Logging the Siuslaw

During the week, I am a CLM Intern, but during the weekend, I work as a Lichen surveyor in the Siuslaw National Forest performing lichen community analysis for air quality monitoring.  This is no roadside analysis, this is bushwhacking through thickets of prickly Salmonberry and Himalayan Blackberry for as far as a mile off an old logging road that was decommissioned 10 years ago and has become a temperate rain forest jungle right-of-way.

Two weekends ago I followed the Alsea River East in from Waldport, OR on Hwy 34.  After about 20+ miles, I turned North for several miles up a Siulsaw logging road, and boy did the name fit the description.  Large segments of the ridge sides were clear cut.  I thought “I have to be on private or state land, there is no way the Forest Service would clear cut to this extent now a days.”  Alas, to my che-grin, I concluded that it had to be  USFS land due to the fact that my survey plot was on it (they’re almost always on  USFS land).


Siuslaw National Slaughter


Siuslaw National Slaughter

Some logging began in the PNW as early as the 1830’s, but it did not kick off until the turn of the century.  In the 1990’s PNW timber contributed to 1/3 of America’s plywood and had fed the housing boom since WWII.  Chances are that any wood house built since 1946 contains materials from the PNW.  Douglas-firs are the most valuable tree in the timber commerce worldwide. In the 90’s, the USFS had proclaimed that timber is the nation’s number 1 agricultural crop.  Timber companies obtain logging units from Private, State, and Federal lands. In fact, virtually all old-growth forests on private forestry company lands have been logged.

The Oregon Forest Practices Act is the legislation that Private and State logging operations have to adhere to and compared to California and Washington legislation, it is pretty lax: comprised of minimal regulations for timber harvesting, road construction and maintenance, slash treatment, reforestation and pesticide and fertilizer use.

To give you some perspective of the amount of timber sequestered from the PNW; there has always been focused attention on the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, however according to 90’s statistics, only 15-30% of the ancient Amazonian rainforest has been logged, compared to about 87% of the ancient PNW forest logged, in less than a century.


Siuslaw National Slaughter


Siuslaw National Slaughter

And now Oregon Public Radio just aired that a new study found that over the last decade an increasing amount of Pseudotsuga menziesii trees on the Oregon Coast Range have been infected with the Swiss needle cast fungal disease.  Oregon State University research has suggested that the epidemic has grown by as much as 30% over 1 year.

The fungus does not actively kill the tree, but instead clogs the needle stomata and thereby greatly reduces tree vitality.  The effect can slow the growth of commercial timber by up to 50% which results in an estimated $128 million dollars in economic losses per year!  However, it has also been shown that if one plants Tsuga heterophylla, Thuja plicata, and Picea sitchensis with the Pseudotsuga menziesii, then the trees are less susceptible to it.  So, in conclusion, if we STOP clear cutting and treating Doug Fir as a crop and instead replant with a variety of trees and lightly thin over longer periods of time, OH YEA, and not export most of our domestic harvest from private and state lands overseas to Japan and Korea, then we might just save little chunks of our coastal temperate rain forests and still keep Oregon’s economy alive.  And maybe we’ll be able to see more Giant Pacific Salamanders (Dicamptodon tenebrosus).


Dicamptodon tenebrosus, the largest terrestrial Salamander in the World. Found in the Siuslaw National Forest along a creek that cuts through a tiny swath of old growth.


Obliquity — physically used to describe the angle of the tilt of our planet’s axis; a departure from perpendicularity with the planar direction we follow through empty space. Also a description of mystery, of indirectness or obscurity.

There is a certain obliquity that is an arrangement of our existence on this planet. Have you noticed it lately?

Oscillating between 22.1 and 24.5 degrees on a 41,000 year cycle, not a single living creature will come to experience this veering in its entirety. But tilting is the reason for the seasons — and we cannot slight the experience of season. These refractory gateways find their own ways of reminding us of, from the mundane to the grandiose. The seasonal changes we experience not only manifest around our physicality but also within ourselves.

We are here again in the serotinal season. Late summer, where swirling changes are closer than the periphery. Fire, barn swallows out of the nest and into the sky, cherry tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, gold grasses with nothing but glumes and the remembrances of vibrant annual wildflowers in their cracking dehiscent fruits. Fall advancing, school coming back on, students returning to Arcata, my next chapter advancing.


Queen anne’s lace (Daucus carota). Arcata Marsh.

In this last month, moving from the inner-bark of July to the serotinal, I have been engaged in my expectedly diverse and open work as a CLM intern. I walked the upper ridges of the King Range to monitor grazing allotments on Johnny Jack Ridge, adding a new experience to my journey at BLM. I took a sort of summer vacation to my heart-place — the big Tuolumne Meadows, were I spent time with friends and family, strolled the high ridges, climbed on feldspar crystals and soaked in the rarefied air. Collecting seeds has certainly been on my plate as well — the collection season is waning and the manzanita berries are nearly ripe!




