Enjoying and protecting nature are cited as the top two ‘very important' reasons why private forest landowners in the UC ANR Forest Stewardship Workshops own forestland. Many of these landowners express a desire to have their forest return to an ‘old-growth' state. But, what exactly does this mean? UC Berkeley Silviculture Professor Emeritus, John Helms, says this depends on several things.
Some definitions focus on tree or stand age and size, some on whether the area has been previously harvested and some on the structure of the forest in place now. Defining old-growth trees and stands usually requires species-specific descriptions of many characteristics including age, size, crown form, and structure.
Tree age and size: Old growth, or “ancient forest” has been legally defined (CA State Legislature 2002) as a tree having a stem that existed in 1850 (California Statehood) or a forested area with a multistoried canopy, with at least six live trees per acre that existed before 1800 A.D. and are greater than 60 inches in diameter at stump height for Sierra and coast redwoods, and 48 inches in diameter at stump height for all other tree species.
Sometimes age, such as 150 years, has been suggested, although “old” for a species such as lodgepole pine with a lifespan of about 120 years is obviously different from “old” for redwood that may live for thousands of years.
Stand management history: According to the legislature, an ancient forest may be either:
(A) An un-entered forested area covering 40 or more acres with no evidence of commercial timber harvesting and no record of previous harvest activities, or
(B) An entered forested area covering 40 or more acres with previous entry for logging that provides essential habitat elements for old forest-related wildlife species.
Forest structure: Professor Helms also notes that old growth is considered a complex structure because it typically contains diverse age classes, a multi-layered canopy with an understory layer often made up of more shade tolerant trees, snags, and down logs. A forest could be regarded as old growth when it achieves this structure, regardless of age.
The textbook concept of how a forest stand develops is through these stages: stand initiation, stem exclusion, under-story re-initiation and old growth. These four stages are driven by the amount of growing space and resources available to the trees (light, nutrients and water). In stand initiation after a disturbance, there is lots of space and resources available to new seedlings. In stem exclusion, competition for space and resources is high due to the trees maturing, causing some trees to decline in health and die. There is no growing space available for new stems, thus the name ‘stem exclusion'. As trees compete and some die and fall, this opens up space and frees up resources for the remaining trees and for re-initiation of additional tree seedlings in the understory. Old growth is the climax stage with multiple age classes of trees, where theoretically a forest is in equilibrium in the absence of disturbance.
Daniels, Lori & Gray, Robert. (2006). Disturbance regimes in coastal British Columbia. BC Journal of Ecosystems and Management. 7.
However, this text book model may not really be the ideal for all forest types. The forest stand may not actually develop through all of these stages because of repeated disturbances. In fire-adapted forests, low severity fires regularly burn and kill new seedlings in many areas, greatly reducing the extent of forest in the understory re-initiation and old growth phase. Frequent fires favor the more fire and drought tolerant tree species such as pines and oaks over the shade tolerant species that would initiate in the understory such as white fir in the Sierra Nevada or Douglas-fir on the coast. Lack of frequent fires has led to development of more forest biomass than can be sustained over time in the face of increasingly long fire seasons, high temperatures and drought.
Developing old-growth on your property: How a forest develops on your property is a product of the climate, species, fire regime, timber harvest and soil conditions found there. It is also shaped by the management you choose to do. Private forest landowners who want to foster old growth forest conditions on their property will need to identify the current conditions and consider what definition of old growth they are managing for. Professor Helms notes that depending on a landowner's goals for their forestland, “old growth” may not be the stand development stage that will best support their goals.
For example, if after a stand replacing fire or timber harvest, your goal is to grow back trees in a fairly quick timeframe, then you will need to implement practices that protect and promote seedling growth. If you want to reintroduce trees to the land, you will need to establish them early and care for them by limiting shrub encroachment. Starting with seedlings as opposed to seed, reducing competition, and thinning trees to reduce competition is a more efficient way to development of old growth conditions than waiting for it to naturally develop through a stand initiation, stem exclusion and understory re-initiation phase.
Old growth in dry fire-adapted Sierra Nevada forests maybe be more clumpy and have more openings than traditional models suggest.
