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Douglas Fir - Down to the line

 
Lauren Dixon
Posts: 67
Location: Kalispell, Montana
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I am needing some moral support!

We have a 1.5 acre stand of mostly Doug Fir, with the typical oregon grape/rugosa rose/huckleberry understory. We have dense forest on all four sides of our property, which results in considerably less sunlight than we, or our gardens, really need. We have been struggling with seasonal depression in the wintertime, due to low sun angles being blocked by trees, trees, and more trees! We also struggle with much less growing space than we really need to supply our family with food, which was our goal when we purchased this property.

We have just received an offer from a logger with a portable sawmill to come to our place, take out all of the Doug Fir on the South side of the property (which will leave about 50-75 Fir and Cedar trees on the North side), mill us a pile of lumber, all for an easy, cheap trade. I really would like to move forward and accept his offer, but am having a major moral fight with myself over the removal of so many trees at once. Paul Wheaton calls the Douglas Fir an "invasive weed", which makes me feel a little bit better, but truth is, I know the character of each and every one of these trees personally. I know exactly where they cast their shade throughout the year, what bird species tend to hang out in each tree, and find it difficult to take out trees that have lived on this Earth in some cases 3x longer than myself! That being said, we cannot really move forward with our planned paddock shift grazing system for our livestock, and our polyculture orchard, without opening up a considerably larger amount of sunlight.

Decisions, decisions. Help me out, guys. What would you do?
 
Kelby Taylor
Posts: 47
Location: SE Pennsylvania, USA
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For starters, I'm a little confused why it's being called an invasive weed. Douglas Fir is native to Montana. Perhaps somewhere else it can be noxious?

I'd say as long as you're not clear cutting, go for it! Forests often grow better being thinned out some (less tree to tree competition), and adding clearings (especially on your southern side like in Mollison's permaculture books) will make the land work for you.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1556
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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I say go for it - the timber will serve you very well and having someone else do the hard work sounds like a great deal. Remember that you can also hugelculture with the remaining wood scraps, as well as be set up with firewood for the next 5 years or so.

Remember that trees do regrow - if these are prolific in your area which it sounds like they are, then I can't see too much wrong with some strategic thinning/small scale clearing. Think of the bigger picture, not just individual trees.
 
Michael Qulek
Posts: 148
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Kelby Taylor wrote: Forests often grow better being thinned out some (less tree to tree competition).

No, I have to disagree. Thinning by size is not always the best way to go, especially if its a logger trying to make money. This is know as highgrading, and can seriously harm a forest stand. Douglas Fir is know for producing large acreages of uniformly aged trees, that got started immediately after a fire or a clear-cut. When the stand of trees is even-aged, removing the biggest trees essentially means removing the genetically superior ones, leaving the less fit to propogate the next generation.

I have seen this myself in formerly burned areas. I can distinctly remember standing in front of two drasticly different trees, one about 40 feet tall, and the other 4 feet tall. I knew the trees were exactly the same age because I counted the whirls on each. They were both 40 years old. Using the KT method, you'd cut the 40 foot tree leaving the 4 footer. Essentially what that does is remove all the healthy vigorous trees and leaving behind the weak, stunted rejects.

Have a real forester look at the stand before acting. You may instead decide to thin out the smallest trees, leaving the best to carry on for the next generation.
 
Lauren Dixon
Posts: 67
Location: Kalispell, Montana
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Michael Cox and Kelby, thanks for your words of advice and encouragement!

Kelby: When Paul Wheaton talks about Doug Fir being an invasive species, I think he's pointing to their tendency to become a tree monoculture, essentially smothering out all other species. I have seen this in action on our property, where the Doug Firs have managed to kill or seriously stunt all of the Maple, Silver Birch, and Ponderosa. There is also some debate about whether or not the Douglas Fir actually releases poisonous substances meant to kill other plant species and wipe out the competition. As Ernie Wisner (if I remember correctly) put it, "The Douglas Fir is designed for combat". They are big, beautiful trees, but I don't see any way that our fruit trees will survive competition with this species.

Michael: We will definitely be hugelkulturing any wood scraps that we get out of this deal. We have two large hugelkultur beds built out of mostly Doug Fir logs and trimmings, and those garden beds are freakishly productive. More sunlight will equal more hugel beds on our property. Thanks for the reminder about this. Now I'm a little bit more excited about this ordeal!

These trees are definitely prolific. We have some young Doug Firs on the property that have grown a full 3 feet in 3 years, since we moved in. These trees can reach full mature size in 30 years or less, which is why nothing else seems able to compete with them. They are unbelievable.

See that? I'm talking myself into it, bit by bit.

Tree guy just left and we walked around, marking the trees destined for removal. All in all, I think we chose about 50 trees to take out. He kept telling me, "This property is going to look GREAT once these guys are out of here. Just wait until you see how much sun you'll get!" I needed to hear those things. I'm getting braver about this.
 
