Supporting the processes which create and maintain the
forest is our job as sustainable forest farmers. Soils are a fragile
resource in the cold/dry climate of the southern Blue Mountains.
Forest pests and their predators are impacted by human activity which
increases pest numbers. Restoration forestry returns and mimics the
natural processes which entomologist Torolf Torgerson refers to as
the forests immune system.
The ponderosa pine forests of eastern Oregon are a fire-dependent
(even fire-created) ecosystem. Materials accumulate faster than they
can decay in the cold, dry climate. Spring, summer, and fall bring
frequent lightning storms, often dry. Prior to the current fire
suppression era, the pine forests were managed by the native peoples
who lived here.
In a natural forest, dead trees become snags which
provide feeding, nesting, perching, and roosting habitat for birds.
As snags decay, they become woody material on the forest floor which
shelters and supports other birds, small mammals, and amphibians.
Eventually, they act as a water reservoir and host nitrogen-fixing
bacteria, and micorrhizal fungi which improve the soil and support
seedling establishment by supplying soil nutrients.
Managed forests are often short on snags, and ours was
no exception. We began culling some of our less desirable trees by
turning them into snags for wildlife. Experimentation showed that
burned snags stood longer and were most preferred by birds. Cavity-
nesters have begun using our snags, and two years ago, the first
family of Hairy Woodpeckers chose one of them to hollow out and raise
Data from tree rings in our neighborhood indicate a
historic fire frequency of 8 to 20 years. If lightning did not ignite
fires as often as needed, the lands original people would light
them before they left for winter homes at lower elevations. In this
way, they ensured that when natural fires started, there was so
little fuel accumulation that flames stayed low to the ground.
Thick-barked ponderosa pine trees easily withstand light fire.
We cannot, as Indians did, light fires in late summer
or fall and leave. We want our management to be reasonably fire-safe
but not destructive. Our program combines light spring and fall
burning, collection of fire-prone material for fuelwood (with ashes
returned to the land), and pruning of ladder fuels. We use fire
suppression when appropriate, but believe an integrated approach
The same resident chickadees, nuthatches, and
woodpeckers that frequent our feeders, snags, and nest boxes eat
insects which are known to damage pine trees: bark beetles,
pitchmidges, pine-shoot butterfly larvae, and others.
Slash from our forestry is hand-processed for fuel or
other use, with small branches and green tips spread on the ground to
support wildlife and soil processes. Almost none of our slash is
piled and burned.
In the recent past, large areas of the inland west
have not been managed in a fire-conscious way. Benefits of the
careful fire management demonstrated at Morning Hill include: lower
fire suppression costs, increased safety for people and property, and
a sustainable forest for the future.