If your forestland is mostly overcrowded with young trees, you will probably want to thin them out rather than let them compete with each other until some die from competition stress. The classic old growth structure, with multiple layers of trees, could also be considered incongruent with a fire hazard reduction goal because the understory is also a fuel ladder that increases the risk for high severity fire. To reduce fire hazard you should consider removing trees that are ladder fuels and favoring larger fire tolerant trees rather than letting the classic old growth structure develop by allowing shade tolerant trees to grow up and into a multi-layered canopy.
For more information on forest ecology and tree growth and competition, please see Forest Stewardship Series 3: Forest Ecology and Forest Stewardship Series 5: Tree Growth and Competition.
California's Forest Practice Rules were created in 1973 with the goal of protecting public resources and emphasizing the importance of planning for sustainable resources management. For small, private forest landowners, preparation of a full Timber Harvest Plan (THP) can sometimes be much more than is needed to accomplish the goals and objectives for their timberland. According to David Haas, CAL FIRE San Bernardino Unit Forester and Forest Practice Inspector for San Bernardino, Inyo, & Mono Counties, in certain situations, using exemptions allows forest landowners to do a range of forest management activities in a more timely manner and without needing to prepare a THP.
Exemptions are intended to permit forest management to respond to or prevent disasters, and restoration efforts. They may or may not require a Registered Professional Forester (RPF) to develop and will have certain limitations associated with them such as acreage, tree cutting diameter limits and silviculture or stocking requirements. Exemptions are only valid for 1 year.
For small, private forest landowners, activities such reducing fuels within 150 foot of a home or harvesting of dead, dying or diseased trees, can all be undertaken using an exemption.
Q: What would be the first step a private forest landowner should take when considering the use of an exemption?
A: Review forest management activities listed on the Dead Tree Removal and Fuel Reduction Permit Exemption. This matrix lists the various requirements for each exemption. You can also contact your local CAL FIRE unit and speak to the Forest Practices Inspector. They can answer your questions and help you identify if you need an RPF moving forward.
Q: What are benefits to conducting forest management activities under an exemption?
A: It can save time and money.Forest management activities conducted under an exemption are exempt from Timber Harvest Plan preparation and submission, which can be a lengthy and expensive process. However, operational provisions of the Forest Practice Rules still apply.
Q: Are there other rules and regulations a landowner needs to follow when working under an exemption?
A: If you plan on selling, bartering, exchanging or trading any wood product, you are subject to the California Forest Practice Rules. Individual counties may also have local regulations that need to be followed. If work will be conducted around streams or other watercourses, or if work may impact an endangered species or endangered species habitat, contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and/or the applicable Regional Water Quality Control Board. Additionally, you will need to pay the appropriate yield tax on any income generated.
Q: Once I apply for an exemption, when can the work start?
A: In most instances, approval of an exemption takes five working days from the day the Forest Practice Review office received the notice. Under certain exemptions, work may start ten working days after the Forest Practice Review office receives of the notice.
Q: Do I need to hire a Licensed Timber Operator (LTO) to do work under an exemption?
A: If activities meet the definition of Timber Operations, as defined by the Forest Practice Rules, work must be completed by an LTO.
Q: Forest management activities under an exemption can still be expensive. Can cost-share programs help pay for this or is there other funding available?
A: Yes! Programs like CAL FIRE's California Forest Improvement Program (CFIP) and Natural Resource Conservation Service's Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) are intended to help small, private landowners pay for exactly these kinds of activities. Cost-share programs like CFIP and EQIP require development of a management plan as part of program participation. Discussions with your RPF, CFIP, and/or EQIP representatives should include the need for permitting documents, including exemptions. In most cases, a California Cooperative Forest Management Plan is needed to apply for cost share funds. Information for a permitting document can often be collected during the management plan development process.
For more information on forest management policy, regulations and planning, please see Forest Stewardship Series 19 Laws and Regulations Affecting Forests, Part I: Timber Harvestingand Frequently asked questions about managing forest lands in California.
- Author: Dan Macon
Late last month, we held a Prescribed Fire on Working Landscapes workshop near Colfax, culminating in a small broadcast burn on the Edwards Family Tree Farm. As we prepared to ignite the burn, our instructor emphasized that the dry winter and early spring had resulted in fire conditions that were more like early June than late March. Last night, after I finished working in the office, I decided to try to burn some brush at our home place near Auburn. The message on the Placer County Burn Information line indicated that burning was suspended through tomorrow due to elevated fire danger. In early April. I guess it's time to start preparing our ranches for another fire season.
Wildfire preparations can more complicated for commercial livestock operations than for typical homeowners. In addition to creating a fire-safe space around homes, we also need to protect livestock and ranch infrastructure. Many ranches have livestock in multiple locations, and many of these leased pastures are simply pastures; there is no landlord or caretaker on site. Often, the number of livestock at a particular location may be more than can be easily evacuated in case of wildfire. Finally, access during a fire may be difficult due to law enforcement road blocks and priority for fire equipment. Here are a few of things we do to get ready for fire season.
Assessing the Threat
What is at risk in our operation? Do we have livestock in multiple locations? What is access like? At a minimum, our wildfire preparation efforts address the following:
- Create defensible space around home(s), barns and other infrastructure.
- Are there any access issues at any location where you have livestock? Single lane roads can be especially problematic. Do you have alternative access points?
- If you rely on dry forage for fall grazing, are there steps you can take to protect this forage from fire?
- Are there potential animal health issues associated with smoke and other indirect wildfire impacts?
Developing and Implementing a Wildfire Plan
Our ranch wildfire plan has several components:
- Protecting buildings, infrastructure and information: We remove flammable vegetation from within 100 feet of houses and other buildings. This also includes other critical infrastructure like propane tanks, wells, equipment sheds, barns and corrals. We also make sure we have protected critical legal documents and insurance information. Check CalFire's suggestions for putting together an emergency supply kit (http://www.readyforwildfire.org/Emergency-Supply-Kit/).
- Protecting forage: Like many operations, we stock our rangeland pastures conservatively to ensure a supply of fall forage. In some areas, we try to create fuel breaks to protect this forage from wildfire through targeted grazing. Disking or grading around the perimeter of pastures, or at least adjacent to potential ignition sources, can also reduce the threat. The width of any fuel break depends on the fuel type, topography/slope, and potential flame lengths that a fire might generate.
- Protecting livestock: We try to plan ahead for how we might move livestock out of harm's way in the event of a wildfire. That said, we have too many animals to evacuate on short notice; leaving animals in pasture (or “sheltering in place”) might be our best option. Fortunately, we've never had to do this. If you need to leave animals in place, be sure they have enough feed and water for several days. Will the livestock have water if the power goes out? Be sure to take down temporary fences or other hazards that may injure livestock as the fire moves through the property. Prepare for any post-fire health problems (like respiratory infections or other injuries) as well.
- Water supply: Water is critical for protecting our properties and for keeping livestock healthy. Do you have adequate water supplies for wetting down your buildings and facilities, or for directly fighting fire? If you have to pump water, do you have a backup system in case you lose power? Can you provide stock water if the power goes out? You may want to consider investing in a backup generator and/or additional water storage.
- Escape routes: Ideally, we try to have at least two routes in and out of our ranch properties. In addition, we try to think about at least two alternatives for moving livestock to safety in the event of a fire - this means loading and unloading facilities, a plan for gathering livestock, and a clear understanding of the road system near your pastures. Narrow roads can be problematic for navigating with stock trailers, especially when fire equipment is also inbound.
- Backup: Obviously, many of us can't be on hand 24 hours a day, seven days a week to respond to a fast-moving fire (especially when livestock are grazing on multiple properties). We work with friends, neighbors or colleagues to have a backup plan to evacuate or otherwise protect your livestock. Consider meeting with your neighbors to go over key livestock facilities, evacuation plans and access routes. Be sure to check in with these backup resources in the event of fire.
- Communication plans: I try to keep phone numbers for the other ranchers in our area on my phone, and I try to keep track of who runs the cows or sheep next door. During fire season, many ranchers text or call neighbors when they see smoke. Consider formalizing these calling trees.
- Situational awareness: During fire season, I constantly watch for smoke, especially when I hear fire equipment or aircraft. We carry a shovel or other fire tool and 5 gallons of water in our pickups and pay attention to where ranch visitors park – a catalytic converter on dry grass can be disastrous. I also check local news websites or alert services (like www.yubanet.com).
Writing Down our Plan
Even for ranching operations with few or no employees, writing down our plan can help others (spouses, neighbors, etc.) know what to do and who to contact in case of fire. Our written plan includes the locations where livestock are grazing (which suggests this plan needs to be updated as livestock are moved). Location information includes a physical address and/or map, along with the number and class of animals on site. We also include a description of potential evacuation routes (including locations of loading facilities). Are there safe zones (like dry lots or irrigated pastures) on the property or nearby where animals could be moved if evacuation isn't possible? Is there an onsite caretaker or neighbor we can call in case of emergency? Are there other ranchers who could help us? What are the numbers of livestock haulers who might be available? Click here for a template for completing your own plan!
I share a copy of this plan with other people in our operation – specifically, with my wife and kids, and my partner. This year, I'll plan on sharing this plan with our landlords, as well. Finally, we'll provide a copy (or at least a list of locations where we have livestock) to our local fire, animal control, and law enforcement agencies.
A Future Solution?
As with many other ranching counties in California, Placer, Nevada, and Yuba Counties have been working on formalizing an Ag Pass program designed to help ranchers gain safe access to livestock in emergency situations. Assembly Member Megan Dahle has introduced legislation (AB 1103) that would implement this program statewide. These programs would require ranchers to attend training on fire behavior and the incident command system, and would likely also require a list of properties where livestock may be grazing. If you'd like more information about the Ag Pass idea, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As I look back over previous posts to my Ranching in the Sierra Foothills blog, I see that I seem to write about wildfire preparation just about every spring. I guess that's the nature of living with fire - our ranch fire plans are something that we should revisit every year - better to have a plan that we don't use than to need a plan when fire strikes. Stay safe this summer!
Navigating natural resource management rules and regulations in California can be daunting for private forest landowners. California's Forest Practice Rules were created in 1974, and have evolved over the years through a collaborative process between Registered Professional Foresters, landowners and regulators. Proponents would say these rules have protected public resource values and emphasize the importance in planning for sustainable resources management. Opponents would say these rules have been taken to an extreme, taking away landowner's flexibility in managing their forestland and increasing costs that prevent work from occurring. UC Cooperative Extension Specialist and Registered Professional Forester Rob York, would say there is no need to be on one side of the debate or the other. Private forest landowners can accomplish much towards their management goals, both within and outside of the permitting process. The key is understanding what you can and cannot do within the Forest Practice Rules, and then getting started!
Rob York hand pruning
According to Rob York, private forest landowners need to start with an understanding of the following legal definitions, as they determine whether or not you need a permit to proceed:
- Timberland is land that is available for, and capable of, growing a crop of trees of a commercial species to produce lumber and other forest products. Cutting trees (see commercial species below) for commercial purposes on timberland, requires a permit.
- Commercial species (otherwise known as Group A) includes sugar pine, white fir, ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, incense cedar, coast redwood, red fir, noble fir, western white pine and Port Orford cedar. Other species, known as Group B, must grow with Group A species in order to be considered commercial. This includes knobcone pine, giant sequoia, gray pine, chinkapin, California black oak, foxtail pine, Oregon white oak, alder, tanoak, Monterey Pine, hemlock, Pacific madrone and juniper.
- Timber operations is the cutting and/or removal of timber or other solid wood forest products, including Christmas trees, from timberlands for commercial purposes, including the conversion of timberland to other purposes such as residential uses. Timber operations require a permit.
Q: What is the definition of commercial purposes and why is this important?
A: Commercial purpose means the sale, barter, exchange or trade of any wood product originating from timberland. It does not matter if the landowner has procured the wood product themselves, or had a licensed timber operator harvest trees. If the end product will be sold, bartered, exchanged or traded for other products or services, it is a commercial product. This is important because it determines if you need a permit or not to harvest the wood product.
Q: What are some activities that a forest landowner can do without a permit?
A: A landowner can cut down trees for their own personal use such as for fencing, firewood, or construction. You can thin trees and leave them on you property or give the wood away for free all without a permit (though some counties may have additional rules about this). Additionally, a landowner can construct trails (though there may be regulations if the trail intersects a water course), collect cones, and pile burn, all without a permit from Cal Fire (depending on season). Remember though, if you are going to burn, you may need a permit from your local air quality district.
Rob York with a portable saw mill
Q: What activities require a permit?
A: Timber/biomass harvesting conducted through a Timber Harvest Plan (THP), or thinning and fuels reduction projects conducted through exemptions from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) require a permit through Cal Fire. If you plan on selling, bartering, exchanging or trading any wood product, you need a permit. If you harvested wood products with intent to not sell, barter, exchange or trade, and then you change your mind, you need a permit.
Q: What can I do under a Timber Harvest Plan?
A: A THP allows for a single commercial harvest of timber, including even-aged management and large tree removal. A THP must be developed by a Registered Professional Forester (RPF) and conducted by a Licensed Timber Operator (LTO). It is good for a period of 5 years and has the potential for a 2 year extension.
Q: Are there other permitting options?
A: Yes! A Nonindustrial Timber Management Plan (NTMP) and a Working Forest Management Plan (WFMP) are good options for private forest landowners with smaller acreage. Both require an RPF to develop the plan and limit silviculture activity to uneven-aged regeneration methods, but once they are approved by Cal Fire, they never expire and can transfer to a new landowner. When you are ready to harvest, you simply notify Cal Fire.
Another option is to conduct forest management activities under a Dead Tree Removal and Fuel Reduction Permit Exemption. Exemptions are categorized by intent to address things such as responding to or preventing disasters, and restoration efforts. They may or may not require an RPF to develop and will have certain limitations associated with them such as acreage, diameter limits and silviculture or stocking requirements. Exemptions are only valid for 1 year.
For more information on forest management policy, regulations and planning, please see Forest Stewardship Series 19 Laws and Regulations Affecting Forests, Part I: Timber Harvesting, UC ANR Publication 8249, Forest Stewardship Series 20 Laws and Regulations Affecting Forests, Part II: Activities Other Than Timber Harvesting, UC ANR Publication 8250, and Frequently asked questions about managing forest lands in California.
- Author: Jeannette Warnert
Reposted from the UCANR News
In 2020, 9,000 fires scorched more than 4 million acres of California, a record-breaking year, reported Alejandra Borunda in National Geographic. Fires burned through homes and oak forests, grasslands and pines — and also through patches of giant sequoias and coast redwoods, respectively the most massive and the tallest trees on earth.
Giant sequoias are not the oldest living trees, but some have been growing in Sierra Nevada forests for more than 3,200 years. They are found in 68 groves on the Sierra's western flank. The state's redwood forests grow in a narrow strip along the coast of Northern California and Southern Oregon.
The 2020 fires burned through about 16,000 acres of sequoia groves, about a third of their total area. In redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains, 40,000 acres burned.
But because redwoods are well-adapted to fire, they'll likely recover pretty quickly, said Scott Stephens, a UC Berkeley fire scientist. “In some ways, this fire could make redwoods more dominant in the landscape," he said, because other trees — like the hardwoods or Douglas firs that crowded the local forests — died outright in the burns.
However, scientists are concerned one cause of the fires, climate change, could have additional impacts on these natural treasures.
Since the mid-1800s, temperatures in the western U.S. have increased by 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Fog banks are fading in coast redwood territory, and snows are less consistent in the Sierras. The changes leave redwoods and sequoias without their preferred climate conditions.
The most responsible thing to do now, Stephens said, is to “take the opportunity that has been handed to us,” and make a plan to go back in and burn again—soon, within the next few years.
UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor Lenya Quinn-Davidson agrees that California must manage fire to help the trees survive. Tree-ring records show that humans have influenced the fire regime for better and worse as long as they've been in these forests.
“The empowering message there is, human management can actually override the effects of climate in a fire contest,” Quinn-Davidson said. “It's not just a climate story. We can't just throw in the towel, feel overwhelmed, and tell ourselves these trees are done for. That's not true!”