Archive for the ‘Forests’ Category

Sitka spruce: A tree with individuality

July 27, 2015

Western Washington’s Sitka spruce is not afraid to stand out from the rest. This tree can be seen sporting a variety of forms, from bizarrely shaped root systems to huge buttresses. Its unique shape has a lot to do with growing in a coastal environment. Being near the water, Sitka spruce faces challenges that inland trees don’t, such as a dense forest floor and extreme elements. These challenges force the tree to bend and twist in irregular ways.

How exactly does the forest floor of the coast affect the shape of Sitka spruce? The moist floor is often thick with bryophytes and other plants which makes it challenging for a tiny seed to grow. Therefore, Sitka spruce prefers to grow on elevated organic surfaces, such as logs and stumps. When these logs decay and disappear, the resulting Sitka spruce can display an oddly shaped root system and huge buttresses.

Sitka sprice root system

If a spruce started on a very large log, the resulting tree can often have a bizarrely shaped root system. Photo / DNR

Sitka spruce with broken trunk

The rotten top of a 400-plus year-old spruce snapped off in a violent winter storm, only to impale itself in the ground 65 feet from its base. Photo / DNR

Another factor that contributes to the individuality of Sitka spruce is its exposure to coastal elements. Violent winds can alter the shape of a Sitka spruce and if the tree’s top is rotten, the winds might even cause it to snap off.

Interesting facts like this and more can be found in DNR’s guides for identifying old trees and forests in Washington: Identifying Mature and Old Forests in Western Washington and Identifying Old Trees and Forests in Eastern Washington, both written by Robert Van Pelt, PhD. Both guidebooks are free to download.

Conservation of old-growth and other “structurally unique” trees is part of the State Trust Lands Habitat Conservation Plan that DNR uses to guide its management of working forests and provide habitat for endangered species on state trust lands.

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Have you watered your trees lately?

July 16, 2015

TreeThe dog days of summer are upon us, so it’s a good thing we have trees to help keep us cool! Summer is a great time to kick back, relax, and enjoy the nice weather. But this month and next can be hard on trees, and they can use our help. Don’t be fooled by cloudy weather, because it does not necessarily mean moisture.

In Washington, most of the annual accumulation of moisture comes in three seasons, fall, winter and spring. Summer is typically very dry. This weather pattern is great for vacations and back yard barbecues, but difficult for trees – particularly newly planted trees.

When we do get moisture, it may not be enough for our leafy friends, especially those planted within the last year or two. Even if you are watering your lawn on a regular basis, your trees might not be getting enough to drink. Grass roots, after all, only grow to a depth of several inches. In contrast, trees roots are deeper, from about 18” to 24” deep.

Long, slow watering under the drip-line of a tree with a soaker hose or even a bucket with small holes drilled into it will ensure that moisture seeps down into the root zone.

Or build a low ring of dirt about 1 foot from the trunk of the tree to create a soil dam. With your hose turned on to a slow trickle, fill the tree ring with water (this will take about 30 minutes). Keeping the hose on a trickle will allow the water to soak in rather than run off, while the dam will keep the water directly over the roots of the tree.

Remember that a 2-4 inch thick layer of bark mulch around the base of a tree will maintain soil moisture and help control weeds, (but keep the bark about a hands-width away from the trunk).

There are many factors involved when considering how much and how long to water. Check out this article by Oregon State University Extension (OSUE) about watering trees and shrubs the right way, and how watering needs differ depending on soil texture.

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The noble fir: A tree whose seeds are made to wander

July 13, 2015

A small noble fir seedling in the middle of the pumice plain on the northeast section of Mount Saint Helens. The nearest mature noble fir to this tree is more than 5 kilometers (just over 3 miles) away. Photo: DNR

Noble fir is a popular ornamental tree throughout the Pacific Northwest and many consider it the premiere holiday tree. The firs you might see at Christmas tree lots typically come from tree farms, but this tree will grow quite large naturally throughout the southern Cascade Mountains of western Washington.

While the noble doesn’t produce a large number of cones, the seeds within those cones are large — large enough to provide young sprout with nutrients for up to a year while its roots try to find a favorable spot to grow. As a result, noble firs can sprout and grow well in areas with deep winter snowpacks that would crush or smother the smaller seedlings of other species such as Douglas fir.

You wouldn’t expect such large seeds to spread very far from their origin tree, but the windy, icy conditions at high-elevations can allow noble fir seeds to slip, slide and blow around great distances — sometimes a few miles as shown in our photo of a seedling that took root more than three miles from the nearest mature noble fir.

Interesting facts like this and more can be found in DNR’s guides for identifying old trees and forests in Washington: Identifying Mature and Old Forests in Western Washington and Identifying Old Trees and Forests in Eastern Washington, both written by Robert Van Pelt, PhD. Both guidebooks are free to download.

