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Forest fires and bark beetle infestations are rapidly destroying conifer forests in non-coastal Western North America, and, subsequently, the life ending process of desertification is evident by decreasing annual rainfall. Communities throughout these Western bioregions which once flourished from timber industries are now withering along with the forests. Due in large part to clear cut logging practices and tree plantations, even age forests’ fire storms destroy whole forests in Western US states. Every year more and more forests burn. Firefighting is one of the high growth industries in these Western regions. The cost of restoring even age forests is far beyond recent budgets both public and private. The Skunk Ranch is a 320 acre wilderness property within the South Fork of the Trinity River ecosystem near the village of Hyampom in the Klamath Geological Province of northern California. A goal of Skunk owners is to fireproof the ranch forest by employing analog forestry management practices. The ranch is very typical of Western north American conifer forests in that it is mostly 90 years old, overstocked with douglas firs, pines, madrones and various varieties of brush, especially manzanita and ceanothus (both have valuable essential oil properties).
Skunk Ranch in Northern California. Photo: Brian Hill
The Skunk Ranch Forest Management Plan is available on its website. The ranch has also utilized the relatively new SVS or Stand Visualization System and Forest Vegetation Simulators to provide a quantitative ranch forest inventory. The SVS and FVS programs are downloadable from the links above. These already widely employed programs may be useful in analog forestry applications. The primary objectives of the Forest Management Plan are, (1) reduce fuels, (2) thin overstocked forest in order to fireproof the forest and restore the original or an analogous ecosystem while harvesting valuable forest products to help cover the costs of restoration and protection goals, while, simultaneously, providing well-paying jobs for the local community.
An overstocked forest on the Skunk Ranch
An overstocked forest on the Skunk Ranch Photo: Brian Hill
Fuels Fuels reduction must be done manually. Fuels are brush which form a fire ladder under larger trees so that a ground fire can easily spread to engulf the forest canopy thus causing what is called a crown fire – the entire forest burns. Removing the fuel ladder helps prevent the whole forest from burning. The problem here is that it is very costly to remove the fuels. Therefore, enough value must be squeezed out of the brush/fuels to pay for their removal in order to begin the process of fire-proofing the forest and re-establishing fire ecology. Thinning the forest The Skunk forest is mostly 90 years old. Suppressed fir trees dominate the landscape. These 12-18 inch diameter fir trees are very hard. They are so hard that they have been used successfully for hardwood flooring. The Skunk Ranch would like to partner with neighboring landowners whose forests are over-stocked with suppressed firs to assess feasibility of establishing a local industrial facility to produce suppressed fir hardwood flooring. Through the Watershed Center in Hayfork a small business successfully created a suppressed fir hardwood flooring business, but the nearest facility for producing the flooring was in Oregon. A local hardwood flooring industry would go a long way toward defraying the costs of restoring local forests, fireproofing them and creating sustainable local economies. The Skunk Ranch has a sawmill that can produce 3000 board feet of lumber per day. This lumber will be sold to local markets for building Forest gardens A secondary goal of the Skunk Ranch is Forest Gardening. Forest Gardening produces fruits, nuts, vegetables, root crops, mushrooms perennially and essential oils for medicine, food, aromatic oils, cosmetics, pesticides and fungicides.
Forest garden zone with fruit and nut trees. Photo: Brian Hill
Watercourse management Next, the seasonal pond in the wet meadow will be enlarged and deepened in an attempt to create a perennial flow in the seasonal tributary to Buckeye Creek, with the goal of establishing Buckeye Creek as a full time, anadromous watercourse. Riparian and wet areas to be planted with a combination of elderberry, huckleberry, California blackberry, western raspberry(blackcap), snowberry, wild rose, wild grape, sunflower, Lotus, Melilotus, lupine, closer, vetch, sedge, barley, fescue, brome, and/or needle grass. The Skunk forest managers will also plant grasses, berry bushes and nut trees whose fruits have economic value during the serial succession of forest regeneration in those areas that have been recently logged. And finally, the sale of carbon sequestration credits will be explored as a means to off-set restoration/stewardship costs. Habitat restoration Wildlife habitat will be augmented by leaving logs, snags, rotten, decadent hardwoods and some tangled thickets, e.g., Gooseberry on forest floors. We will also restore late successional and primary forest ecological balances, which will result in an increase of habitat for rare and endangered species. If this model proves helpful it may be a step toward the regeneration and protection of non-coastal North American confer forests and their forest dependent communities. Healthy temperate forests are impossible without healthy forest communities, and healthy forest communities are impossible without healthy forests. This article is based on a longer report on the activities at Skunk Ranch written by Brian Hill in March 2014. The full document can be downloaded here.

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