Lauren Dixon
Posts: 67
Location: Kalispell, Montana
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Michael Qulek: My instincts seem in line with your thinking on this issue. As I walked around the property today, the first trees I slated for removal were the obviously dead, dying, or diseased, and second, the small overcrowded ones. I kept quite a few big, old "grandfather" trees that looked to be thriving, and also selected any smaller trees beside the big old healthy trees that looked to be leeching resources from the big guys. The logger had zero input into which trees needed to come down. He only advised me about whether a certain tree would be good for lumber, firewood, or hugelkultur scrap. The decision was all mine, and I held the spray paint to do the marking. I was never pushed in any direction, which I appreciated.

My father went to college for forestry, and dropped out in his second year after discovering that forestry is all about securing human profit. I'm not sure I want the opinion of a "real forester". I'd rather hear the opinions of permaculture folks who are looking out for the best interest of the ecosystem and the land as a whole package, rather than just looking out for the trees.
 
wayne stephen
steward
Posts: 1793
Location: Western Kentucky-Climate Unpredictable Zone 6b
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Lauren , please watch Pauls video about conifers { especially firs } :



Joel Salatin has 500+ acres of which only 150 or so is pasture . The rest is managed as woodlot . He usually cuts selectively but does occassionally clear cut . He talks about this as "disturbance" as opposed to destruction . He uses pigs to convert these sections to pasture {"You Can Farm" , pages 267-269}. Richard Leakey writes about the cyclical disturbance of acacia forests by elephants to allow for the creation of new savannah for grazers . When elephants are on the decline so goes the grazers . So , if you cut these trees to make way for new pasture you would be in the good company of pigs and pacaderms .
I have read that old growth forests in the PNW are actually patchworks of very competitive species . Douglas firs even shade out their own offspring . Hemlock is one species that might grow under a fir , so when the forest reaches its climax and a fir dies the created space can be taken up by the hemlock. This will take centuries but eventually diversity will prevail .
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1556
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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In our woodland (mixed deciduous in the UK - mostly chestnut coppice with Oak canopy) we have far too much canopy and the chestnut and hazel is being suppressed. This is a very traditional form of woodland management in our area. Chestnut provides fence post, charcoal, firewood etc... Oak provides excellent buildiing timber. Hazel provides whips for hurdle making etc...

We have been gradually coppicing the chestnut and, as we work in an area, selectively removing oaks to bring the canopy down to between 20 and 30%. Given it is close to 90% at present there is a lot of oak to come down!

When looking at a section we think about our immediate needs (firewood, timber for rough sawn planks etc... we don't hugelculture as the woodland is a drive away from home) and select trees accordingly. Usually we take out any oaks that are spindly or leaning etc... then look at the balance of what remains to see how it impacts on the overall canopy. If you look at your feet in any part of our woods you see hundreds of seedlings just waiting for their day in the sun. The areas we have worked are warmer, growth is more vigorous and we have had most of our heating and some planked timber. I just regret not having more time and freedom to work up there.

Our situation is quite different from yours, due to the nature of the woods and what we hope to achieve with the land, but opening the canopy and letting more light in makes a big difference. As mentioned - avoid "highgrading". That is, don't just select the best specimins to remove. I read an article a few years back, but can't find it now, that advocated selecting trees based on when they reach their PEAK VIGOUR - that is once they have reached a point of maturity and their growth slows down you harvest them. This takes fairly intimate knowledge of your woodland, over a number of years. You could get a measure of it by considering trunk girth at 6ft above the ground and charting it through successive years if you wanted to be technical about it.
 
Lauren Dixon
Posts: 67
Location: Kalispell, Montana
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Wayne Stephen: I have seen Joel Salatin's system of creating what he calls "pig savannahs", which is a big part of what spurred my interest in clearing some trees. We will be leaving a few big, healthy trees scattered throughout the lot (taking our canopy down from 90% to something closer to 25%) and in the spring, we will be running our pigs through the area on a rotational basis to create some ground disturbance. The soil where these trees have been is a rather acidic, dry duff which will need a good disturbance and some added organic material to get it moving toward polyculture grass meadow.

Also, I think I should point out that we are clearing about 1/2 acre of trees, in the middle of a 1.5 million acre national forest system, which is 99% Douglas Fir. The Forest Service has been intentionally selecting for the Doug Fir around here for about 50 years, routinely girdling all of the broad leaf species. In fact, we have a beautiful Silver Birch grove about 100 yards behind our property consisting of about 250 large trees, all of which have been recently girdled by the Forest Service. Doug Fir with it's rapid maturity, and good straight grain appears to be a favorite of the lumber industry, and therefore, well protected by the Forest Service. That combined with the continual suppression of wildfires for the last 75 years in this area has created a 1.5 million acre monoculture of Fir with lots of very dry, crackly underbrush. It's a fire bomb waiting to happen.

Our main interest is to remove these Doug Firs and introduce a wider array of species, including some conifers, but also broad leafed trees, fruit trees, nut trees, nitrogen accumulators like buffalo berry, edible berry bushes, etc, as well as opening up some grassland and creating more forest edge for life to flourish. We do have a few neat little Doug Fir/Huckleberry guilds on the place that nature designed, and we will be leaving those alone.
 
Nick Merrill
Posts: 8
Location: SW PDX -- Zone 8
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Sounds like you're on the right track, Lauren. Interesting thread.

You are correct in alluding to collusion of the USFS and the timber industry. It's not a very well-kept secret. There are lots of good people in both, but the profit machine drives them to . . . distraction. Imho, of course. Sort of like the SEC and Wall Street.

Intelligent selective thinning is always a good thing. If you don't do it, nature will, eventually. I wish I could remove some of the thick wall of Dougs on my south side, but the neighbs would certainly throw a fit if I even suggested such a thing. I've taken out all of them that I can, on the property they say is mine, and some Big Leaf Maple that were rotting out, and a Western Red Cedar. Into the hugel they went! Except for the cedar and whatever else I kept fir firewood. Now I can grow a few fruits and veg in a small sideyard clearing. I love the extra sun, and so will you! And in the grand scheme of things, those firs' descendants will come back if they're meant to.
 
Bill Erickson
garden master
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Location: Northwest Montana from Zone 3a to 4b (multiple properties)
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Lauren,
As a "neighbor" here in the Flathead/Kalispell, I say that it is a good thing. Do the deal, and widen the diversity of trees on your property. It won't hurt a thing to get some use out of the monoculture that has been pushed by folks to get you and yours in a better way. I'd add serviceberry, native plums to the list you've given for your property. Blueberries really love the acidic soil, but as you can tell by looking out the window, we're really more of a 3a to 4a area than the 5a the USDA is claiming these days - so plan accordingly.
The past few years have been more like the 60s and 70s, when I was a kid/teen, than what has been going on the previous 10 to 20 years.
 
Lauren Dixon
Posts: 67
Location: Kalispell, Montana
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Bill, thanks for your input! I am always excited to encounter someone else in the Flathead who is interested in Permaculture. I would love to hear about some of your projects here in the Flathead, if you don't mind sharing.

I do intend to plant some blueberries alongside the huckleberries that seem to thrive on the property. Our plan is to clear about 80 doug firs out of here. Once they are gone, we will run the goats and pigs through to "brush-hog" (pun intended), and then plant half of the clearing in a polyculture of meadow species for animal fodder, and the other half will become a new food forest with more interesting edges and diversity. We're pretty excited about this idea. We're also really excited about the idea of actually seeing the SUN. Ahem...
 
Bill Erickson
garden master
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Location: Northwest Montana from Zone 3a to 4b (multiple properties)
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Lauren, you are much farther along the permaculture path than I as far as projects, having just discovered it shortly before I joined here. All the things I have done up to now have been fairly conventional in scope to include the garden and mini-orchard here by town and our woods properties have seen more dreaming than doing for far to long. That said, things are going to change on them and here. I'm going to go "shopping" along some of the roads here and see what has volunteered it's way on or near the right of way and start moving trees and bushes and such to where I'd like them to be, or just making cuttings and sticking them in the dirt. I ran into Kelly Ware at the Mini-makers conference at FVCC, last weekend I think, and she told me to just take some cuttings from my serviceberries and stick them in the dirt. I've been trying to get fruit for seeds instead, had no idea they would propagate that way! As a guy who likes to think he knows some stuff about the ecosystem here, that was an epiphany. So lots of ideas and now for the time when it isn't frozen snow to get to this stuff and see what I can make work.
 
Landon Sunrich
pollinator
Posts: 1703
Location: Western Washington
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Obviously if your primary interest is in getting more light to the property the only way you'll be able to accomplish that is by taking down the trees - but I have to write a brief 'In defense of conifers' here.

1) Doug Fir host some of the best most awesome edible fungi populations in their root zones
2) Doug Fir can totally co-exist with other trees. The doug fir on my property has the following species going within 12 feet of it.

-Big Leaf Maple
-Ceder
-Hemlock
-Pacific Yew
-Choke Cherry
-Red elderberry
-Salal
-Evergreen Huckelberry
-Red Huckelberry
-Nettles
-English Holly
-English Ivy
-Laurel
-Himilayan Blackberry
-Some form of invasive wild rose type thing of many many spikes
-Likely one or two others my eye has not caught onto yet

Something else to note - Doug fir are very hearty fire and sun resistant trees - you could take down many of them and leave stands of 3 or 4 here and there - There are many stumps of doug fir that are 6-7 feet in diameter around here, they grow to be magnificent trees.

I also have a sneaking suspician that many conifers sequester more carbon than many deciduous tree - who release their leaf stored carbon into the atmosphere every year when their leaves shed and decompose - but now I'm speculating
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