Invasive plants are defined by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) as, “A plant that is both non-native and able to establish on many sites, grow quickly, and spread to the point of disrupting plant communities or ecosystems.” Depending on the location of your forest or oak woodland, this includes plants such as Scotch broom, cheatgrass, Tree-of-Heaven, pampas grass, and Himalayan blackberry. But for forest or oak woodland landowners who are looking to manage vegetation, there are also native plants that may be less desirable. The NRCS calls these either “Opportunistic native plants or weeds”. Opportunistic native plants, as defined by the NRCS, are able to take advantage of disturbance to the soil or existing vegetation to spread quickly and out-compete the other plants on the disturbed site, such as mountain misery. Weeds are defined as native plants that are not valued in the place where they are growing, or any plant that poses a major threat to agriculture and/or natural ecosystems such as Pacific poison oak.
Photo of Tree of Heaven with flowers
For any landowner, eradication of invasive plants is most effective when the infestation is small or localized. When an infestation covers large areas, you are more often than not, looking at controlling spread versus eradication.
Heather Morrison, a Registered Professional Forester (RPF) and licensed Pesticide Control Advisor, says, “Many times using herbicides in conjunction with other types of vegetation management, like mechanical or burning, can increase the efficacy of the treatments.”
We asked Heather about using herbicides to control invasive species and as a compliment to other vegetation management activities.
Q: Heather, how do you broach the subject of herbicide use with forest landowners?
A: I actually don't treat it any different than any other vegetation management scheme. It is one of the tools we can use and is most definitely a huge part of IPM (Integrated pest management). I present it as an option and if landowners are hesitance, we have a conversation about it. Herbicide isn't always the best choice and every situation is different.
Q: What are some examples where you have effectively used herbicides as a forest management tool?
A: One of the best uses is in shaded fuel breaks. Maintenance is key! People always seem to forget that the forest isn't static and it grows back, so these huge investments we make in establishing fuel breaks can be lost if we don't maintain them.
Another example is invasive plant suppression. Wildfires have been creating the perfect environment for increased spread of invasive plants like broom, pepper wood and stinkwort. The past two years I have been working with some forest landowners in the Glass Fire footprint to suppress French broom which was bad before the fire, and now is even worse. Because new plants take 2-3 years to produce viable seed, it has been a race to try and treat these areas before they release more seed. Broom plants produce thousands of seed per plant which remain viable in the soil for 70+ years!
Photo of scotch broom with flowers
Q: Are there situations where you would NOT recommend using herbicides?
A: Obviously if you are an organic farmer! Mostly what I find is you have to switch up the types of herbicides you use and the application method. Herbicides are very regulated and I like to remind people that we are applying usually only ounces per acre. This is compared to the same herbicides on the shelves where most likely consumers are not reading the label, wearing their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) or applying the herbicide correctly.
Please note, the US Forest Service's “Forest Management Handbook” recommends that forest landowners who need to treat more than 1/10 acre with herbicides, should consult with an RPF, Certified Pesticide Applicator, or a licensed Pesticide Control Advisor.
For more information on Integrated Pest Management and invasive plant identification, please visit the UC IPM website.
To read more of our interview with Heather and herbicide application safety, as well as information on other mechanical and physical methods of invasive plant management, download the Forest Stewardship Education Newsletter, June 2022.
To learn more about forest stewardship, vegetation management and forest pests, download the UC Forest Stewardship Series.
Photo of Pacific poison oak with berries
Forests in the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade Range are being stressed by many factors that put them at risk. High-severity wildfire, drought stress, insect outbreaks, disease, and a backdrop of changing climate are a few. A significant portion of Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade forests are owned and managed as small parcels (10 to 100 acres) by nonindustrial private landowners. To assist these landowners, CAL FIRE and the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station have recently released the ‘Forest Management Handbook for Small Parcel Landowners.' This step by step guide is an additional resource designed to help small, private forest landowners gather the information needed to begin developing a California Cooperative Forest Management Plan, including determining what, if any, management actions need to be done, and where to obtain technical and financial support.
“California's small private landowners need access to tools and technical assistance to help them manage their forest lands to maintain forest health,” said Stewart McMorrow, CAL FIRE's wildfire resilience staff chief. “Forest landowners do not always have the knowledge or skills to get started with a management plan, which is why the handbook was created.”
Four important areas are addressed in the handbook including:
- Defining your forest management objectives;
- Assessing your current forest conditions;
- Recognizing threats to the health of your forest; and
- Evaluating possible treatment options.
A California Cooperative Forest Management Plan (CCFMP) can be simple or complex based on a landowner's management goals and objectives. For those ‘do-it-yourself' landowners, the handbook provides worksheets that can help guide you through basic management activities. For landowners with larger parcels, multiple goals, complex management activities, and a desire to participate in cost-share programs (i.e. CFIP or EQIP), a Registered Professional Forester (RPF) is required to complete and submit your management plan. However, the handbook can be used as an important first step to assist landowners and guide conversations with their RPFs.
Join handbook authors Stewart McMorrow, CAL FIRE (Stewart.firstname.lastname@example.org), Steve Ostoja, USDA California Climate Hub (email@example.com), and Peter Stine, Pacific Southwest Research Station (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a webinar on April 26, 5 p.m. – 6 p.m. to learn what the handbook offers and to get connected with programs and resources.
For landowners who would like more assistance in understanding and developing a California Cooperative Forest Management Plan, consider signing up for an upcoming Forest Stewardship Workshop series hosted by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. The nine-week online workshop covers:
- Forest management objectives and planning
- Forest health, insects and disease
- Forest and fire ecology, wildlife, watersheds
- Fuels reduction and forest resource marketing
- Project development & permitting
- Getting professional help and cost-share opportunities
The in-person field day covers silviculture, forest inventory and mapping activities. Participants who complete the workshop will be eligible for a free site visit with a California Registered Professional Forester.
There is increasing concern about fire hazard from fuels accumulation in riparian areas and what forest landowners can do to manage these areas. Riparian vegetation and forests have ecological importance in terms of water quality and quantity, and wildlife and aquatic habitat. They also have social value such as recreation, natural heritage and aesthetics. These values are important to forest landowners, but is it possible to balance protection of riparian areas with fire hazard reduction?
Historical fire in riparian areas. In the last decade,we've come to better understand fire regimes in riparian areas. Research by Van de Water and North (2011) found that riparian and upland Sierran mixed conifer forests had similar forest composition, structure, fuel loading and fire behavior under an active fire regime. Before the era of fire suppression, fire burned through riparian areas regularly at varying intensity, thinning out trees and maintaining low amounts of fuels. Coupled with higher soil moisture, the lower vegetation density in riparian areas could disrupt the spread of fire across the landscape and act as a refuge for wildlife. California Native Indian tribes often applied fire in riparian areas to encourage the re-sprouting of tree and shrub species that respond well to low-intensity fire.
What are the current rules for managing riparian areas? Unfortunately, regulations on managing riparian areas have not really caught up to our new understanding of their fire regimes. Under the California Forest Practice Rules, the Watercourse and Lake Protection Zone (WLPZ) defines areas of land along both sides of a creek or stream, or around the circumference of a lake or spring, that buffers riparian areas against soil disturbances that potentially come from heavy equipment. The width of a WLPZ varies between 50 and 150 feet depending on slope, the class of the watercourse, and the geography of the location. Within the WLPZ, percentages of surface cover, canopy cover, and undisturbed areas must be maintained to protect water resources and wildlife habitat. Equipment Exclusion Zones (EEZs) prohibit the use of heavy equipment within the WLPZ in order to prevent soil disturbance, erosion and sedimentation into watercourses. In very small watercourses, you may be allowed some entry with heavy equipment through use of an Equipment Limitation Zones (ELZs) instead of an Equipment Exclusion Zone (EEZ).
Current research. Rob York, UC Cooperative Extension Forestry Specialist at UC Berkeley, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, has been doing research at UC Blodgett Forest Research Station looking at fuels management within riparian areas and the potential to mitigate fire hazard. Rob and his team are evaluating the effectiveness of existing WLPZ regulations, as well as other evidence-based alternatives, that aim to sustain low fire severity and high species diversity in and around riparian Sierra Nevada forests. According to Rob, while the intent of the CA Forest Practice Regulations is to avoid significant adverse cumulative impacts to the beneficial functions of riparian zones, there is an unintended risk of high severity wildfire impacts because of the lack of management done there. Without treatments that are similar in nature to the historic fire regime, riparian areas become more vulnerable to high severity fire.
With current regulations, it has essentially been easier to reduce fire hazard everywhere else besides the riparian area despite their special ecological and social value. An unintended consequence of this can be seen in the 2007 Angora fire, in which the untreated riparian areas acted as a wick for high severity fire along Angora Creek that ultimately led to destruction of over 250 homes.
