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Author Topic: Where to start with mature forest fire prevention work plus spawning understory?  (Read 431 times)

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Offline erickala

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Howdy folks, I'm looking to devise a long-term forest maintenance strategy for a little sliver of heaven in Montana. I have an incredibly steep mountain ridge property within a dense 70' - 100' doug fir stand in need of initial fuels reduction and thinning work before I'll then set out on a multi-year work plan to care for and improve the forest.

Ideally I'd like to spawn a medium term understory revival that could be enjoyed within my lifetime, if that's even possible in Zone 4 on a largely north facing ridge.

I'm searching around the forums for bits and pieces to help guide my initial plans, but I'm curious if there are any initial resources that would be good to check out from the perspective of the experts within this board section?

I can provide further context and images if that might help. I'll be drafting an initial strategy that I'll look to share for feedback from folks as I learn more too.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts 🙏



Offline SwampDonkey

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I don't see much for dry lateral fuel for a fire from the ground. The odd dead snag on the ground. Most of the mature wood has lost it's lower limbs. The only other thing is a crown fire if an adjacent woods is full of dry full and you get high winds driving it into your woods. In that case a commercial thinning can be done to get more light to the ground for new growth. All I see there now is moss and small shrubs under the mature stuff.

Stick around, I'm sure there are some western folks with some insights. ;)
“No amount of belief makes something a fact.” James Randi

1 Thessalonians 5:21

2020 Polaris Ranger 570 to forward firewood, Husqvarna 555 XT Pro, Stihl FS560 clearing saw and continuously thinning my ground, on the side. Grow them trees. (((o)))

Offline Ianab

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Like SD says, there isn't a lot of junk on the forest floor. I'd think that thinning out the weaker and more suppressed trees would be a good start. They are the ones that are going to die off and create a fuel load over time. The remaining healthy trees with tend to close in the canopy again, and keep the lower story shaded. 

If you want regeneration in that sort of forest you probably need to open actual clearings. I think DF is a species that needs open space to regenerate (after a fire or wind storm?). But you can simulate that by creating small clearings with plenty of light.  

DF grows here in NZ, but it's plantation forestry. Plant, leave for 35 years, harvest, repeat. Managing a natural stand is going to be different, and that's where local forestry knowledge comes in. 
Weekend warrior, Peterson JP test pilot, Dolmar 7900 and Stihl MS310 saws and  the usual collection of power tools :)

Offline Roxie

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Welcome to the forum!  
Say when

Offline ID4ster

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Okay. Let's start with a few questions.

1) What are your objectives? What do you want from this property and what do you want it to look like in 5, 10, 20 years?

2) What part of Montana are you in? Northwest, Yellowstone area, Bozeman?

3) Are there any other species of trees on the property? Ponderosa pine, Lodgepole pine, Spruce?

4) How steep is steep? 10%, 25%, 35%?

5) What is the topography and how big is the lot? Is it all ridgetop or a slope off the ridge top or are there some benches? 

6) Are there any wild turkeys in the area? If so, that would preclude any natural regeneration.

7) By fuels reduction are you talking about the downed material in the picture? Do you want that cleaned up so that your timber lot looks like a park? If so we need to have a serious talk about why that's a bad idea. 

You can contact the Montana Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Parks and ask if they have a private landowner service forester for your area. That would be a good place to start.

Answer question #1 first and we'll start working on the rest of them and several others later. 

Welcome to the forum. Have fun.  
Bob Hassoldt
Seven Ridges Forestry
Kendrick, Idaho
Want to improve your woodlot the fastest way? Start thinning, believe me it needs it.

Offline erickala

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Thanks everyone for the warm welcome! I know the plan will take some time to develop and these are all great initial suggestions for me to chew on. Thank you!

As for Questions 1 - 6 ... this property is solely for personal residential use and my primary aim is for a healthy and more diversified eco-system within. There are a few benches in the topography with a lower meadow with no tree cover, an upper build site that's now been cleared for a home site, and then a few other flatter areas within the forest area. There are a few Lodgepole Pines, some languishing Cedar, and a few Rocky Mountain Juniper mixed in, but predominantly DF. The ground cover is primarily a native Ninebark which fills out a little bit in summer and dies back entirely in the winter. I love the mosses, both the ground mosses and the hanging moss on the dead DF ladder fuels, but for fire safety I recognize most of the hanging moss won't have a place to hang.

