Cindy Haws’s Biology class traveled to the Lower Cow Creek Watershed area near Riddle Friday, March 2 to view the impact of the logged landscape and the use of variable retention regeneration harvesting at the 2015 and 2017 Douglas Complex and Horse Prairie fire locations. The purpose of the trip was to analyze the Bureau of Land Management’s oversight of the lands.
The field trip lab taught that variable retention regeneration harvesting is a timber harvest method that retains structures, organisms and conditions from the pre-harvest stand for incorporation into the post-harvest ecosystem with the goal of establishing complex early-seral forest conditions through the regeneration of a new cohort of trees and other vegetation.
The students viewed three different fire locations and were asked to look at the size of the regrowth forest and its density as well as how the fires had affected the forest as a whole. Students also looked at the loss of water storage caused by clear cutting as water can run off the clearcut landscape straight into the rivers instead of storing in the ground, creating habitat and water supply.
The trip’s first stop was in BLM territory where the composition of the forest was intact – some old and some new growth. Students took pictures of the minor conifer (a minor confier is any tree species other than Douglas fir). A fire had been in that location, but the area was not clear cut after the fire which left the ability for the area to regrow. The forest was very diverse with foliage, moss, grass and brush. Leaving enough trees after the fire for wildlife led to additional voles, birds and elk in the area. There was also some dead wood that helped contribute to the storing of water for the summer months when there is little or no water.
After this BLM territory, students visited a dead area that looked burnt with almost no regrowth. The composition of the forest floor was bare. The trees were burned but still standing, and the students learned that the dead wood helps create new habitats and water storage that will in theory rebuild the forest.
The last stop was bare and looked like a graveyard with no trees, barely any dead wood, with little or no wildlife habitat and no re-growth. A sign nearby referred to a pioneer gravesite. A stream coming down from the mountain used to fall into a water cache prior to going into the Cow Creek, a tributary of the South Umpqua River. Because of all of the rubble and rocks from years of clear cutting and the creation of logging roads, the bare area displayed only a small area of water holding, closer to a puddle than a pond. The water runs straight off to the river.
“Students went on the field trip to analyze the impact of regeneration logging on the landscape’s composition, structure and function, as well as high fire risk and loss of water storage processes caused by the plantations” Haws said.
Students also learned that the watershed area is a mix of private and public land. According to Oregon Explorer, a site partly managed by Oregon State University, “The most common land use in the Lower Cow Creek Watershed is forestry, with 91% of the land base used for public or private forestry. Agriculture constitutes 6% of the land use and mostly occurs in Cow Creek Valley. Land ownership is primarily private (60%), with public ownership (39%) mostly administered by the Bureau of Land Management.”
Prior to the trip, students skyped with Chris Maser, a natural history and forest ecology research scientist and author of Forest Legacy, who talked about how the state is failing to take responsibility for ecosystems. Maser is passionately against totalitarian agriculture that controls what and who gets to grow and sell to the market for the public. Maser supports the idea that the land belongs to everyone, to every species, rather than the belief that the land belongs only to humans to exploit for profit.
For more information about the Bureau of Land Management’s work in the Lower Umpqua Watershed, see the report “Upper Cow Creek: Bureau of Land Management Watershed Analysis,” available online from the Bureau of Land Management’s website.