I've been looking for land in Washington state. My favorite property right now was logged selectively some time ago. Vast parts of it are rewilding and the diversity there is great. But I wonder what the trees that remain say about the soil conditions, disease and pest issues, etc...because I have never seen so many gnarly, weird, forked and fallen trees on one site! They're fascinating and might even make for special wood on the mill when any need to be cleared.
I have figured that there was heavy woodpecker and sap-drinking insect activity; some of the trees have scarred belts of pockmarks from that. But there are so many deviations from typical growth habit exemplified here that maybe pics can explain better. While adding them I see that these are pretty bad due to twilight, but I'll be going back there and will update with better photos if there's interest.
It IS beautiful. and if I plan a thousand+ trees out here, I only want to know that they will bearfruit or nuts or produce wood as I hope they will. if they demonstrate these highly idiosyncratic habits, so much the better aesthetically
What you are seeing is the results of a logging operation known as High Grading. It was selective logging, it is just that the loggers went in and cut only the high quality wood leaving the many odd, twisted and gnarly trees behind that had little commercial value. It is a very common practice, though generally not very good for most forests.
It would be the equivalent of me going through my flock of sheep, selling all the really nice looking sheep with great genetic traits, then leaving all the nasty, unhealthy sheep. It is the same thing...however in only matters if a person is looking for commercial forest products. For Permiculturalists, it does not really matter. There is still plenty of forest products there to build homesteading structures and the like, and a Permiculturist can use the lack of commercial wood as a leveraging point to lower the purchase price of the land.
Thanks Travis. Why is high grading bad, aside from that it leaves behind only the genetically inferior examples of species? I feel creepy just saying that
I should add that while we were looking at the land, we encountered another guy who claimed to be from a company that buys land previously logged sometime ago, selectively logs it, then turns around and sells it. he said they usually broke even after logging sales and made a small profit on the property sale. he said he would not recommend this property for that process.
I feel like there is an unusually high number of deformed trees on this property. While I love their twisted ways and I'm sure I can incorporate and use them, I am curious whether trees grow unconventionally for any reasons that should worry a permaculturist. Signs of disease, infestation, soil deficiencies etc.
High Grading is an especially bad practice, but sadly quite common. It is common because it gives the logger and land owner the best return. They go after the high grade trees, get paid a premium for it, without spending money and time going after trees that they are not going to get much for. Think of it this way, it costs just as much time, money and fuel to get out a inferior tree that they will get 1/3 the money for as they do for a really good tree. In the end they can still call it "selective logging", but it is just putting lipstick on a pig.
The reason you might have a high number of deformed trees is because that particular tract of land has been high graded multiple times. Again, imagine what my flock of sheep would look like if lamb crop after lamb crop I only took the good lambs and sold them, and kept the inferior ones? Or if a house in Surburbia kept cutting every good looking ornamental tree it had; pretty soon its landscape would look pretty gnarly.
On my farm I actually do the opposite; I low-grade; that is I only cut the junk wood that would never make a log or was of a species that had no real value. White Fir is a good example, it makes crappy lumber, but if I need a bit of cash, I cut a load of it for the paper mill and make a quick $800. It is the equivalent of weeding my garden, but I get a little something for money to do so. By constantly cutting out the junk wood I am always assured I will have good wood. High grading is just the opposite, and would be like someone taking out all their food producing plants in their garden, leaving nothing but weeds, but telling the prospective buyer of the house, "and look, it has a nice garden..." In this case the seller is saying, "we selective harvested the wood", and it is true...it is just they took everything that was good and left junk behind.
With wood, species and volume have a lot to do with value. Right now Ash is worth about $250 a cord where as hemlock is worth $15. That is a big spread on price, and why your friend would never be able to cut the wood off and resell the land for a profit, the wood has little value. But for a Permiculturist, that really does not matter. Most will plant their food forests anyway, and as long as they don't plan of building barns and hoses that require lots and lots of commercial quality wood, the wood that is there would suffice.
Your property looks a lot like mine, actually. We have a lot of funky looking maples, trees growing sideways, etc. I would be curious to see how moist your soil is and how close to the surface the bedrock is. The funky-looking trees combined with alders looks like the wetlands around around my place, and from the land surveys I read that my property has a hardpan pretty close to the surface, causing the water to not drain, and the roots perhaps not to go too deep. Maybe that's why the trees look like that? Has the land been evaluated for wetlands yet? If not, you might want to as there's not much you can legally do on protected wetlands (make some paths, watch some birds). Protected wetlands make great Permaculture zone 5s, and are great for wildcrafting and maybe sneaking in some native edibles (thimbleberry, elderberry, wood strawberry, bunchberry, serviceberry, lingonberry, red and mountain huckleberries, oregon grape, salal, wild roses, miner's lettuce, oxalis, black cap raspberry, salmonberry, trailing blackberry, etc.), but if too much of the property is wetland, you might not be able to put in a septic, or build a house, etc.
I do think it's pretty exciting, though, that you have trees old enough to be dying in your forest--that indicates to me that it's a more mature forest, with good fungal diversity in the soils. But, I'm no expert.
As for edibles growing on such a property, well, I don't know if it's any indication, but my fruit trees and berries do well for me, but I have a hard time growing most annuals except for daikons. But, that could also be my own lack of expertise....
Some resources to look into, if you haven't already: