Spring time in the San Juans

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  • April 20, 2015

NNRG returned to the San Juans this spring, this time assisting Camp Orkila prepare for pre-commercial thinning as well as develop a forest management plan for Satellite Island. Kirk Hanson, Director of NCF, spent the better part of a day on Satellite Island, a 116-acre remote camping island owned by the YMCA that is nestled along the northern side of Stuart Island, approximately 8 miles NW of Orcas Island.

 

 

The YMCA received EQIP funding to hire NNRG to develop a forest management plan for Satellite Island. Camp Orkila acquired Satellite Island in the late 1940’s as a gift from the Colman family of Seattle. After purchasing the island, the Colman’s had the majority of it logged in order to recover some of their investment. As a result, most of Satellite Island is covered with 70-year old Douglas-fir that naturally regenerated following the harvest. However, mixed into the forest are trees that escaped the axe and range from 70 to 150+ years old.

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Satellite Island hosts a very diverse and eclectic range of micro-climates and ecozones. Besides Douglas-fir, the island hosts Madrone, Oregon white oak, western red cedar, grand fir, western hemlock, lodgepole pine, Douglas maple, bitter cherry and red alder.

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Numerous coves add to a very crenelated perimeter and extensive edge zone between the sea and the uplands of the island.

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Satellite Island is almost two islands – a smaller one to the NE separated from the larger one by a low tidally influenced depression. With sea levels rising, the island may yet divide!

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Gary Oak cling in small groups to North and Southeast tips of Satellite Island. Douglas-fir is beginning to encroach upon the oaks, reducing their population to a small handful of gaps in the otherwise coniferous canopy.

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Some photos of Satellite Island residents…

 Blue Camas (Camassia leichtlinii)

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White “Death” Camas (Toxicoscordion venenosum)

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Service Berry (Amelanchier alnifolia)

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As with nearly everywhere across the San Juans, the naturally regenerated 2nd generation Douglas-fir stands on Satellite Island are extremely dense, averaging 250 – 300 tpa. The dense canopy of these stands effectively shades out most understory vegetation, and is creating a high degree of suppression mortality amongst the least dominant trees. As standing dead and downed trees increase throughout the forest, so does the fire risk on the island.

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Woody fuels are building up in the understory in many areas of the forest, adding to the fire risk.

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Many trees also retain the dead branches low on their trunks, creating a “ladder fuel” that can deliver ground-based fires into the canopy of the forest.

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Old-growth stumps, that remain from the 1940’s when the island was first logged, give a clue as to the historic stocking density of the original Douglas-fir forests on the island. They average between 40-70 per acre. Today there are 4-5 times as many trees per acre.

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Crazy burl at the base of a Douglas maple.

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Oregon white oak reaching over cove.

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Core from a 18″ dia. Douglas-fir showed approx. 105 annual growth rings. This extremely dense wood is very durable and could make high value lumber such as trim, moulding and flooring.

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Cored a 36″ Douglas fir that was spared from the prior logging. My borer is only 14″, so I wasn’t able to reach the center, but counted 150 annual growth rings from the core I was able to extract. This tree is probably close to 200 years old.

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Fire scars on snags and trunks of old-growth trees tell the tale of a fire-dependent ecosystem.

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