Tagging along with foresters!

The Roseburg BLM office is unique in the amount of timber land it manages. Public timber land is certainly not something I (a Wisconsin native) am used to, but I’ve come to love the coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest. And I am slowly coming to understand the very complicated and ever-changing Resource Management Plan the BLM uses to try to meet its multi-faceted objectives of supplying timber, providing recreation areas, and preserving biodiversity.

Over the past month, I have had a number of exciting opportunities to tag along with a number of foresters with different amounts of formal education and experience (ranging from a few classes to a phd). Through these experiences, I have absorbed some very big picture ideas of forest management paradigms and practices, as well as many hands-on, practical, and specific management techniques.

The first foresters I tagged along with were actually conducting a PCT (Pre-Commercial Thinning) which involved thinning out land units that were designated for timber harvest (check out the specifics here!) Much of my botany internship here focused on grasses and forbs, and I actually spent a lot of time hiking through the forest in order to find open meadows. Trees were not necessarily a destination, merely something to get through. With these foresters however, I learned to make educated guesses about fertilization treatments, thinning treatments, stand age, and land allocation types just by walking through the understory and being observant towards the average distance between trees, the straightness of the trunks, the distance at which foliage starts, the diameters, the crown development, the amount of sunlight that permeates through the canopy, etc.While flagging the boundary of the thinning unit, I learned the art of controlled slides down cliffs, bushwhacking through literally anything, and tying knots in less than a second. This was certainly a fun day and a great introduction to the hands-on, day-to-day of forest management.

In fact, it is a higher up position within the BLM that decides when PCTs need to take place. The District Silviculturist is in charge of identifying when, where, and how much to thin out a unit. The Roseburg Swiftwater Silviculturist occupies the cubicle next to ours, and was kind enough to take us out on a field trip the next week to show  us how she actually collects data on different units.

First, she creates a random set of sites within a unit. Then, she visits each site and estimates the basal area, canopy cover, and takes the DBH and age of a subset of the trees.   After enough random sites, a statistically robust representation of the entire unit can be made.

Different units have different abiotic conditions, such as the amount of sunlight, water, and soil nutrients that are available to them. This can make a drastic difference in the growth rate of the trees and the overall density of trees that can be maintained. Using growth charts that are specific to these different forest subregions, the silviculturist will then make a determination of whether a PCT is advisable, the ideal tree spacing to thin to, and when a thinning or regeneration harvest (more colloquially known as a clearcut harvest) should take place.

Lastly, some bigger picture concepts I’ve picked up on. The BLM occupies an interesting position in that we are tasked with two seemingly contradictory goals; on the one hand we are given a target in terms of millions of board feet we need to produce each year, and at the same time on the same land we manage habitats for botanical diversity, endangered species, and recreation. The BLM is often sued both by private timber companies for not supplying sufficient timber, and by environmental groups for destroying the habitats we are required by law to protect. It’s often said a good compromise leaves both sides unhappy, and this often seems to be the case with the BLM. There is perhaps no right answer, other than ultimately this is a organization meant to represent the will and interests of the public, and balance opposing interests in the most fair and transparent way possible.

But it is also important to keep in mind that the science of land management is still being improved! Researchers and public land managers are always innovating on ways to maximize the biodiversity and timber production that we can have from public land. The BLM for instance, does not do 100% total clearcuts like private timber companies will. The benefits of leaving around 10 trees per acre can result in large improvements in the ecological health by allowing legacy effects to affect future succession, while not severely cutting into the amount of board feet the unit ultimately produces. Another increasingly popular practice is Variable Retention Harvests, which essentially is removing timber from a unit unevenly, to create structural complexity instead of a monoculture of the same age and type of trees. Additionally, there are many important species that only thrive in the early successional stages of forests. While old growth forest is certainly important and needs protection, forest succession through wildfires and management by Native Americans has been taking place for thousands of years. I was very lucky to hear about the many new practices that are being adapted by public land managers tagging along with a group of graduate students from the University of Washington on their field trip to Douglas County.

I have certainly had an amazing time these past four months learning all about grasses, forbs, fires, and forests. And I am looking forward to the next month and what it will entail!


Acronyms are a pretty common occurrence in BLM office here in Roseburg. Just out of curiosity, I tried googling this one and came up with the following possibilities; Pacific Crest Trail, Pennsylvania College of Technology, and Patent Cooperation Treaty. In fact, what PCT stood for in the context of my day was Pre-Commercial Thinning.

