The Decline of Old-growth: A Comparison of Managed and Unmanaged Ponderosa Pine Forests

Jacinda Thomas Clair Thomas, M.S.

March 2009

Lake County Resources Initiative Chewaucan Biophysical Monitoring Team 25 North E Street Lakeview, OR 97630

Introduction Old-growth forests are a symbol of beauty, associated with vibrant foliage and towering trees. The old-growth ponderosa pine forests of eastern Oregon do not fit this idyllic picture. Fire suppression has led to crowded conditions, leaving trees vulnerable to fungi, beetles, catastrophic fire, and disease. Each tree faces fierce competition with a multitude of forest life over limited water and sunlight. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden points out in his proposal for change to the President that “many scientists and environmentalists agree that more active forest management will have to be pursued quickly on the east-side forests if we hope to save native older trees and restore a healthy, diverse, and more fireresistant [forest] (Wyden).” According to U.S. Geological survey scientist Philip van Mantgem, “[Tree] death rates have doubled over the last two decades in old-growth stands across the Western U.S. (Handwerk 2009)” Like van Mantgem, many people accredit these rates to global warming. Though global warming may exacerbate the problem, understory overcrowding in old-growth stands caused by fire suppression is an obvious contributor. Monitoring of dry old-growth ponderosa pine forests in the Fremont Winema National Forest by the Chewaucan Biophysical Monitoring Team (CBMT) indicates that stands on north-facing slopes are at immediate risk from disease and drought stress due to overcrowding (“Status of Old-growth in the Chewaucan Watershed”, 2008, Solutions to both of these contributing factors, global warming and overstocked stands, are similar: reduce competition in old-growth stands by removing competing understory. The method used to accomplish this outcome, natural processes or management, becomes the issue. If the loss of oldgrowth stands is imminent, as suggested by the CBMT, then immediate action through management may be necessary. The purpose of this study is to compare managed old-growth with unmanaged old-growth stands. Canopy characteristics, stand structure and soil parameters will be measured so a thorough comparison can be made. The major indicator of forest health will be based on a greenline transect from which biodiversity will be calculated. Diversity has two components: species richness, the number of plant species in a given area and species evenness, how well distributed abundance or biomass is among species within a community. “Changes in land use, habitat fragmentation, nutrient enrichment, and environmental stress often lead to reduced plant diversity in ecosystems (Mooney, 1996). Naeem et al (1994) found that species-poor communities had lower levels of primary productivity than did species-rich communities. Tilman et al (1996) found that plant cover and biomass increased as species richness increased. Wilsey and Potvin (2000) confirmed these studies by showing that total biomass (above and belowground) increased linearly with increasing levels of evenness and was consistent across species identity treatments. There are many “managed old-growth” stands and a few unmanaged oldgrowth stands within the Fremont Winema National Forest. “Managed oldgrowth” is defined in this study as stands with large trees (diameters greater than 45cm) whose cumulative basal areas of large trees are greater than 120 ft2/acre

