FIRST STOP (JUST PAST 5-MILE MARKER ON WOLF CREEK ROAD)
Follow Kate and park in driveway in front of gate.
Kate: This hillside was clearcut probably 3 years ago. It has been cut more than once, because the biggest stumps are older, beginning to decompose, from trees that were hundreds of years old, and there are small stumps also from trees that were about 50 years old. The whole hillside was not burned after the clearcut, but piles of leftover branches were burned. The loggers left a few snags, probably for wildlife, although it will be hard for wildlife to use them in the middle of this big empty space. According to state regulations, you are supposed to leave a few trees per acre, even on private land. But I think some of them are supposed to be alive. You are also supposed to plant new trees, and they have done that.
This place was most likely sprayed with herbicides, because only a few plants like sword fern and fireweed are growing here, and otherwise there would be young shrubs and more blackberry, not just little Douglas firs.
This next area (a little farther up the road) was cut about ten years ago, and new tress are growing, all the same age, all the same kind. The trees across the road are the same kind of planting, but they are about 40 years old, all Douglas firs. This is not a forest ecosystem, it's a tree farm - all the same, with little of the diversity you see in a natural forest.
Depending on what the Bureau of Lane Management decides in the next year, the forest we are going to visit might look like this a few years from now. I hope that won't happen.
As we get back in our cars and drive on up Wolf Creek Road, you will see more clearcuts and more forests. All of them are younger than 60 years, all are planted with Douglas firs. As we drive up, look at the different clearcuts and different ages of the trees, and how close some of the clearcuts are to people's homes. Maybe they cut down their own forests, but more likely they didn't own the land that was next door to them, and BLM or private ownders cut it right beside them.
As we drive up high on the road and pass the 8-mile marker, you will see a sudden change on the right side of the car, a very tall forest with different ages of trees, different kinds of trees - firs, cedars , hemlocks, big-leaf maples with bright yellow leaves. Keep watching on the right side of the car as we go uphill. You will see some very big trees and beautiful forest. This is the Grandmothers' Grove. Then we will cross another invisible line and leave B.L.M. land and clearcuts will be all around us. But we will drive downhill a little until we are back among the old-growth trees, park the cars, and go for a walk in the forest.
GRANDMOTHERS GROVE: OLD GROWTH FOREST
1. GETTING OUT OF THE CAR, LOOKING WEST:
From here it is 30 miles west to the Pacific Ocean, with clearcuts most of the way, and only a few old forests here and there. The Grandmothers Grove isn't very big, a narrow strip from here up to the other road above us, and down the hill below us to Wolf Creek, but it is one of the few old-growth forests left near Eugene. And old-growth forest is a forest that hasn't had any big disturbance, like a big fire or a clearcut, for at least 200 years. Kate's talk about this place being a secret treasure...
2. LITTLE CLEARING: It's dark and shady in the forest. Looking up, you can see the branches of the big trees grow toward each other but not on top of each other, and they take up most of the light. On the floor of the forest, young hemlock trees are growing, waiting for a break. When an older tree falls down in a storm, they will start to grow fast toward the light, but right now they aren't growing much, just waiting.
A few green leafy plants can grow in the shade of the forest floor: Oregon grape, sword fern, wild ginger, which native American people used for medicine and seasoning.
Many animals live up in the trees and seldom or never come down to the forest floor. Up high in the trees are chickarees - little Douglas squirrels - owls, hawks, woodpeckers, and smaller birds, tree voles - like mice that live in trees - and flying squirrels. But you can hear some of them. (Is the chickaree making
The three evergreen trees that are the biggest and most important in this forest are all right here, though some are still small - hemlock, with its flat needles and bark like plates, cedar, with scaly leaves and red fragrant bark that peels off when trees are older, and Douglas firs, the biggest, oldest trees in this forest, which have thick, wrinkled bark that can resist forest fires. If this
forest lives for a long time, eventually the fir trees would die of old age, and the cedars and hemlock which grew up in their shade would become the biggest oldest trees.
