Setting the Stage, Part 2

Our last post explained why ecological thinning (what foresters call commercial density management) is necessary for forest restoration and wildfire hazard reduction in the Ashland Watershed. In this post we want to show you how one thinning method works.  After trees have been marked by Lomakatsi technicians and selectively cut, they need to be extracted from the forest, a process called yarding. AFR uses two yarding methods: helicopter and ground-based.  All currently planned commercial thinning operations concluded on July 1, 2017 for the Ashland Forest Resiliency Stewardship Project. Here’s a quick overview of what ground-based yarding entails:

First, a crew member pulls the yarding cable and connects it to one or more felled trees.
Then, a machine called the tong thrower pulls the trees to the road (lifting one end to minimize soil disturbance) and places them by the delimber.
The delimber removes the branches, cuts the logs to specified sizes, and piles them.
Finally, truck drivers transport the logs to a mill.

The benefit of ground-based yarding is that it’s much cheaper than helicopter yarding, which allows us to restore more forest. Although this method can cause more soil erosion than helicopter yarding, the AFR monitoring team measured the impact of previous ground-based yarding and found that the level of intact soil more than met soil protection standards set by the Forest Service for our soil type.

AFR partners, like Don Boucher (US Forest Service), regularly monitor ecological thinning to ensure that damage to existing trees and soil disturbance don’t exceed levels approved in the AFR Record of Decision.

We use several practices to protect the forest during our work:

  • Staff from US Forest Service, Lomakatsi Restoration Project, and The Nature Conservancy monitor thinning before, during, and after completion to ensure that all our standards are being met.
  • Heavy machinery is confined to preexisting roads and relatively flat terrain (slopes <20%) to minimize soil disturbance and erosion potential.
  • Branches are placed to provide protection from thinning operations and limit soil exposure.
  • Treatment areas are monitored for invasive plants. When necessary, native seed mixes will be planted in disturbed areas.
  • Machine operators are remarkably skilled at manipulating their bulky machines with grace. In this video, watch how the tong-thrower lifts one end of the logs to minimize soil disturbance and backs up to avoid scraping the standing trees on the side of the road.

We know that not everyone enjoys heavy machinery in their forest, but a forest that hosts abundant and diverse wildlife; rebounds from wildfire, insects, and disease; and supports recreation and  local economies is worth the cost. Ecological thinning moves us towards those goals by creating a more open and historically-natural forest structure. So the next time you see a log truck rumble through town, remember that it’s helping restore the Ashland Watershed. Stay tuned to see the exciting results of this work!

Ecological thinning is an essential part of restoring healthy mixed conifer forests. This stand, thinned in 2013, shows what we hope to achieve: resilient trees, healthy understory plant communities, and low wildfire risk.

Lead author: Evan Barrientos, SW Oregon Monitoring and Outreach  Assistant, The Nature Conservancy, and Ashland Forest Resiliency team member

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