The Future of Forests and Forest Management: Change, Uncertainty, and Adaptation

If anyone’s interested and in the area, I’ll spam this meeting that’s taking place next week in Missoula, at the Annual Meeting of the Northwest Scientific Association. It starts Wednesday and there are topics besides those shown below, but these seem most relevant to folks here (whereas my presentations on fungi and nematodes may be less enticing).  For me the biggest problem, as always, is that talks I most want to see are often running concurrently. If anyone plans to be there, maybe look me up and I’ll buy you a beer or something.

Friday, 28 March 2014  Technical Session: Fire Ecology I 

1:30 – 1:50 HISTORICAL FIRE HETEROGENEITY IN A SIERRA NEVADA MIXED-CONIFER FOREST  Molly A.F. Barth, Andrew J. Larson, University of Montana, Missoula, MT; James A. Lutz, Utah State University, Logan, UT

1:50 – 2:10 CHARACTERIZING FOREST STRUCTURE OF THE SIERRA NEVADA: AN EXAMINATION OF FIRE, CLIMATIC WATER BALANCE, AND LARGE-DIAMETER TREES  Kendall M.L. Becker, James A. Lutz, Utah State University, Logan, UT

2:10 – 2:30 HISTORICAL FIRE REGIME AND FOREST COMPOSITION IN THE SOUTHERN BLUE MOUNTAINS OF OREGON  Sean M. A. Jeronimo, Derek J. Churchill, University of Washington, Seattle, WA; Gunnar C. Carnwath, U.S. Forest Service, Baker City, OR; Andrew J. Larson, University of Montana, Missoula, MT

2:30 – 2:50 EVIDENCE OF HIGH-SEVERITY FIRE IN A 1915-1925 INVENTORY OF APPROXIMATELY 200,000 FORESTED HECTARES IN EASTERN OREGON   Keala Hagmann, Jerry F. Franklin, University of Washington, Seattle, WA

Friday, 28 March 2014  Technical Session: Natural Resource Management

1:30 – 1:50 A FORTY YEAR ODYSSEY WITH WOLVES IN MONTANA Robert Ream, University of Montana, Missoula, MT

1:50 – 2:10 EMERGING RESEARCH IN NATURAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT THROUGH A CONSORTIUM OF REGIONAL UNIVERSITIES AND FEDERAL AGENCIES Pei-Lin Yu, Lisa Gerloff, Kathy Tonnessen, University of Montana, Missoula, MT

2:10 – 2:30 TRADITIONAL NATIVE AMERICAN METHODS FOR HARVESTING BARK DOES NOT CHANGE SECONDARY GROWTH RATES IN WESTERN RED-CEDAR  David A. Hooper, University of Montana, Missoula, MT

2:30 – 2:50 INTEGRATION OF SHEEP AND CROP PRODUCTION: EFFECTS ON COVER CROP TERMINATION, WHEAT EMERGENCE, AND SHEEP LIVE WEIGHT GAINS  Jasmine Westbrook, Craig Carr, Patrick Hatfield, Molly Butler, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT; Perry

Friday, 28 March 2014  Technical Session: Forest Ecology II

3:20 – 3:40 MAPPING A HISTORIC BITTERROOT VALLEY, MONTANA LANDSCAPE USING GENERAL LAND OFFICE SURVEYORS’ FIELD

NOTES   Karen Shelly, University of Montana, Missoula, MT

3:40 – 4:00 INFLUENCE OF TREE AGREGATION ON MORTALITY IN PRE-FIRE SUPPRESSION FORESTS IN THE SOTHERN BLUE MOUNTAINS OF OREGON   Miles LeFevre, Derek J. Churchill, University of Washington, Seattle, WA; Gunnar C. Carnwath, U.S. Forest Service, Baker City, OR; Andrew J. Larson, University of Montana, Missoula, MT

4:00 – 4:20 WESTERN WHITE PINE SEEDLINGS COMPENSATE FOR AN AMMONIUM DEFICIENCY WITH INCREASED AMINO ACID UPTAKE    Beau Larkin, MPG Operations, Missoula, MT

4:20 – 4:40 RATES AND SPATIAL PATTERNS OF TREE MORTALITY DIFFER STRONGLY BETWEEN YOUNG AND OLD-GROWTH FORESTS    Andrew J. Larson, University of Montana, Missoula, MT

5 Comments

  1. Entice me. About your nematode work. I kept my thoughts about fungus and nematodes my own secret knowledge for over 20 years. I no longer run a farm. And don’t care who knows my thoughts about sawdust.

    Years ago, I saw electron microscope photos of fungi invading and eating nematodes to gain nitrogen. The light in my head turned on, and when I planted 20 acres of blueberries for a farmer, I used a spading tiller to integrate 40 units of sawdust per acre laid down as 3 foot wide rows on ten foot centers. We planted into that. The nominal agronomist process was to put down Basamid, a fumigant, and cover it with plastic to kill soil living nematodes. Then put down maybe ten units of sawdust mulch on top and plant through that. My sawdust was in the soil down over two feet. I didn’t fumigate, against the advice of agronomists, crop advisors and a couple other farmers. And put the saved money into sawdust which I thought would be there for years working for the plants.

    My nematode studies, probably very incomplete and shallow, indicated they are not all bad. Like insects, some nematodes are beneficial. And all the seeds killed by a fumigant are meaningless, if they are well below the germ layer. Maybe a seed bank in the soil is a good deal. There have to be native plants in that bank. And a lot of weeds. Sawdust mulch retards a lot of weed growth.

    So we were picking two pounds per plant with no dead plants in three years. We had fungul blooms that were spectacular. All kinds of fruiting bodies. Some looked like vomit. Others proud mushrooms. Big ones, small ones, some colorful and other turn to soup in hours. By age 8, the field was putting out ten tons per acre. Drip irrigated. Total water use per year was just under one acre foot. I created an integrated pest management program of one insecticide application per year in January or early Feb. (span worm). We could have aphids on every leaf on one friday, with a frantic crop advisor saying I should spray and right now!!! I wouldn’t, and the next friday we couldn’t find an aphid colony on one plant out of fifty in any row. “Friendlies” consumed them all. All drip irrigated but my nutrition was not what I thought it should be. I had both soil and leaf analysis over several years. I read some research about dry fertilizer (N) causing growth shock at each application. I then found humic acid, fulvic acid, and soluble nutrients and application through the drip lines, with periodic N buffered sulfuric acid flushes to keep drip lines clear of bacteria and algae. The N buffer and the Sulfur in the acid was part of the soluble nutrients applied. All that I gleaned from a really good drip irrigated tomatoes paper produced by Mississippi State U. I got the production up to 50,000 lbs per acre on 60 lbs of drip line N. A far cry from the crop advisor’s recommended 300 lbs of dry in three annual applications. No Phosphorus. It came in the humics from the drip line and other added micronutrients. No wasted N in that planting. The only dry we applied was potash and micronized calcium carbonate prills. I kept the ph just above 6, which was a lot more mellow than the crop advisor 5.5. The planting outgrew and out produced most fields. It was a late producer and was sold in the ever rising fresh market price after Labor Day. And then came the aliens.

    SWD vinegar fruit flies appeared, and weekly, or more often, need for full organophosphate insecticide applications ruined the IPM. I quit. I just can’t farm that way. When you work for someone, you do your best to maximize their return. So I quit after two years of sad work controlling SWD. But I love fungus chasing nematodes. And, you have to know that is why vaccinium sp. follow fire and survive by seeding into large decomposing wood for a growth and nurse medium. Fungus in the wood protects them from nematodes. Sawdust, chips, all from dead and burned trees, host fungus to hold nematodes in check, protecting root hairs and plant nutrition. Or so I believe based on absolutely no research. All empirical experience. I do wonder if decomposing wood being consumed by fungus, following fires by several years, is nature’s nematicide which lets regrowth root hairs thrive and vegetation to do better than it will missing the long term decomposing wood?

    So this is the first time I have ever shared (with anyone but another farmer/buddy/good friend) my empirical experience with sawdust as a medium to host fungi which in turn mulches, conserves soil moisture, adds micronutrients as fungus breaks down the wood, and importantly, maintains some necessary balance in the soil as to nematode populations. Or I was just plain lucky. And if I was, another grower who did what I did also got the supremely huge good results and he was lucky as well. Blueberries are prone to fungual infections. Yet, I think the sawdust buffer keeps the sprays off and out of the soil. I guess I should add that we probably, over 15 years, added another 20 units of sawdust per acre as a top dressing. A self dumping, walking floor, chip trailer holds about 15 units of sawdust. So over time, 5 semi truck loads of doug fir sawdust per acre on and around the root balls of those plants. With no nematode damage to roots and no nematicide applications.