I have also been heavily engaged by the Humboldt Bay dunes climate vulnerability and adaptation study (which I will refer to as ClimateReady from now on…), which is a collaboration between U.S. Fish and Wildlife, BLM, State Park (and others), funded by California Coastal Conservancy’s climate ready program. The long-term goals of the project are to understand how climate change will effect the dune ecosystem and to test adaptation treatments. More practically speaking, highly sensitive GPS (RTK, real-time kinematic; think 2 centimeter sensitivity) is used to create dune profiles (measurements of elevation) along 73 transects covering 32 miles of Humboldt’s coastline. These dune profiles are coupled with vegetation data and the entire survey is completed every year in winter and summer! I will be working a good deal with this project in the coming month.


Base station and John, Lanphere Dunes.


King Range, Arcata BLM F.O. Lands

Several posts ago, I explored stewardship in the most practical sense. Pulling broom along the roadside. Collecting native seed. Stepping and living lightly. These beautiful tasks are still a strong stream in my work as a CLM intern. That all said, in thinking about the different facets of stewardship, I have recently come to reflect on a stewardship of another kind.

When we engage in stewardship (acts of care, responsibility and love) we use our complete selves as tools. We use our hearts and minds to design solutions, our communication and connections to implement acts and our bodies to carry them out on an area of land (or sea).

Think of a feature of the land. What does it look like, is it as mysterious as the riparian gulch or as clear and pure as the long jagged scarp of granite?

Perhaps we can agree, that these land forms (or sea-forms) exist within ourselves. You may have already considered this. The peak you stand on within yourself when you have achieved a goal, the dark skulking depths you fear to go, the broad plateau within reaching from one experience to another. Are you in the valley of your life or are you on the shore of the lake of your life?

Thus, we are the tools of stewardship, and within us is the land we wish to be the stewards of (the reciprocality of this relationship should be disarming at the very least). On the path to become better stewards — to give more and love more the land that gives us more than we could ever ask for — this connection seems highly relevant.

The stewardship of another kind I wish to elucidate is moral stewardship, the stewardship of self in which we tend to those inner landscapes. The greater care, love and responsibility we can turn to our inner topographies, the more we will be able to give as stewards.

How can we steward our internal landscapes? These are the slot-canyons of exploration and the endlessly mystifying dune sands shifting. Cooperation, compassion, non-violence, temperance and adventuring to those dark inner riparian areas could be a great place to start.


Kaleb Goff

Arcata BLM Field Office, California.

Full Circle

The last day of field work for my CLM internship in Grants Pass, OR brought me back to working with the rare, endangered lily Fritillaria gentneri, which could be considered the centerpiece of my entire internship (trust that you don’t want to hear the rest of my metaphor comparing this internship to Thanksgiving dinner). Only this time, instead of just searching for the lilies and entering data about populations of them, we were digging up their bulbs! All you botanists may be up in arms at that last part, but sit back down in your chairs because we were digging for a good purpose. The clonal reproduction of F. gentneri results in a number of smaller bulblets that can be found attached to its main, “mother” bulb. Every year, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) identifies F. gentneri plants in the spring that it then collects bulblets from later in the summer. These bulblets are brought back to the ODA’s greenhouses to be cultivated. After about three years in the greenhouse, the plants are ready to be brought back to the wild. They are usually planted in about the same general area that the bulblets were sourced from. These outplantings help augment populations of this rare plant and are imperative to bringing it closer to recovery.

Digging up one of the rarest plant I’ve worked with was nerve-wracking at first, but Kelly and Cameron from the ODA helped me get over it. The bulblets were very small, most were the size of rice grains, and they popped right off the main bulb. I wish I had taken pictures because they were quite adorable, but we were digging among poison oak roots and I didn’t want to get my camera covered in the oils.

This experience brought me closer to coming full circle with Fritillaria gentneri. This whole internship has opened my eyes to the world of endangered plants that I had previously known so little about, the overall message being that a LOT of work goes into trying to help these species recover. Surveying for new populations, revisiting old sites for monitoring, growing new plants for augmentation, adaptive habitat management to protect populations from threat, research, regulations, reports and more paperwork, an incredible amount of time and money, all for a single species!

I’ve learned so much about rare plant conservation, but also a lot about how the BLM operates. I’ve worked with botanists who have provided insight into what it would be like to have their jobs. This experience has shown me what working for the BLM would be like, and after this summer, I could easily see myself enjoying a permanent botany position with the BLM or another government agency.

I’ve really had such an amazing time working as a CLM intern, and I don’t think I could have asked for a better internship experience. I’m so grateful for all the opportunities afforded to me through this internship and for the lasting connections I’ve been able to make. Thanks especially to my awesome mentor Stacy, my super supervisor Biker Bryan, and my favorite fellow intern Lillie.

Kiki, Grants Pass BLM

Taking a part in the community

Over the weekend, here in Salmon, Idaho -where if you didn’t know is the birth place of Sacajawea- there was a Heritage Days festival celebrating her life history and impact on the local Native American population.

The BLM here like to takes an active role in their community, and thus we had a booth set up to work at the festival. I volunteered to help work at it because we were going to be a tent that read stories to children, and I love to work with children.