I did not actually conduct the thinning, instead I went out with the silviculturists to mark the boundaries of what is to be thinned (Pre-Pre-Commercial Thinning?). The idea behind PCT is that it can both help overall forest health, as well as maximize the production of timber (in our case; Douglas fir). When trees are planted too closely, they compete with one another which can prevent them from growing quickly, in terms of both diameter and crown height. It also can lead to heightened tree morality and dense patches of even-aged trees that can increase the chances of pest outbreaks and contribute to fuel build-up and wildfires. Despite the costs of contracting a PCT, the increases in terms of volume per acreage often make it financially attractive for private timber companies, and the BLM likewise usually thins out the forest it manages to promote forest health and promote the growth of large trees, as well as to meet the timber targets of the Northwest Forest Plan as established by Congress in 1994. Pre-Commercial Thinning, as the name might suggest, doesn’t produce any economically valuable timber as the stand is still too young. However, periodic commercial thinning, which takes places later in the stand’s development, instead of one-time clear cutting events is seen by some as a good compromise in balancing the often competing interests of forest health and maximum timber production.

We flagged the boundaries around the units relying both on a handheld GPS with the ‘official’ boundary lines, but also based on what we were seeing in the forest around us. You can tell, after some practice, where the boundary lines are just based on the distance between trees, the diameter of the trees, and the amount of understory that signal different ages and treatment regimes. These visual clues don’t always match up perfectly to the GPS boundaries. Part of this is because there may be impassable bluffs, rocky areas with poor soil that were managed differently, and because past silviculturists may have created buffers around streams and other sensitive areas. Essentially, there is plenty of variation even within the same unit. At some point in the near future, a crew of people with chainsaws will come through what we marked and cut trees according to a criteria of distance between trunks and size of trunks. You can see the effects of this type of treatment when looking at the tree rings of a cut tree. The tree rings are wider immediately following thinning treatments and for several years afterwards, indicating faster growth when the canopy opens up and competition beneath the ground lessens.

Okay, so I can’t actually complete this post without mentioning the incredible solar eclipse of a few weeks past, and the fact that the entire Pacific Northwest is on fire right now. Enjoy a few pictures of those, because my camera didn’t come with me on the silvicultural escapade!


This is my favorite map that I’ve seen thus far of wildfires in the Pacific Northwest. It’s obviously not a particularly informative map, and the main intention behind it is to create the overwhelming impression that the entire Pacific Northwest is on fire and smoky. Which it is.



For some reason, this campground we did some repair work at is not full at the moment….

I haven’t gotten used to having a red sun for most of the day, but there is definitely a certain beauty to it….

The solar eclipse, as seen from 10 miles east of Salem, OR.

From seeds to weeds

Greetings from the Roseburg BLM Office! My last post highlighted my exploits for the BLM in Roseburg centered around investigating potential seed opening sites where GIS imagery showed breaks in forest canopy. All of those seeds are now hanging out in our office cubicle, occupying just about every available surface. We have at least 20 large Ace Hardware bags full of grasses and many smaller brown paper bags that are holding some seeds for various forbs that we’ve collected.Soon (hopefully by the time this is posted!), we will be sending our precious seed collection to the USFS Bend Seed extractory where they will be grown out to be later sowed along BLM roads. And finally, we will have free surfaces again!

So many seeds!

As the seeds dried up for most of the grasses we want to collect, the seeds are just getting ready on one grass we very much don’t want to collect; slender false brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum). This plant is native to Asia, Europe, and North Africa, and made its way to this continent in the 1930’s. It’s first reported sighting was in Lane County near Eugene, Oregon (north of us). As of now, it has not been found outside of Oregon, but land managers are worried that it will soon spread to Washington and California. It has, alas, made its way down to Douglas County and is currently hanging out all along the North Umpqua river and up several of its tributaries, which is very much in Roseburg BLM’s stomping grounds, and also in the Roseburg Forest Service’s land as well.

The common name “False Brome” comes from the fact that it very closely resembles many species in the Bromus genus, several of which are native here in Oregon. So naturally, we need to be very careful when identifying it to make sure we aren’t mistaking it for something else. Luckily, it has some distinctive characteristics that are easy to check. It posses a very particular shade of green that is slightly lighter than many surrounding grasses that makes it easy to pick out even from a large distance. Once you get closer you see that it is very hairy near the root of the stem and on the lower leaves, which are wide and have prominent venation. One very distinctive things about true bromes is that they have closed sheaths, whereas False Brome has open sheaths. This can be a tricky and time-consuming thing to check, but is a great identifier if they are not setting seed. But luckily, we are targeting them as they are setting seed and their inflorescence is very distinct. The spikelets are very tightly connected to the stem, with no pedicel. This is what helps us distinguish False Brome from its almost identical look-a-like, California Brome (Bromus vulgaris) a.k.a. “False False Brome”, which is a native plant that often co-occurs with False Brome.