It's only 4.5 acres so I know I don't have a ton of space to experiment with, however it does let me be more personally involved with every tree as needed. Location is in the northern Gallatin Canyon north of Big Sky. The transition grade from the meadow into the lower forest area is probably 5% - 10% but the upper forest gets pretty steep up to 35% - 50% in areas. The neighboring parcel to my west has the ridge spine itself and then within 150' of the property line there are full vertical cliffs in the landscape. The predominant direction of the slope is from north east sloping up to the south west.

I don't actually know about the turkeys, though I know deer / elk / bear / fox all call the surrounds home.

In 5 years, I'd like to have a good sense for the passage of the seasons of the forest and have my longer term strategy in place with work efforts planned out. Having a better sense for how many animals call the surrounds home will also help with knowing what works and what doesn't.
- any clearing or ground disturbances I wish to ensure I've got shrubs or trees going back in to ensure ground stability as best I can ... erosion isn't too much of a concern as it's a very undisturbed parcel thus far, but some of the DF are rather pistol gripped in a few areas so hillside stability is something I need to understand better over time
- in the winter, I'd like to have the option to occasionally hike up and ski down from the cliff area down to the lower meadow ... overall elevation drop is maybe 200' - 250' or so ... so clearing up large ski snagging debris / obstructions will take some chipper / shredder time and I'll drop the mulch in place to support soil health
- a few new openings would be nice with a young understory in the works w/ smaller shade tolerant trees and some dense shade tolerant shrubs is what I need to figure out how to work towards ... dense shade tolerant shrubs to also create a natural barrier for the property line is something I'd like to do along the southern property line
- doing some trail work to allow more sustainable access up and down the ridge would be nice as any sort of consistent foot traffic on the existing trail will probably become a slippery muddy mess when wet once the native organic topsoil is more consistently disturbed ... there are a number of game trails that run more or less with the topography with some switch back options I've been eyeing for trail development

In 10 years or 20, I'm not quite sure though here are a few ideas I've been tossing around to research further
- productive year-round greenhouse on the meadow with some outdoor space for summer growing as well
- bear proof bee hives and supporting vegetation
- maple trees for tapping
- some sort of nut tree to watch grow for the next few decades, walnuts perhaps?

As for question #7, I'm not after a cleared out park like aesthetic so much as I looking to understand how best to inspire more dense shade loving vegetation layers to fill out the ground area and give a sense of understory life during the summer. A creeping ground cover Juniper layer for example plus shrubs and medium height trees that give an inner diversified range of vegetation canopy heights ... the DF crowns are way tall and almost disappear from sight entirely ... right now the hanging moss and ladder fuel account for most of the forest's interior visual interest, but I know a lot of that has to go for fire defense.

Given how steep much of the property is, I'm also not looking to traverse through every square foot of the forest floor and would constrain access to a trail circuit to follow with the topographic contours.

Let me know if that all makes sense ... it's all quite rough still and I don't yet even have a structure on the property so the only thing I'll be doing this year is maybe taking down some of the widowmakers that are actively waiting for me to drop my guard when I get out there.

Here's a 2nd shot looking down hill towards the more dense area of the lower forest area towards the meadow. The density varies across the property with this image being a good example of the density of maybe 35% of the parcel.



Thanks again for your interest and comments. I know there are many approaches to consider.



Offline Ianab

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That picture gives a better idea of the suppressed trees, the spindly and leaning ones. They are the ones that will eventually die. If no fire happens they fall down, rot and become soil. But if you are in a higher fire risk area,. That's the "excess fuel". 

So yeah, I'd plan to take out the "junk" with the least damage to the remaining healthy trees.  Then for fire suppression, it's more about "defensible zones", Trees close around a house look nice 99% of the time. But when things get dry and windy, 100ft of open green lawn is easier to defend than flames licking that the eaves.  

If you get a "crown" fire, where whole trees are busting into flame, then all you can do is "Run Away". But and under growth fire that's not reaching into the tops of trees, you can defend against.   
Weekend warrior, Peterson JP test pilot, Dolmar 7900 and Stihl MS310 saws and  the usual collection of power tools :)

Offline ID4ster

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Erickala,

Thank you for the answers and the additional picture.

To start with you have too many trees. If you were to go into the patch that you show in photo two and look up, you probably wouldn't see much blue sky. I suspect that your crown canopy is close to 95% or more. It is definitely more than 90%. That is why you don't have any ground cover or reproduction. You should also have forbs (small, non-woody plants) along with the moss. You don't though which means that very little light is reaching the forest floor. 