Fish tent 2

Me as a blue jay

We set up this really extravagant tent that was shaped just like a fish. It was about 30ft in length and stood about 15ft tall. It was ginormous. There was a zipper on the tail and on the mouth. We would walk into the fish through the tail and we would bring in all the children and I would tell them a story about the salmon life cycle and then when it was finished we would leave out of the mouth of the fish.

fish tent

Me as a turtle

But the funnest part was that we had all of these animal costumes that someone had made for the tent that were amazingly fun. Everything from a mushroom, to a thunder bird and the kids (and myself) absolutely loved them. They were a blast to play in.

Not only that but we also had a fish painting station for the kids and a sand station where they could make animal tracks. Needless to say we were one of the most popular set ups at the festival.

Fish tent 3

Me as a mushroom


Over all it was an amazing day interacting with the local community, and it was a blast playing with the children and teaching them about the salmon.


Sierra Sampson

Salmon, Idaho BLM

Permafrost Dynamics

In late July, I had the opportunity to attend a soils conference hosted by the NRCS (National Resource Conservation Service) and University of Alaska Fairbanks. The presentations varied from policy, regulations, and research, but every presentation focused on permafrost. Technically, permafrost is any soil that is frozen solid continuously for 2 or more years, but there’s so much more to it. There’s stable permafrost, which is much deeper and less likely to thaw. On top of it lies an active layer that is more likely to thaw, changing in depth year to year given the range of air temperatures.

This native Alaskan orchid was found in calcareous soils associated with the frost boils of Sukakpak Mountain.

This native Alaskan orchid was found in calcareous soils associated with the frost boils of Sukakpak Mountain.

Within this active layer, a variety of land formations can develop including ice wedges, pingos, and sorted circles. These unique landforms often create a diverse set of microclimates that can support a more diverse plant community. Ice wedges start to grow when rapidly cooling air temperatures crack the ground, allowing snowmelt to enter in the spring and freeze in the winter. Over time, these cycle grows the wedge and pushes soil up and out of the way. At some point, the wedge starts to die. This dying wedge can be the source for a seep, leaving a depression in the ground when it’s completely gone.

Pingos or frost boils result from ice pooling and building underground, pushing the above soil into a dome. Once the soil cracks, all the insulation is gone and the ice melts away. This cracking can be explosive. Local folktales include people building houses or cabins on small hills only to have the house forcefully ejected as the hill implodes. Finally, sorted circles come from the repeated freeze-thaw cycle pushing rocks up to the surface and sorting them by size. However, what all permafrost seems to have in common is a high silt and organic content in a matrix of ice.

Frost Boil at Sukakpak Mountain

A frost boil at Sukakpak Mountain surrounded by wetland in calcareous soils.

As a part of the conference, we were allowed to visit the permafrost tunnel in Fairbanks to see some of these formations in real life. Imagine a dusty tunnel that smells like an old attic at about 31 degrees F with evenly spaced work lights. Hanging from the ceiling is a veil of tangled, fibrous roots of long dead plants. That’s essentially what the permafrost tunnel is like, except in the dusty walls and ceiling you can also see giant blocks and lens of murky black ice. This particular tunnel was built to better understand how to mine in the permafrost. Since it’s construction, it’s now used to study the permafrost itself and the creatures it has encapsulated. For example, one outcropping of plants is an ancient overturned riverbank. The plants were preserved so quickly that they’re still green if you shine a light on them. Steppe bison and woolly mammoth remains are routinely excavated. Towards the deepest end of the shaft is a branch carbon dated to 46,000 years old!

A look down the Permafrost Tunnel in Fairbanks, Alaska. The tunnel is maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers.

A look down the Permafrost Tunnel in Fairbanks, Alaska. The tunnel is maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers.


The permafrost is a dynamic soil type, but climate change is accelerating and intensifying that dynamic beyond the norm. As Alaska broke its hottest day of the year record this summer, the permafrost has been receding, the active layer encroaching into areas that have historically been more stable. This has some major implications for life in Alaska. When water melts from permafrost, that silty organic mix is a perfect recipe for quicksand, meaning more buildings and roads being swallowed underground and greater dangers of mudslides like this one in Denali National Park. It means greater deterioration of hunting trails that Native Alaskans rely heavily on for subsistence and traditional practices. It also means a greater acceleration of climate change.

Remember that 46,000-year-old branch? The reason it hasn’t decayed is because it’s surrounded by ice. Remove the ice and it’ll start to decompose, along with all the other organic matter in the permafrost. Because it’s deep underground where there’s no oxygen, that decomposition will create methane, which can and does bubble to the surface and escape to the atmosphere. It’s already happening as demonstrated by these scientists. The tundra will go from a carbon sink to a carbon source. Some predictions even show the tundra shifting to a grassland ecosystem if warming continues. Climate change is real and during a summer of record heat and rainfall, it’s quite noticeable here in Alaska.

Want to learn more about permafrost? There’s a new documentary coming out in 2017 specifically on Alaskan permafrost dynamics. Check out the trailer for Between Earth and Sky here.