What is a landowner to do? We now encourage appropriate fuels reduction in riparian areas. That said, it can be hard to do logistically. As heavy equipment is not allowed in riparian areas, trees can sometimes be cut and pulled out using a cable from outside the buffer area (called end lining). Because of this extra cost, however, it can lead to the preferential removal of larger trees which are desirable to retain. Thinning can occur by hand cutting, piling and burning, though in some areas you may be required to pull the burn piles out of the riparian area so ash doesn't reach the watercourse. A landowner could also treat the burn pile area by either covering it or working the ash and debris into the soil. Another option for riparian areas is prescribed fire in the spring or after fall rains begin. Because riparian areas are generally moist during the time of year when prescribed burns are allowed, reducing canopy cover to 60% or less can increase the probability of a successful prescribed fire because the greater radiation input can dry out surface fuels more quickly. Although reducing canopy is allowed under canopy retention rules, it is difficult to accomplish be because of Equipment Exclusion Zones.
For more information and assistance, please contact your local UC Cooperative Extension Forestry and Natural Resources Advisors and Specialists.
Now that the traditional fire season is nearing an end, it is never too late to think about steps to take before a wildfire impacts your home and forest. According to the Cal Fire Incidents Overview website, the 2021 fire season to date has either damaged or destroyed 3,629 structures and burned almost 2.5 million acres. For those private forest landowners impacted by these fires, claiming a casualty loss on their federal and state tax returns can help mitigate financial losses.
Larry Camp, a California forest landowner, California Registered Professional Forester, member of Forest Landowners of California, and retired IRS forester, gives us a brief overview of what a casualty loss is and what steps a landowner needs to take in order to determine a loss.
What is a casualty loss? In broad terms,a casualty loss for forest landowners is defined as a loss incurred if such losses arise from sudden and unexpected events such as fire, storm or theft. This resulting damage may directly impact your forest business, trade or other activities that produce a profit.
Forest ownership type matters. Tax treatment for casualty losses varies for property held as personal property, for investment purposes, or as a trade/business. Generally, homes within forested subdivisions settings, or smaller acreages, e.g. 5 acres or less, where periodic timber harvest would be marginal for economic reasons, would be considered personal property. Since 2017, casualty losses for federal tax purposes for all types of forest property ownership are generally not deductible unless the loss is within an area declared as a Federally Declared Disaster area. However, property owned and managed as a business may be eligible for a business loss due to a fire or other casualty event. California has not amended its statutes to conform to Federal law as of mid-October 2021.
How much loss a landowner can claim depends on the adjusted basis or the change in fair market value “before” and “after” the occurrence of the casualty.
What is basis? Basis is the cost of something when purchased, or received as a gift or inheritance and is used to determine taxable income, capital gains, and casualty losses among other purposes. Because tax treatment varies by asset type, total basis for timbered properties needs to be allocated to different subaccounts such as land, timber, and improvements like roads and structures. It is always best to make the allocation to these accounts at the time of purchase. However, basis can be calculated after the fact with the help of a Registered Professional Forester, an appraiser, and tax advisor.
What steps need to occur in order to claim a casualty loss?
- Determine what your basis is.
- Deduct from your preliminary estimated casualty loss any proceeds from insurance, judicial judgments and/or salvage harvest of dead and damaged timber.
- For personal property, determine if the property is within a Presidentially Declared Federal Disaster Zone and within the time frame identified in the Disaster Declaration.
- Ascertain and gather available documentation to demonstrate that the loss was sudden and unexpected, e.g., photos, management plans, harvest records. This is often best done at the time of acquisition of the property, and periodically, such as every 3 to 5 years.
- Have an appraisal done to reflect the “before” and “after” value of the property. Note that acceptable appraisals will often require the services of a state licensed appraiser or forester with formal appraisal training and must meet required standards.
Other considerations and resources…
- Investment and business ownership of forestland have other factors that need to be considered when claiming a casualty loss. Talk with your tax professional to determine the appropriate steps to take.
- Additional consideration for taxpayers who itemize deductions may result in no deductible loss in the year of the casualty. Special provisions for taxpayers who do not itemize deductions also must be considered. Consult with your tax advisor.
- For a much more in-depth explanation of timber casualty loss, please visit Forest Landowners of California website at: ForestLandowners.org.
Disclaimer: The purpose of this document is educational and is general in nature. It is NOT intended to provide legal or accounting advice, since the facts and circumstances of each taxpayer's individual situation need to be taken into consideration for an appropriate application of the tax law and associated regulations related to the preparation or filing of a completed tax return. Questions should be discussed with your accounting, legal and other appropriate professional advisors.
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.