If you were to look at the bark on your Douglas fir (DF) you'd see that it is gray, flat and thin looking. DF bark on a well growing tree is ridged with an orange color between the gray ridges and a thick "corky" appearance. Your live crown ratios (The percentage of live crown compared to the total height of the tree) is probably below 35%. In a healthy well-spaced forest, we shoot for a live crown ration of 45% or more depending on the grade of timber that we want to grow. Once you get below30% in DF you'll have a difficult time getting it to release if it is over 60 years old. For the time being we'll worry about that later. 

You have ninebark in the understory. On a northeast face (aspect) like you describe I'd be surprised that you don't also have snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), or Ocean spray ( Holodiscus discolor), both of those shrubs are often in association with Ninebark especially on the wetter slopes. 

Your fuels problem in this picture isn't that bad right now. You could stack the smaller 1"-3" stems and burn them if you wanted too but the larger stuff isn't a big problem. Some of it is fairly well decomposed and generally is too wet and punky to burn much less carry a fire through a stand. What you could do is to start going through the stand and determining what trees that you want to keep. Look at the tops and look for a full thick, well pointed crown or as close to that ideal as you can get. If the tree has a double top, ramicorn or thin crown than plan on cutting that out. What you're going to be looking for is a good leave tree every 15 to 18 feet or so. That spacing will allow you to open up the stand and start getting some sunlight onto the forest floor while allowing the leave trees enough room to increase their crown along with capturing more of the snow and rain precipitation that is currently getting trapped in the canopy. On those trees that you decide to keep you can prune up the dead limbs to an 8 to 10 foot height which will reduce the fire ladders. That will begin to make your stand more fire resistant. Cutting down the trees that you need to thin out and what to do with them will need to be addressed. You may find some use for them in your building project but you do not have enough volume to attract the attention of a commercial sawmill. Most of what I'm seeing is small diameter logs which have limited application. We can explore the feasibility of a private sawmill coming into cut at a later date. For now just start looking at what trees you want to save versus what you want to cut.

Final points. You do not want to cut down all your snags unless they represent a definite danger to your travels withing the property. Dead and green snags are necessary for a healthy cavity-dependent wildlife component. Cavity dwelling wildlife (woodpeckers, flying squirrels, sawwhet and screech owls) are necessary for a healthy forest. The best and most stable dead snags are 15 to 30 feet tall with a broken top. If you have any of those, plan on leaving them. They're worth more to you than they are as firewood. 
Also; be careful about encouraging the juniper. It has a tendency to be a water hog and it's very flammable. I consider it to be gasoline on a stick and try to eliminate it from a stand as much as possible. It's not a great tree to have around.

Okay, next assignment: Identify what type of cedar you have unless that it what you're calling the juniper, Also see if you have any Ponderosa pine (PP) in the area, how limby it is and if it produces seed cones. You may have to talk to some of your neighbors or other landowners in the region  to see if they have PP on their property. Lastly check and see if Gallatin county has an extension office and agent that can come out and walk over your property with you. They're funded with taxpayer dollars and are there to help landowners to make their property healthy and productive so you might as well take advantage of something you're already paying for.

Good luck. Have fun.   
Bob Hassoldt
Seven Ridges Forestry
Kendrick, Idaho
Want to improve your woodlot the fastest way? Start thinning, believe me it needs it.

Offline erickala

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Bob, thank you so much! Your response is a treasure trove of initial steps that I can work on while learning more about the forest. I really appreciate your input, thank you! ... and yes, you're spot on with your assessment of the density, the lack of sky visibility when looking up, and the coloring of the DF bark.

I've got quite a bit of work ahead of me :laugh:

//Eric

Offline Ianab

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Yeah, that's all good advice that's more specific to the actual forest / climate etc that you have. That's why local forestry knowledge is important. 


I can see that it's overcrowded for any managed forest. You could theoretically just leave it to sort itself out, but expect 75% of the trees to die over the next ~20 years. Get a wildfire in that time then the fuel load will be high. That's the natural scheme of things, but you don't want that if you live there. Hence the management thing kicks in. 


The pruning of dead and dying lower branches isn't "natural", but if both reduces the fire risk, and improves the quality of any future timber harvest. The trees will naturally self prune over time, you can just speed up the process. 


The snags left for wildlife is valid, especially if you like that sort of thing. 
Weekend warrior, Peterson JP test pilot, Dolmar 7900 and Stihl MS310 saws and  the usual collection of power tools :)


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