As Wallowa County and the moraines coalition move incrementally closer to raising the $6.5 million needed to purchase and conserve nearly 1800 acres on the east moraine, understanding how this working landscape can continue to be a sustainable source of timber and grazing is increasingly important.
On Saturday, August 31, the Wallowa Land Trust sponsored a stroll with forester Larry Nall and range management specialist Kelly Birkmaier. About 20 people participated in the event.
That portion of the moraine was last logged in about 1989, under a plan developed by RY Timber’s manager, Bruce Dunn. “Bruce left 25% of the big trees. In a way,” Nall noted, “Dunn was practicing restoration forestry: returning the stand to a more natural state. Nall noted that the Nez Perce and other tribes were actively burning and managing forests for millennia before settlers arrived. “It was a landscape adapted to fire.”
Nall, who certifies sustainable forests across the U.S. and Canada, would like to see a more open, fire-resilient forest on the moraine: 30 to 40 large trees per acre, including fire-tolerant ponderosa pine and western larch, and less of the climate-challenged grand fir.
“Climate change is bringing less moisture, and more heat to a lot of places. We are already seeing the effect on grand fir. We’ve got grand fir dying all over the place in this county,” he said.
Nall would like to see most of the existing big trees on the east moraine remain for several reasons. They are more fire resistant. They are growing well and putting on lots of new wood. And most of them are ponderosa pines, which right now are low in market value. In addition, there’s evidence from new research that the larger trees in a forest selectively nurture their own offspring. “Keeping the big trees probably means we’ll have healthier and faster growing small trees,” Nall said.
Soils on the lower east side of the moraine have been compacted by past logging and grazing. But the good news, according to rangeland specialist Kelly Birkmaier, is that bioturbation—worms, beetles, and other subterranean critters, along with roots and the freeze-thaw cycles, are doing the needed work of aerating, loosening, and uncompacting the ground.
On this grazed bottom piece, Birkmaier noted that the planted perennial grasses, including timothy and fescues were holding their own, and invasive grasses—cheat grass, medusa head, and others, seemed to have a minimal roothold.
As fire is reintroduced, Birkmaier said, the grass community could increase in vigor because more light and water would be available, and fires would also produce nitrogen that would spur plant growth.
Future management of the moraine would likely include fencing the property into several grazing areas. That would ensure better management of grazing as well as facilitating restoration of soils and forage.
There are economic considerations as well as ecologic and restoration ones. Wallowa County will need income from the property to manage it. Funds will be needed to maintain trails, build fencing for livestock grazing, and hire a manager.
“It’s got to be a working forest. Reality dictates that we have to have revenue,” Nall said. “If we have to compromise to get restoration done, even if that restoration is not perfect, we’re still allowing fire to be reintroduced, and doing restoration.”
But first, the $6.5 million purchase must be completed. The coalition has until January to finish raising those funds.
For more information about the campaign for the moraine, go to www.morainecampaign.org or call 541-426-2042.