  2. very cool, thanks for posting that John. Actually, the title of one of my papers for the meeting is “Trophic complexity and the success of fungal biological control agents”, which is pretty much the subject that you just described. Since trophic complexity is just jargon for food web. Overall, that’s probably the biggest focus of my research for the past too-many years. For example, we work on a fungus that attacks potatoes (so it’s bad) but also attacks knapweed (so it’s good), and a second fungus that attacks the first one (so it’s good or bad depending on context), and a fungus-feeding nematode that attacks both fungi (it starts to get confusing), and the second fungus also happens to parasitize another nematode which is a major pest of potato…. I love this stuff. I think the approach you described makes the most sense, manipulating the environment to favor natural insect/disease/weed control rather than nuking the soil with basamid or methyl bromide, or expecting some magic microbe to act as a silver bullet pest control agent (Bt maybe being an exception, but that’s really just a chemical pesticide made by a microbe). Organic growers tend to buy into the ecological approach more readily, with the extra labor it often entails, whereas Idaho potato growers with their intensive production methods are sometimes less interested. I think forestry is always a good arena for biologically-based pest control because it’s usually too expensive to do anything else anyway, except in conifer nurseries where dazomet (basamid) and MeBr general biocides are popular tools. I had a project with the USFS several years back to try and control Fusarium root rot in doug-fir nurseries (Coeur d’Alene, Lucky Peak) with beneficial fungi along with rapeseed meal, it didn’t work too great although we did have better luck with seedlings in cone-tainers.

  3. My farming experience was never about organic farming. The price differential in the market just about represents a push for cost to market return, and the downside is more risk. Farming is a business. So my practices were all about economy and contrarian thought because that is probably who I am. The plant is a mere expression of the health of the soil. So I farmed the soil, and the plants were supposed to react accordingly. Sawdust produced tilth which produced more micro air pockets in which root tips could feed. Water is the enemy. Anaerobic (sp?) conditions are deadly. That is why the folks who are raising blues on raised rows think they work better. All they are doing is mitigation for their systematic over watering. Expensive, and if you really think about it long and hard, pretty stupid as well. A good blueberry farmer needs to go to the forests and see where the natives grow and how. Mimic that in as many ways as possible, and you can have success.

    I became a blueberry farm guy because I learned a lot about one farm to which I sold sawdust from the sawmill. I sold sawdust, not a timber manager’s job, because the pulp mills only paid you fifty cents a unit and the haul cost. For a year, I sold sawdust enough to pay my salary and then some. The chip buyer held a figurative gun to the head of the sawmill owner, and I was out of that business. So when the Feds quit selling timber and the competition for logs favored mills with private holdings, the mill was done and sold piecemeal at auction. 4 year old computerized sawing and edging equipment sold for a dime on the dollar. Meanwhile, fifteen miles away, a MegaPulp kept on running, and our sawyer went to work there. He was privy to their recovery rates. Our closed “antiquated” mill got a better overrun out of logs by a significant amount than the mill with timberlands, and was still running. Weyerhaeuser bought them, closed the mill, and sold their timber inventory into the domestic and export markets and paid for the acquisition in five years, and logged for ten. You do the math. The outcome was poverty in a rural county where people used to take pride in working. Abuses to the landscape by the MegaPulps was the target of the Green Litigation Lobby, and in the end, the MegaPulps are alive and well, with special tax treatment from Congress, and all that was lost were small businesses and blue collar jobs. The MegaPulp heirs are another generation, still clipping coupons, getting preferred stock dividends. Nothing changed at the targeted industries, which we now know were straw dogs set up by the environmental folks who used the photos from private land logging to shut down Federal and State logging. I guess working people are and will be, collateral damage for the rich and their trust fund, foundation targets selected by the Green Lobby. If only Upton Sinclair had an equal today.

    But when you get an introduced exotic pest, with no known control fungi, insects, bacteria, you then have to use conventional nuclear option pesticides. Since I didn’t own the farm, I could quit and did. The reason we are getting these bad pests is that APHIS has been drafted into Homeland Security and they spend their time on the docks and other ports of entry looking for weaponized shipments from terrorists. No dirty bombs have been found, but the list of exotic pests grows annually. A government that proclaims to be giving you all you need, controls the list of what they think you need or don’t need. Evidently bad bugs and critters are part of that gift.

    • well, it’s true that in 2003 a number of APHIS border inspectors were transferred to DHS under the Bush administration. And at the border the inspectors are looking both for various exotic pests and also potential ag-bioterrorism agents (“agents” not meaning people, but other organisms). But after all, that is how almost all exotic pests get into the country, at docks and other ports of entry. Ag terrorism isn’t an idle or esoteric concern, the U.S. used to have a very active offensive ag biowarfare research program (I could talk at length about that or cite some papers), now supposedly we just have defensive research, but there’s little doubt that other countries have offensive research programs. But most exotic pests and pathogens get in through normal commerce (forestry examples: the fungi that cause white pine blister rust, dutch elm disease, and chestnut blight, all caused near-extinctions of important forest species over much or all of their range, and all arrived via docks or other ports of entry. Similarly, the fireblight pathogen (indigenous to North America) left this country via a port, and has devastated the pear industry in Italy where it arrived as an exotic). APHIS ain’t perfect, but it’s probably about the best in the world at what they do. I interact with them periodically, my wife does every day because she directs a state program to eliminate a major exotic nematode pest. I respect what they do, and am glad they’re doing it.

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