False Brome leaves. Note the hairy surface and the leaf venation.

False Brome inflorescence. Note the the lack of a pedicel.

The other part of this project is the mapping portion. The actual task of removing False Brome from Douglas County is unfortunately a very large one. So part of what we need to do is identify when we can pull, treat, and contain a population, and when we need to just document its existence and find a contractor to do it for us. There also isn’t currently any type of map that documents the extent of False Brome populations, so we need to create one. Roads, waterways, campgrounds, parking lots, pull-offs, etc seem to be the major conduits and and refuges of False Brome. So we’ve been doing weed surveys along roads, and up rivers. It’s important to know how far up a river False Brome has made it so that we’re better able to target the most important areas for removal.

We’ve erected a large map in our office to help track our progress on mapping out False Brome…we definitely have a lot of ground left we need to cover

Weed surveys are also great opportunities for noticing desirable species for seed collection nearby. In particular, we’ve felt very fortunate to have found many previously unknown populations of Mimulus cardinalis (scarlet monkey flower) and we’ve managed to do some seed collecting of many native plants we’ve serendipitously come across.

And when we’re not doing weed surveys, we’ve gotten the chance to help out a little with the wildlife crew. Some highlights of the past month include helping do a frog survey of Rana boyii, the yellow-legged frog. Basically, we spent a day hiking both sides of a stream bed fastidiously scanning the banks and listening intently for any suspicious “plonking” noises that might indicate we scared a yellow-legged frog from sunning into the water. We also went out hiking with the owl crew as they banded a juvenile spotted owl. We helped distract the parents by feeding them mice, but mostly just got to enjoy listening to the expertise of our two owl guides, and admire watching the spotted owls from such a close distance. 

That’s owl for now! Expect another Roseburg Botany BLM update soon!

Field Notes from the CLM Roseburg Interns

My name is Mira and I’m one of the BLM Botany Interns in Roseburg, Oregon. My partner in crime/seed collection/field exploration is fellow intern, Aleah, and we’ve started the season helping with a project underway to collect native grass seed to eventually plant along roadways throughout Douglas County. As we’ve learned and observed extensively from getting to know the BLM land in the Roseburg district, roadways tend to be conduits for nonnative and often undesirable plants to form monocultures. While manual and chemical treatments can reduce these populations, a more ideal solution would be replacing them with robust populations of native grasses.

To find these populations, we’ve been using an old dataset from past seed collectors (including the CLM interns from our site that were here 5 years ago!) These past collectors recorded geospatial data with population estimates across a number of sites in the patchwork of BLM land in both the Swiftwater and South River Regions. This data has been extremely helpful, as most of these populations are still present in the same areas.

We took this photo at the North Bank Habitat Management Area while looking for populations of Achnatherum lemonii and Melica harfordii…originally documented by past CLM interns. We did eventually find them!

We’re also working on scoping out new sites, with the help of our supervisor, and the two botanists from the South River and Swiftwater regions. An unguided, exhausted manual search of all the BLM land would be impossible–there is an enormous amount of BLM land in the South River and Swiftwater regions of the Roseburg district, and much of it is difficult to access. Instead, one strategy we have been using is to overlay layers showing different features (stream, rock outcrop, etc) along with LIDAR data showing tree canopy in order to find likely sites where grass populations may be. We can further look at these potential openings in different ecoregions and classify these ecoregions by their temperature and rainfall in order to approximate what types of plants might be ready for collection.

Here’s a spot we hiked up to based on a GIS overlay…you can’t tell from the road that there is even an opening here, much less that it happens to have a number of native grass populations ready to be documented and collected.

With our (usually) trusty GPS and seemingly unstoppable truck, we’ve been driving out to sites we’ve identified as well as revisiting sites from past CLM interns and other BLM employees. Needless to say, fellow CLM intern Aleah Querns and I are now expert 4-wheel truck drivers and we’re certainly better at hiking up and down ridge lines. So far the four main species we’ve collected are Elymus glaucus (Blue wild rye), Festuca roemerii (Roemer’s fescue), Danthonia californica (California oat grass), and Bromus carinatus (California brome).

In the coming weeks, we will continue to scope out and collect grasses, as well as process them to be ready for the Bend Seed Extractory, where we will send them. And as we survey grass populations, we’re also keeping a lookout for a number of native species that attract pollinators, which may be our next project.

We’re also just keeping a lookout in general…we’re both new to the Pacific Northwest and every day in the field really is a treat for us. Here’s one last parting photo of the beautiful landscape we somehow managed to find ourselves working in!