the ranch makes some use of forest products (e.g. wood chips for trails and paddocks, tree trunks and branches for fence rails, firewood, house logs, and furniture), the ranch does not manage the forest for these uses or to sell timber commercially.

The greatest threat to the forests is a catastrophic wildfire.  Secondary threats include surface-level fires, insect damage, and disease.

If left to nature, lightning would start a low level surface fire about every twenty years.  Every hundred years or so, a major “crown” fire would burn and kill virtually all the trees on the ranch.  The forest around us has burned and regenerated itself hundreds of times.  The intent of the ranch is to manage the forest so that no serious fire can get started or spread on the ranch.  While the ranch has made significant progress, it has a long way to go to achieve this goal. 

Types of Fire

A surface fire burns fuels on the forest floor, like twigs, dead branches, leaf litter, and grass.  At Vandevert, the very combustible bitterbrush is a primary fuel for ground fire.  Surface fires generally move quickly but rarely generate a great deal of heat or do long-lasting damage.  In wilderness areas surface fires are often beneficial because they keep the fuel on the ground from accumulating.

A ground fire burns the decaying plant matter (duff) that lies at the surface or just below the surface of the ground.  In dry periods these fires can smolder for weeks and can be very difficult to extinguish.  But they spread slowly and do little visible damage.  Ground fires are not likely to be a problem on the ranch because the duff on the ranch is only 2-3 inches deep.  Where ground fires have occurred in the Cascades, the duff was over two feet deep.  It will take many years for more duff to accumulate and it can be periodically reduced.    

A crown fire engages tree branches and leaves that are more than six feet above the ground (so-called “aerial fuels”).  A crown fire generates a great deal of heat and can move very quickly through the canopy of a forest.  It can inflict heavy damage that will be visible for many years afterward.  In a “blowup” a crown fire erupt suddenly into a “firestorm” that creates its own draft (wind).  A firestorm can jump rivers and fire lines by carrying burning debris far beyond the leading edge of the fire.

Guarding Against Fire Damage

The ranch cannot prevent lightning from starting a fire on the property or prevent a fire started elsewhere from reaching the ranch.  But the ranch can limit the spread of fire and the damage a fire can do through a targeted “fuels reduction” program and the creation of “shaded fuel breaks”.

A fuel break is a space in the forest where the amount of fuel available to burn is sharply reduced.  Fuel breaks provide a good place to stop a forest fire, particularly a crown fire, from spreading.  In commercial forests fuel breaks are often created by clear cutting (removing all trees and brush of all sizes).  A shaded fuel break leaves the best trees in place but reduces fuels and slows the spread of fire.  A shaded fuel break is created by removing dead and down wood, reducing “ladder fuels” (including brush), and thinning. 

Pre-commercial thinning is like creating a shaded fuel break except that it doesn't remove brush (e.g. bitterbrush).  Pre-commercial thinning supports healthy trees and produces essentially the same quality of timber as creating a shaded fuel break.  But pre-commercial thinning does not go as far in reducing the risk of fire. 

Removal of Dead and Down Wood – Dead trees and branches, whether standing or lying on the ground, provide easily ignitable fuel for fire.  They also support the spread of insects, fungus, and diseases.  In accord with the state Forest Practices Act the ranch removes most of this wood but leaves some of the older material on the forest floor to provide habitat for salamanders and other creatures

Ladder Fuels Reduction – Ladder fuels allow surface fires to climb into the branches of trees and from there to the tree crowns.  Reduction includes the cutting of shrubs, especially bitter brush, and the pruning of the lower branches of trees.  The flames from a three-foot high bitterbrush can rise like a torch up to nine feet high.

Thinning – Lodgepoles are especially inclined to grow close together in dense groups.  Increasing the space between tree trunks to 10 to 12 feet (14 or 15 feet in shaded fuel breaks) yields stronger and healthier trees, gives surface fires fewer trees to climb into, and makes it more difficult for fire to spread from tree to tree.

Thinning and Fuels Reduction Past and Present

In 1998, pre-commercial thinning was done on the entire forest immediately west of South Century Boulevard (i.e. Stands II and III).  Thinning was repeated on Stand III (south of the main ranch entrance) in 2003.

In 2007, a 200 foot wide shaded fuels break was created along the border of the ranch in the stands south and north of the pasture (Stands V and VI).  This was done in conjunction with the La Pine High School Forestry Program as described in the Appendices to the Stewardship Plan.

Plans for 2008 include creating a shaded fuels break east of South Century (Stand I) and continuing the shaded fuels break along the western border (Stands VI and VII).  Thinning in 2007 and 2008 was largely funded by a federal Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) grant administered by the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Important Pests and Diseases

A forest of healthy trees can resist most pests and diseases.  But forests weakened by one problem become more vulnerable to many others – and to the threat of fire.  After fire itself, the four biggest threats to the Vandevert forests are these:

Mountain Pine Beetle - Adult beetles bore into the tree, excavate tunnels under the bark, and lay their eggs in the tunnels.  The larva, when they hatch, eat the phloem and xylem tissues that carry water and nutrients up and down the tree, sometimes girdling the tree and cutting off the flow altogether.  Healthy trees flood the tunnels with sap and resin, drowning the adult beetles before they lay their eggs.  But trees that are overcrowded or past maturity may not generate enough sap to deter the pests.  The beetles prefer lodgepoles and normally attack ponderosas only when they are immediately adjacent to lodgepoles the beetles have already infested. 

In addition to keeping trees thinned and healthy, the key to defending the forest against pine beetles is to promptly remove any trees with a significant beetle infestation.  Creamy white or pink "pitch tubes" with dust like sawdust in them appear on trees when the beetles begin tunneling.  Infested trees should removed in June of each year before the adult beetles emerge to search out new trees to attack.  Reducing the number of beetles in the forest this way means the healthy trees will have fewer beetles to defend against.     

Western Gall Rust – This fungal infection creates round swellings (galls) on branches and trunks of trees, especially lodgepoles and ponderosas.  Insects and other fungi attack galled tissue, killing branches and small stems. Galls weaken stems of large trees, especially by forming hip cankers (see photo at right), and make trees susceptible to windsnap (breaking in the wind).

Dwarf Mistletoe - Dwarf mistletoes are small, leafless, parasitic flowering plants that extend their roots into the youngest branches of both lodgepoles and ponderosas.  They kill a tree slowly by robbing it of food and water. Diseased trees decline and die from the top down as lower infected branches take more food and water.  The problem is serious in commercial forests because it slows the growth of the tree.  It is less of a problem for the ranch because the tree remains green for a very long time. 

The parasite can be controlled by targeting affected trees and branches during thinning.  By increasing the distance between trees, thinning itself slows the spread of the mistletoe.

Heart Rot - Heart rot is a brown fungus that eats away the heart of relatively mature trees.  While heart rot is important in the timber industry (accounting for over 70% of timber losses due to disease) it is less important to the ranch because the tree continues to look healthy while the disease progresses.  The downside is the tree may be more vulnerable to windsnap and insects.  Heart rot is essentially a disease of old age (80 to 100 years in a lodgepole, well over 200 years in a ponderosa).  It is generally not contagious.  The first indication that a tree is dying of heart rot is a profusion of cones.  The only remedy is to remove the mature trees and thereby allow younger trees to grow more rapidly. 

Less Significant Pests and Diseases

While tree bark is the principal food of porcupines, there are not many porcupines on the ranch.  Squirrels do far more damage and can kill a tree if they girdle it.  Gophers are a serious threat to seedlings.  Beavers eat willows and use them to build their lodges.  But the willows generally regenerate faster than the beavers can destroy them. 

The sequoia pitch moth has appeared on the ranch but its effect is minor.  The western pine beetle, which attacks ponderosas, has not been seen on the ranch so far.  Wood-boring insects are another serious threat to the value of lumber but less of a concern to the ranch because they are very slow to kill the tree.  Insects which have not been significant problems also include:  defoliators (e.g. caterpillars, webworms, sawflies, tussock moths), root-feeding insects (e.g. weevils and the larvae of click beetles, May beetles, and June beetles), terminal-feeding insects (e.g. pine tip moth, white pine weevil), and sucking insects (aphids, mites, cicadas, and others). 

The incidence of blister rust has not been severe.  Root rot and white rot have not been significant problems.

While trees can be stressed in hot dry summers, the high water table on the ranch reduces the damage that drought can do.

Pest Management

“Integrated Pest Management” is a modern approach to controlling harmful insects and protecting useful insects.  It combines mechanical control, chemical control, biological control, and genetically engineered plant resistance to insects.  The objective is not to totally eliminate harmful insects but to keep their populations low enough to minimize insect damage.

The ranch has been successful to date using mechanical means alone.  The removal of dead, diseased, and infested wood has been sufficient to prevent any significant insect damage.  Other approaches can and will be employed if they are needed.

Cooperation with Neighbors

Vandevert Ranch has joined with seventeen other communities in the Upper Deschutes River Coalition to restore and sustain healthy fire-resistant forests, pure and abundant river flows, and wildlife habitat.  Of 13,210 acres in local private lands, 4,360 have been thinned for fuels reduction and another 1,453 are due to be thinned.  This effort has made all the communities in the area safer from the spread of wildfire.

Continue to Government Impact on Forestlands
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