Here is a nurse log - not nurse like in a hospital but nurse like taking care of a baby. This is an enormous old tree that fell down many years ago and is slowly turning into soil. Young trees can grow their roots in a nurse log and get nutrients to grow fast. There's a tree growing on top of the nurse log. See how the log goes far up the hill. It was once a gigantic tree.
3. CROSSING THE NURSE LOG: You can see how the nurse log is coming apart, turning into soil, as it gets eaten and broken down by beetles, carpenter ants, fungi,and bacteria. Fungi include mushrooms, but it's still a little dry for mushrooms. The rain has to fall for a long time and really soak in. But the mushrooms we see are just the fruiting part of mushroom roots that run underground for miles through the forest. It is also still dry for banana slugs, newts, and salamanders. These animals are resting and waiting under logs and
rocks, and they will come out when the rain really begins.
4. BIG FIR TREES ON YOUR RIGHT: These big trees are between 100 and
200 years old. One of them snapped off last winter in a storm, a very tall tree that fell uphill and blocked the road. What we can see is just the bottom of it. It knocked a second tree down, but this one isn't all the way to the ground yet. Both of them will be nurse logs, too.
5. FOREST OPENING WITH BUSHES: Here is a little opening in the forest, more sunlight reaching the forest floor, but no young trees growing here yet, so there is room for bushes of the forest floor: vine maple, hazelnut, ocean spray, salal, and huckleberry. Some of these bushes might die when big trees grow above them and block the light, but they are here now. Which animals do you think would come to eat the berries from salal, huckleberry, and Oregon grape? (birds, squirrels, bears....) And who would come to eat the animals that are
eating the berries?
6. SNAG (DEAD TREE): This is a beautiful big snag. Snags are one of the most valuable parts of the forest ecosystem. They are like giant apartment houses for forest animals. Pileated woodpeckers, with very big bills, drill holes in the wood to eat carpenter ants. Many other birds and other animals come to live in the holes the woodpeckers make. Eventually the snag will fall down and become a nurse log, but it can stay standing like this for many years.
7. NURSE LOG WITH SMALL HEMLOCKS ON IT: Here you can see young hemlocks growing out of another nurse log. A nearby cedar tree has peeling bark, which the Indians used in weaving baskets. A piece of cedar has come off almost as a board already. The Indians cut planks of wood out of big old cedars and left the trees to keep living and growing. Feel how soft the soil is, from falling needles and old soft trees that have decomposed. Leaves here are from spring wildflowers: trillium, oxalis, inside-out flower.
8. THE GRANDMOTHERS: These ancient firs are two of the oldest trees
in the grove. When these trees first started growing, in 1600 or 1700, what was happening in the world? What was happening here in Oregon? You can read the trees' history in their shapes and bark. A lightning strike made the bark black. Sap is dripping, so there is probably some disease. The old blue paint probably means that there was a time when loggers planned to cut the tree down, but for some reason they changed their minds.
Look way up at the tops of the trees. The tops get damaged in storms by winds that blow hard up above the forest. When the top breaks off, a new one often starts growing. The damaged parts high in the tree are valuable for wildlife as nesting places.
A third and fourth grandmother fell down, and there is a much older snag. Young hemlocks are growing up nearby, ready for their chance.
How many of us stretching our arms to get all the way around the trunk?
9. FALLING TREES BRING OTHERS DOWN WITH THEM. Over time they will land on the forest floor and become nurse logs. There are big-leaf maples growing in an opening where there is more light.
10. STRUCTURE OF THE FOREST: You can see the canopy, the top layer,
of the forest, with long bare trunks of big old trees. Sometimes people sit in trees to keep them from being cut down, but it's hard to get up there! All the lower branches fall off over time. Underneath the canopy is the understory, smaller trees and bushes, and young hemlocks and cedars. One the forest floor are wildflowers and ferns, mushrooms and nurse logs.
Here's another snag, with woodpecker holes in it where the
birds are pecking to eat carpenter ants that eat wood.
11. (IF WE HAVE TIME) TREE WITH A BROKEN TOP: Here is a bigger
opening, with a tree that lost its top and sprouted another.