and have had the majority of understory trees removed. Unmanaged is defined as stands that have never been entered for any kind of management including burning. Hypothesis: Managed old-growth treated by understory thinning will demonstrate stronger characteristics of a healthy old-growth forest than unmanaged old-growth. Managed old-growth will have higher species richness, higher evenness, higher growth rates, and less disease while maintaining high effective ground cover from duff and large woody debris. Methodology: Two weeks were spent in the Fremont Winema forest of southern Oregon during July of 2008 where research occurred in cooperation with Lake County Resources Initiative. Two large areas, each more than 600 acres, with managed and unmanaged old-growth were studied: Morgan Creek and Coffeepot Creek. In each region, 20 sites were randomly selected to represent the managed and unmanaged old-growth stands using ESRI GIS, slope, aspect, soil and habitat types. All sites were north-facing, at a 10-15% slope, with sandy-loam soils. Boundaries of known old-growth were drawn on the map and gridded into 10 acre areas. A number was assigned to each grid. A random number generator on my TI 84 calculator selected sites to visit for ground truthing the control characteristics of slope, aspect, soil type, rock abundance, vegetation associations, and large tree density. If these characteristics were met, the latitude and longitude of the gridded areas boundaries (last 3 numbers only) were entered into my TI 84 to choose northing and easting for each plot endpoint. The compass bearing of the transect was determined using my TI 84 random number generator with limits of 1 and 360. A rectangular tenth of an acre plot was established (40m by 10m). Each tree in the site was measured for specie type using a dichotomous key, diameter at breast height using a DBH tape, height using a clinometer, crown width using a tape measure, crown ratio using estimation to the nearest 10%, number of rings per centimeter using an increment borer and a micrometer, and disease recording the presence of conchs, mistletoe, beetles, etc. The line intercept survey was used on herbs and shrubs. A 30m line was established through the center of the plot and divided into 10, three meter lengths. All vegetation was counted and the width of each plant was measured and recorded on the data sheet. Frequency, density, cover, species richness, species diversity and importance were calculated for each plant. Soil was characterized along the 30m transect for duff/litter, rhizome and soil depth using a depth probe and caliper; soil moisture using the Field Scout 900; soil temperature using a soil thermometer; soil texture/type was determined using the ribbon test; and compaction using the Field Scout 300. Panorama photographs were taken at the A stake for comparison with other sites using Pentax Finepix X 700 and Panorama Maker software.

All canopy data was entered into Landscape Management Systems, a computer program that models forest stands and makes predictions of future stand characteristics. Charts and graphs were created to compare characteristics of managed and unmanaged old-growth areas with Microsoft Excel. Statistical histograms and ANOVA tests of all comparisons were created using Jmp In statistics software to determine the significance of results. Results: Stand inventories revealed that sites were heavily overstocked. These inventories were based on diameter, height, crown width and crown ratios. The raw data was entered into Landscape Management Systems (LMS), a forest modeling program developed by the Rural Technologies Initiative at the University of Washington and the Northwest Forest Research Laboratory at Oregon State University. Stands were analyzed for stand structure, basal area, cover and ladder fuels. Figures 1 and 2 displays stand structure while figures 3 and 4 compare values for cover, basal area, average tree dimensions as well as maximum and minimum values for each characteristic.

Figure 1: Unmanaged Dense Stand

Figure 2: Managed, Open Stand

Figure 3: Unmanaged - BA = 507 TPA = 293, Canopy Cover = 75%

Figure 4: Managed – BA = 264 TPA = 55, Canopy Cover 44%

Managed and unmanaged stands had similar numbers, sizes, and species of large trees. However, unmanaged stands had 2 to 3 times the number of understory trees and twice the basal area, a result of overstocking probably due to the absence of periodic forest fires over the last 80 years. This overstocking results in high competition for sunlight (75% cover), and water (<4% in soil), high rates of tree disease (15%), and high frequency (70%) of ladder fuels. Thinning of stands has long been used to increase production in commercial forests. Thinning can be done for a variety of other purposes such as reducing risk of fire or stress from competition among trees and also as a way of diversifying forests structure and composition in support of other values such as biodiversity (Carey, 2003). The larger trees left can be expected to be more vigorous and will likely be more resistant to fire, drought, insects and disease (Fettig et al, 2007). Understory thinning, as may be done for restoration of dry forests affected by fire exclusion, may reduce mortality of large old-growth trees and help maintain the carbon stores in those trees (Smith et al., 2005). The heavily stocked unmanaged stands were treated by reducing basal area and stand density to managed stocking levels in LMS for comparison. Results (figure 5) indicate that understory thinning would create stands exhibiting layered structure and openness, a necessity of healthy forests in dry eastern Oregon. These treatments would leave the large old-growth trees. The stands closely resemble the managed old-growth stands and have the same positive characteristics that reduce competition and release growth.

Figure 5: If unmanaged stands were thinned by removing trees with DBH <15” from understory BA = 250, TPA =45, Cover 45% I have compared managed with unmanaged basal area, reducing unmanaged basal area to half of its original value. It is worth noting that many scientists feel that basal area in dry pine forests must be reduced to a target of 45 sq ft per acre to maximize growth and reduce the risk of stand replacing fires. That calculates to a reduction in managed and unmanaged basal areas of three times what is being discussed in this report! (Mason et al, 2008). Might a BA target of 45 lead to even more healthy and stable stands? It is beyond the scope of this research to answer that question since I had already collected my data when this article was published. Stocking comparisons between stands have been compared and a strong case for understory thinning to reduce tree density resulting directly in an increase in sunlight and water to the forest floor and a decrease in competition resulting in increased growth rates in the large trees. A graph comparing soil moisture and tree growth in managed and unmanaged stands can be found in figure 6.

40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0

Comparison of soil moisture, tree growth rates and disease frequency between managed and unmanaged old growth ponderosa pine stands in Coffeepot Flat on the Fremont Winema National Forest
32.5 17.95 9.33 2.18 soil moisture (%) 2.77 2.6 disease frequency (%)

Managed Unmanaged

growth rate (rngs/cm)

Figure 6: The relationship of soil moisture to increased photosynthesis/productivity, has a direct relation on the ability of a tree to withstand disease. Soil moisture is almost twice as high in managed stands, possibly because of reduced competition due to 250 fewer trees per acre. There were 160 soil samples analyzed. Growth rate of old-growth trees (.45cm or 18”) is 1/4 higher in managed stands (the fewer the number of rings/cm the faster the tree is growing) probably due to higher soil moisture combined with fewer competing (250 fewer) trees, and more sunlight due to less canopy cover (44%). Increment bores were taken from 56 old-growth trees in managed areas and 48 old-growth trees in unmanaged areas. Only 2 diseased trees were found in the managed area, both contained mistletoe. However, 33% of the trees were diseased in unmanaged areas. The primary cause of disease was Western Mountain Pine beetle, Dendronicus brevis (20%), followed by Dwarf Mistletoe, Arceuthobium campylopodium (9%), and Indian Paint fungus, Echinodontium tinctorium (4%). There was an average of 25 trees per plot analyzed in the eight managed plots for a total of about 200 trees. There was an average of 50 trees per plot inspected in the eight unmanaged plots for a total of around 400 trees. Data presented so far continues to make an ever stronger case for saving at risk, old-growth ponderosa pine forests from decline by reducing forest density by understory thinning. A major contention of my hypothesis was that biodiversity would increase as more light reached the forest floor. As supported in the introduction of this report, increased species richness directly affects ecosystem stability, while increased evenness directly affects nutrient cycling and specie biomass. Greenline data was taken using the line intercept method where species were identified, the number and mean width of species were measured and recorded every 3 m for 10 intervals. This protocol was repeated in all sixteen 1/10 acre plots. Frequency, density, cover, and importance were recorded for each specie of plant. Cover was also recorded independently for litter/duff, downed woody debris, and bare ground to determine if an open canopy reduced

effective ground cover enough to encourage raindrop or other forms of erosion. Greenline summary data can be found in Figures 7 - 9
Comparison of Relative Cover Under Managed and Unmanaged Ponderosa Pine Forests
70 60 relative cover (%) 50 40 30 20 10 0 Duff/Litter Rel Cover DWD Rel Cover Tree Rel Cover Plant Rel Cover 6.1 9.5 27.3 21.9 25.1 41.8 Managed Unmanaged 5.7 61.1

Figure 7: Duff and litter are obvious most important component of cover followed by trees, herbs and grasses and downed woody debris. Cover is calculated by counting the number of each feature in an interval and multiplying it by its medium width. The cover for each interval is added together for the transect to get total cover and then divided by the sum of all covers to get relative cover. Transects were 30m, or 3000cm long. Total average cover for all 16 tenth acre plots was 4818.88 in unmanaged stands and 4430.95 in managed stands, a 1.1% difference. Both stands had greater than 135% cover. The concern that duff/litter may be reduced significantly by thinning appears to be unfounded over time. It follows that fear of raindrop erosion and nutrient depletion from lack of litter/duff may also be unfounded.
Comparison of Importance Values Between Managed and Unmanaged Old-Growth Stands (These represent the top 5 of 68 species of plant recorded)
relative importance (%) 16.7

15 10 5 0
ABICON ARNCOR FRAVIR PINPON POANER 2.8 2.9 3.1 8.1 9.1 9.5 6.8 2.3 3.6 Managed Unmanaged

Figure 8: Importance values are calculated by adding relative frequency, relative density, and relative cover and dividing by 3. Frequency refers to the number of intervals the feature was in. Density refers to the total number of features found in each interval and transect. Cover is found by

multiplying the density by the mean width of the feature in each interval and summing all intervals to get the total cover. All of these values can be converted to relative values (part/whole) and summed to get importance. Importance values indicate that trees play the dominant role in all stands, but that a significant role is played by Heart Leaved Arnica (ARNCOR) in unmanaged stands and by Virginia Strawberry (FRAVIR) in managed stands. Interestingly both are similar in size. This relationship becomes important when evaluating evenness. Grasses are twice as abundant in managed stands due to a more open canopy (44% cover in managed stands compared to 75% in unmanaged stands). Species diversity values are located in figure 9. They are divided in species richness, Pileou’s evenness index, the Shannon- Wiener diversity index, the Simpson Index of Diversity and the reciprocal of Simpson’s Index of Diversity.
Comparison of Biodiversity Between Managed and Unmanaged Old-Growth Ponderosa Pine Forests
16 14 number 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 Species Richness Pileou's Evenness Index Shannon-Wiener Diversity Index Simpson Index of Diversity Simpson Reciprocal Index 0.60 0.51 2.03 1.95 0.87 0.82 13.50




Managed Unmanaged

Figure 9: Measures of biodiversity. Species Richness is the total number of all species encountered in a transect. In this study 68 plant species were identified, however the most in any one transect was 23 species in one managed stand. Excluding the 23 specie value results in an average of 12.2 species per transect in managed stands and 8.8 species per transect in unmanaged stands. As indicated in my introduction, species richness is considered one of the most valuable measures of diversity. Managed stands were 1.5 times more species rich than unmanaged stands. Pileou’s Evenness index is a value between 0 and 1 that measures the consistency of plant density in each interval within the transect. A value of 1 indicates that there are equal numbers of all species, while a low value, around 0, indicates a predominance of one specie. Evenness values have been directly linked to nutrient cycling as well as species biomass by at least 3 authors as discussed in my introduction. The weakness in evenness is when there are large numbers of small plants in one plot, while the comparison plot is composed of many large plants. In this study the large plants, trees were similar in size, the most abundant herbs were similar in size and most of the species of plants found were in both managed and unmanaged stands. This specie/size make-up as

strength to Pileou’s evenness index. Figure 9 shows that managed stands have a value 18% higher than unmanaged stands indicating that more nutrient cycling and greater plant biomass potential is present in managed stands. The Shannon-Wiener diversity index has values that range between 0 and 4. Values around 4 indicate high diversity while values around 0 indicate no diversity. Values in the middle of these extremes (around 2) are difficult to interpret because plant specie and size become more relevant making large changes in the index. Therefore plants must be comparable in specie and size before data is considered dependable. Our data met that criteria, however the main reason I used it initially was that Pileou’s evenness index uses the ShannonWiener diversity index in its calculation! The Simpson Index of diversity (1-Simpson diversity index so that bigger values indicate higher diversity) and the Simpson reciprocal index (1/Simpson index of diversity) are considered more reliable than the Shannon-Wiener index because they are calculated based on total density rather than relative density allowing for density values over 100%. Figure 9 shows that managed stands are 10% higher in diversity than unmanaged stands leading to higher stand stability. Conclusion: Many stands of unmanaged Ponderosa Pine old-growth in eastern Oregon are becoming very crowded with understory trees due to fire suppression during the last 80 years. High tree density is causing heavy competition with older trees for water, sunlight and nutrients resulting in high disease rates and imminent death of most large old trees if conditions are not changed. High canopy cover is restricting sunlight and reducing photosynthesis as well as herb and grass cover on the ground. Young trees are drinking up soil moisture leaving less for the big trees. The slowdown in food manufactured by photosynthesis is leaving trees with too little sap to pitch out beetles and fight fungal diseases. Beetle burrows invite blue stain and other fungus’ that weaken the cortex and cause the trees to break and fall early. Large number of snags and ladder fuels contribute to the dilemma by ensuring that large portions of old-growth could burn catastrophically releasing large quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Stands in the same area that have been entered for understory timber harvest demonstrate much healthier characteristics. Less canopy cover allowing more light to the forest floor resulting more herbs and grasses and higher biodiversity. Soil moisture is higher due to less competition. Disease, insects, and fungus are almost nonexistent as they are pitched out due to higher rates of photosynthesis in the trees demonstrated by wider growth rings. In addition factors that caused concern such as the amount of litter and duff cover and downed woody debris were found to be similar in both managed and unmanaged stands. All of these factors encourage understory thinning as a possible way to preserve old-growth stands in a sustainable fashion. These findings are supported by research conducted in 2003 by Oregon State University where researchers surveyed old-growth forests pre- and post-thinning treatments and found that “we can restore the health and growth of [old-growth