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Ehhh, what’s up doc? Diagnosing plant health problems

May 27, 2015
Tree Doctors can come in all ages. Photo DNR

Tree Doctors can come in all ages. Photo DNR

The term “Tree Doctor” implies that such a professional can effectively diagnose a plant health problem and offer advice or prescriptions for resolving it.

Although not known as tree doctors these days, arborists are often called upon by their clients for exactly this service, since diagnosing plant health problems takes specialized knowledge and experience. Some diagnoses are straight-forward when dealing with common problems; however, other plant health issues can be frustrating to diagnose in cases when symptoms are elusive or when circumstances conspire to obscure the signs that something might be wrong.

The best plant health diagnosticians out there will tell you that it takes decades of study and diligent practice to get really good at it – and even then, the most experienced will still consult textbooks and research articles to help verify their conclusions.

So whether you’re a professional looking to beef up your skills on how to triage a tree issue or a homeowner with general concerns about the plants in your yard, consider consulting the following sources that outline the process of plant problem diagnosis:

  1. Article: “Plant Disease Diagnosis” from the American Phytopathological Society (APS).
  2. A companion PowerPoint presentation to the above APS article.
  3. “Diagnosing Plant Problems” as excerpted from the University of Kentucky’s Master Gardener Manual.
  4. “Diagnosing Tree Disorders” from the Colorado State Extension Master Gardner program

“As any doctor can tell you, the most crucial step toward healing is having the right diagnosis. If the disease is precisely identified, a good resolution is far more likely. Conversely, a bad diagnosis usually means a bad outcome, no matter how skilled the physician.”

~Andrew Weil, Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona.

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Spring brings plants, amphibians and… fungus to Washington forests

May 2, 2015
Calypso orchid. Photo: K. Bevis.

Calypso orchid. Photo: K. Bevis.

As the days grow longer and the earth warms, new growth appears first on the forest floor and in the bushes and grasses, then on the tall trees above. Flowering plants like the calypso orchid are specialists on the forest floor, living on moist decaying wood in older forests and are a wonderful surprise to see. Calypso, or fairy slipper, orchids are fragile and seldom survive picking or transplanting due to their fragile root systems and their association with particular soil fungi.


Rough-skinned newt.

Rough-skinned newt.

Frogs, toads and salamanders become active in the spring as well, breeding as ponds and wetlands lose their ice cover and the edges warm. Depending on where you are, the woods can be alive with their breeding migrations and choruses from late-February to June. Spend an evening listening to their singing or an afternoon watching rough-skinned newts wandering the woods.


Lobster mushroom.

Lobster mushroom.

Moist soils and rotting wood produce amazing springtime explosions of mushrooms all over Washington. Mushrooms are the fruiting body of fungi, with the mycelium or “root mass” buried below ground. The mycelium unobtrusively break down organic material on the forest floor, helping to ensure the health of the forest and its residents. When conditions are right, the mushrooms themselves appear, often literally overnight, in crazy and varied shapes, sizes and colors. Mushrooms are also abundant in the fall. If you plan on picking mushrooms, be careful and take along an experienced mushroomer or a good field guide. Although some mushrooms are a tasty treat for humans and wildlife alike, others can make you sick or even kill you.

This blog first appeared in a longer version in Small Forest Landowner News, a free e-newsletter published quarterly by the DNR Small Forest Landowner Office. Click here to get Small Forest Landowner News delivered to your email in-box each quarter

Down log denizens

April 12, 2015
down log near Forks

This large down log near Forks continues to provide valuable habitat. Note the animal pathway under log’s edge and the vegetation growing out of the log. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR.

Once a tree dies there is still a lot of life left in it. In fact, dead wood can provide some species with more habitat value than living wood.

While standing trees are excellent habitats for many species, standing trees that are dead can provide even more habitat opportunities. And when a tree falls over, becoming a down log. it will likely play an even bigger role in the local ecosystem. Because of our excellent climate for growing trees in the Pacific Northwest and the slow nature of decay, down logs are particularly important to our forests. They help recycle nutrients into the soil, retain moisture in dry seasons, provide structure for plants to live on, and create essential habitat structure in streams.

Down logs also provide important habitats for many wildlife species, from the smallest shrew or wren to the black bear. In Washington state, forest practices rules recognize the ecological importance of down wood and require retention of some down wood after a timber harvest.

Read more about down logs, how they are formed and the species they help support in the latest issue of Forest Stewardship News, a free, quarterly e-newsletter published by DNR and Washington State University Forestry Extension.

Subscribe to Forest Stewardship Notes — it’s free!

Own more than 10 acres forestland or just an acre or two trees? Check out the advice and assistance available from the DNR Forest Stewardship Program and the Small Forest Landowner Office.