ponderosa pine] forests (Stauth).” Without action the decline of dry ponderosa pine old-growth will continue; the worst is yet to come.

Appendix Specie


Managed Unmanaged Notes
21.37375 7.6875 2.75875 6.07875 3.1225 8.0975 9.0925 16.74125 2.29525 9.5 31.97375 9.13125 2.94625

1.5 times more duff and litter in unmanaged 1.2 times more DWD in unmanaged stands # of large fir same in managed and unmanaged stands

ARNCOR is most important in unmanaged stands FRAVIR is most important in managed stands # of large pine is same in managed and unmanaged stands grasses are twice as abundant in managed stands 1.2 times more intervals with plants in managed than in unmanaged 3 times as many herbs and grasses in managed than in unmanaged Total cover is similar (unmanaged sites are 1.1 times greater) unmanaged duff and litter provide 1.5 times more cover 1.5 times more DWD cover in unmanaged than in managed Tree cover is 1.2 times higher in unmanaged stands herbs and shrubs provide 5 times more cover in managed than in unmanaged stands Species richness is 1.5 times higher in managed than in unmanaged stands

POANER Total Frequency Total Density Total Cover/10 Duff/Litter Rel Cover DWD Rel Cover Tree Rel Cover Plant Rel Cover Specie Richness

6.755 57.75

3.56875 40

331 443.09 41.75 6.125 22.25 25.125 15.375

113.625 482.89 61.125 9.5 27.93 5.6875 10.125

Works Cited Brown, Rick, Defenders of Wildlife. “The Implications of Climate Change: for conservation, restoration and management of national forest lands”, paper prepared for the National Restoration Collaborative. 2008 pp 1-32 Carey, A.B. “Biocomplexity and restoration of biodiversity in temperate coniferous forest: Inducing spatial heterogeneity with variable-density thinning”. Forestry 76 (2), 2003, pp 127-136 Comnick, Jeffrey and Kevin Ceder. “Fire Risk, Wildlife Habitat, and Carbon Sequestration Assessment for the Sparrowk Ownership near Lakeview, OR.” Rural Technology Initiative. University of Washington. May 2004. Fettig et al. “The effectiveness of vegetation management practices for for prevention and control of bark beetle infestations in coniferous forests of the western and southern United States”, Forest Ecology and Management 238, 2007, pp24-53 Handwerk, Brian. "U.S. Old-Growth Forests Withering With Warming." 22 Jan. 2009. National Geographic. 3 Feb. 2009 <>. Mooney, H. A., J. H. Cushman, E. Medina, O. E. Sala, and E. D. Schulze. 1996. Functional roles of biodiversity: a global perspective. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, UK. Smith, Rizzo, North “Patterns of mortality in an old-growth mixed conifer forest of the southern Sierra Nevada, California”, Forest Science 51 (3), 2005, pp 266-275 “Status of Old-growth in the Chewaucan Watershed” Report by the Chewaucan Biophysical Monitoring Team. July 23, 2008 <> Stauth, David. "THINNING MAY HELP SAVE OLD-GROWTH PINE FORESTS." OSU News and Communication Services. 12 Aug. 2003. Oregon State University. 3 Feb. 2009 <>. Wilsey, Brian J. and Catherine Potvin. “Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning: Importance of Species Evenness In an Oil Field.” Ecology. April 2000. Wyden, Ron “A proposal for change in Oregon’s forest”