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Hurray for Arbor Day; do you live in a ‘Tree City USA’?

April 8, 2015
It takes all kinds of help to plant trees in celebration of Arbor Day. Photo: Linden Lampman/DNR

It takes all kinds of help to plant trees in celebration of Arbor Day. Photo: Linden Lampman/DNR

Today is Arbor Day, a celebration of trees and all the great things they do for us in “The Evergreen State.” Washington State Arbor Day is always celebrated on the second Wednesday, April 8 this year as proclaimed by Governor Jay Inslee.

However, Arbor Day is more than just a celebration of trees. It’s a celebration of responsible natural resource management.

Salmon streams that DNR protects in native forestlands flow out of the foothills, across the landscape, and ultimately through one or more of Washington’s cities. Urban areas are where streams, shellfish beds, and fragile nearshore habitats are most threatened by stormwater runoff, erosion and sedimentation, toxic pollutants, low oxygen levels, and climate fluctuations.

As foresters we recognize that trees are erosion reducers, pollution mitigators, water purifiers, climate stabilizers, and carbon sinks. The practice of forestry in cities offers practical, low-cost, natural resource-based solutions to many environmental problems that affect our daily lives in Washington. Planting a tree in a city is an act restoration. Caring for urban trees is an act of stewardship. Cultivating an urban forest is natural resource management.

Sixty percent of Washingtonians live in an incorporated municipality, and approximately 90 percent of the State’s population lives in an area identified as “urban” by the 2010 census. There are 86 Tree City USA Communities in Washington and nearly 50 percent of Washington’s population lives in a Tree City USA.

Tree City USA is a national award from the Arbor Day Foundation that recognizes cities and towns for making a commitment to plant, protect, and maintain their trees. At DNR we celebrate Arbor Day in partnership with local communities across the state that have earned the Tree City USA® award. Find out if your city is a Tree City USA, as there may be special programs to celebrate trees in your community this month.

If your city isn’t part of the Tree City USA Program, contact your city officials to help them plan Arbor Day celebrations next year. Sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation in cooperation with the US Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters, Tree City USA® provides technical assistance and national recognition for urban and community forestry programs in thousands of towns and cities.

DNR provides assistance and support to many forest landowners, including Washington’s cities and towns. The agency’s work in urban forestry helps protect natural resources, engage urban residents in forest stewardship, and preserve the environmental character of our state.

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Small forest landowners: Learn how the FFFPP can help you

April 3, 2015

Are you a small forest landowner? Do the roads on your land block or damage fish habitat?

The Family Forest Fish Passage Program (FFFPP) is a DNR program targeted specifically to small forest landowners. The program helps landowners eliminate structures (improperly installed road culverts, for example) that prevent fish from moving freely through the stream or reaching spawning grounds. FFFPP was introduced in 2003, and has since helped more than 200 small forest landowners correct 343 barriers, reconnecting over 760 miles of stream fish habitat.

Any small forest landowner is eligible to enroll in the program and apply to have their land evaluated. Once landowners are accepted into the program, they are relieved of the responsibility to fix the barrier and will remain on the list until the state is able to fund and complete the repairs.

This video shows landowners who have used the program, explains the benefits of participating in FFFPP and how to apply.

For more information, contact Laurie Cox via email ( or phone (360-902-1404).

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Beetle invasions put forests at risk of wildfire

March 16, 2015

A healthy forest is a top priority in preventing wildfire, and insects are one of the things that can threaten the health of a tree. Bark beetles, such as the mountain pine beetle, feed on the inner bark of many types of pine trees, which can cause the trees to die. Although the beetles normally play an important role by attacking older or weakened trees to allow more room for younger trees to grow, the combination of warmer winters, densely packed forest stands and poor forest health conditions, such as seen across eastern Washington, puts entire forests at greater risk of destructive wildfire.

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Learn about the health of Washington’s forests near you

March 14, 2015
Forest Health Highlights is a report on insect and disease activity in Washington's forests.

Forest Health Highlights is a report on insect and disease activity in Washington’s forests.

Each year, all forested acres in Washington are surveyed from the air to track recent tree damage. That’s 22.4 million acres of forestland, which you can see in this three-minute video taken from 2011.

These aerial surveys are used to report the location and intensity of damage by forest insects, diseases, and other disturbances. See the results for yourself in our latest Forest Health Highlights report.

If you own forestland, use this report to understand which insects or diseases are active near your property and find out how to get maps and data covering your area.

Even if you don’t own forestland, the report helps you understand the quality and condition of forests near you. It’s so valuable in fact, that DNR and the U.S. Forest Service have conducted a forest health survey of Washington’s forests every year since 1947.

Learn more about DNR’s Forest Health Program, and check out the many resources the U.S. Forest Service has available on Western Forest Insects and Diseases.

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